When people ask me how long I’ve been climbing if I answer honestly I have to say three years. Responses consist of the direct – so what can you climb? To the general – wow you must be really good!
The first question isn’t often asked as it seems fairly impolite in climbing circles to directly ask what grade you climb, however I often believe it is on people’s mind; it is certainly on mine and often accompanied by the thought ‘why after all this time can’t I climb better than I do?’.
The second question is often asked by non-climbers and I feel I have to talk myself down; there have been breaks during that time, I’m not that fit, I’m not that strong, I get scared; I’m really not very good.
Climbing is generally a very inclusive sport; most people are friendly, there is always advice to be given from climber to climber and when you climb you might be on a route next to an internationally famous climber of boulderer. However, I think there is still much to be done to make it into an even more inclusive sport and try and remove some of the judgement and competitive elements that simmer under the surface. Campaigns such as #thisgirlcanclimb, organisations such as Women Climb and events such as those run by the BMC are aimed at encouraging women to try climbing and then improve their skills. I think in general there is a need for these types of encouragement; I tried to find statistics about the male:female ratio in amateur climbing but drew a blank. Certainly at my local climbing wall there are plenty of women on the top ropes, however moving to the harder routes and the lead routes there tend to be less. Outdoors the crags seem to be more male dominated.
This is a topic that has been looked at in many different forums. This article about Edinburgh University Mountaineering Club certainly rings home. Another interesting article from the Outdoor Womens Alliance looks at the representation of female climbers in the media. These issues don’t stop me from climbing but through reading a lot about climbing and female climbers I feel there are a few things I’d like to see more of:
- mid grade female role models representative of a more rounded climbing experience; all shapes and sizes, all ages, climbing lots of different routes and styles without putting up first ascents
- people talking more openly about how climbing can be a hard sport to progress in and that actually the only person you should be in competition with is yourself
- less focus on grade and more on giving things a go
- extension of campaigns from getting women to the climbing wall to supporting them once they have discovered climbing. Helping and encouraging them to learn to lead, to get outdoors and then to support and encourage others to do the same
The middle two are definitely mantra’s that I need to adopt and perhaps in time I’ll be able to be part of the solution to the first and last.
For the record here’s what’s happened over the last 3 years:
- I learnt to top rope
- I joined a club and made some climbing friends
- I learnt to lead indoors
- I’ve been on some cool courses
- Sometimes I’ve climbed and bouldered 3 times a week, for months on end I haven’t climbed at all
- Everytime I start again after more than 6 weeks break it feels like I start back at square one
Climbing regularly with a regular partner who wants to progress has seen the biggest improvements in the routes I can climb and the variety of skills and techniques I’ve built. Old climbing Zoe would have expected more of herself but each grade I have climbed has been an achievement and writing this post has helped me see that a change of mindset might be all that is needed to celebrate my three year climb-iversary.
As one of my favourite Himalaya bloggers would say – climb on!