Last weekend, I went climbing in the Watagans National Park. There were six of us there that day. Three guys, three girls. At some stage during the morning we split off into two groups to climb at two different ends of the crag. Girls at one end. Guys at the other.
I started up a relatively easy climb with a tricky layback section at the start. I placed my second piece of gear. My belayer gave me some rope to clip, then said “It’s so nice to climb with girls!”
I agreed. Even though I get to climb with some amazing guys, it’s always fun to have a girl’s day out every now and then.
For the rest of that day in the Watagans, the three of us we chatted about how different your climbing experiences can be, depending on who you’re out with. We rattled off a bunch of reasons why climbing rocks with other ladies is pretty rad.
On the drive home, I decided that I’d try to explain some of those reasons in blog post. So here goes.
1. You push one another
Last year, I did a lot of trad climbing with one of my female housemates.
To my mind she is a beast. She’s super brave, super strong, she just gets it done. If i told her that, she would probably disagree. But I’m sticking to my guns.
She’s a similar height to me, so we can both reach the same holds. Our hands must be a similar size because we seem to find the same handjams.
Her climbing achievements inspired me. She didn’t climb things the same way as the guys around us. She found her own way. When she climbed a hard route, it brought that route into the realms of possibility for me. I never thought ‘well if she can do it, anyone could do it’. I thought, ok, we both have similar body types and similar experience levels. I know she gets scared like I do sometimes, but she pushed through all that climbed it anyway. I would start to think that maybe I could follow her lead.
We were never competitive about our climbing. I never wanted to beat her. I just enjoyed climbing at the same crag because we both made one another braver. We’d convince each other to try new things and give one another permission to fail.
I’m usually more inspired by bad-ass ladies, than I have by my male climbing partners.
2. Better self talk
If I were to play you a recording of the thoughts that race through my head when I’m struggling on a climb, it might sound something like this:
“Oh god, that next bolt/gear placement is so far away. I’ll never make it up there. This is too hard. Why did I think I could do this? I’m going to sit on this draw. And give up. Argh, why do I always just give up? I just don’t want it bad enough I guess. Probably means I’ll never improve. Argh, I’m so slow. I’m practically on top rope right now, why am I so scared?
If I do succeed in climbing a route and someone compliments me on the achievement, my internal monologue can sound like this:
“It’s nice of them to say that, but I think the climb is probably undergraded a bit. It’s not really a big deal”
Don’t get me wrong, on some occasions I am actually a sane and rational person who climbs confidently, who is present in the moment and is focused on nothing except the next move.
But on the other days, the mix of fear and negative self talk takes up so much of my energy, I hardly have any energy left over to haul myself up the wall. There is not much bandwidth left to think about climbing.
When explain this to my male climbing partners, some of them are surprised. They tell me how crazy and unhelpful those thoughts are. When I tell my female climbing partners they tend to look relieved and tell me that similar processes are going on inside their own head. They persist anyway.
When I climb with girls, I find it easier to explain my fears. Many of my female climbing partners are great at pointing out the positives. They have faith that I can conquer my head as well as the climb. If they believe it, I can start to believe it too.
3. Getting to be a strong independent woman who don’t need no man to set up a top rope
The times I have climbed with girls are usually the times where I get a chance to things for myself.
If I’m climbing with guys, there is usually someone more experienced who will rig the abseil or put the draws up on th first climb of the day.
If I’m climbing with girls, I get to make decisions and tie knots and teach people.
It’s enormously satisfying to gain become self-sufficient. There’s a hige difference between learning the theory and actually trusting your life to a system you’ve rigged yourself.
Self-sufficiency gives you the chance to climb in new places with new people, when it suits you.
I have a tendency to down-play my own achievements. If I get the chance to safely lead a group of people from the bottom of a big cliff to the top, it gives me powerful ammunition against those negative thoughts. It’s pretty damn satisfying to look at a big multipitch route and know that you got all the way up it, under your own steam. You realise that you can actually achieve some pretty cool stuff if you really set your mind to it.
4. Accidental confidence
One of my college friends and I had been climbing at an indoor gym in Canberra for a while.
I had just bought my own rope and stared learning to lead. how to lead climb outdoors. I told her that she could name a weekend and I would take her climbing at Nowra.
My friend picked a weekend and we made our way to the cliffs. She was a bit nervous about climbing outside. I was a bit nervous about being belayed by someon le who was used to top ropes at the gym.
I decided that the best way to go was to deliver up my best impression of calm confidence.
To my great surprise and relief, this actually worked. I confidently lead climb after climb. I didn’t want her to have to catch a big lead fall… so I didn’t fall. I just moved up the rock with a confidence I’d never really experienced before.
Each climb gave me the confidence I had been faking before. I tried harder and harder routes as the day went on. I tried things I never imagined I’d be able to do. We had an awesome day. There was a lot of giggling and a lot of good climbing.
I’ve been back to the same cliff with male climbing partners since then. I really struggled on some of the climbs I had floated up with my friend. On those later occasions I’d been doing a lot of top roping and was worried about holding everyone else up.
On the trip with my college friend I knew I had to lead everything myself and to lead with confidence. So that’s what I did. I was responsible for setting the tone of the day. I hadn’t abdicated that responsibility to more experienced people. I had to trust my own abilities, so I did.
I try to use that trip as a reminder, that I do have more control over my head space than i think. I can decide to be confident and in control. Even if I’m only pretending at first, it can turn into the real deal before you know it.
5. You learn new ways of climbing
One of my female climbing partners is also a dancer. Another used to be a gymnast. They’re both terrifyingly flexible and have crazy impressive balance. They’re both shorter than I am. They’re both very strong.
They might do 3 moves for every 2 moves that a guy does, but their moves are more graceful and they’re not based purely on strength.
When I was just getting into climbing, these two girls taught me that I needed to find my own way of doing things. Everyone has different body types and different strengths and weaknesses. Finding a way to play to my own strengths is always going to help me more than trying to copy a tall male climbing partner with biceps the size of my thighs.
I’ve had fun days bouldering with girls since then. You can share beta and solve problems together. I haven’t had the same experience with a group of guys. I’m not sure why. It may be that they’re interested in climbing different kinds of routes, or that they’re climbing much harder than I am. Who knows. All I know, is that group problem solving is a lot of fun.
6. I’ve had more belly laughs and high-pitched giggles on girls climbing days
That’s all I’ve got to say for this one.
I’m going to wrap the list up there.
Thanks to all the ladies in the photos above. I’ve enjoyed our adventures so far, and look forward to the next one.