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The Bennies of Climbing with Women

18-Aug-2016
By Tracy Martin

Abbey Smith (spotting) and Olivia Hsu share the experience in Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong. Hsu grew up and established routes here. Photo: Caroline Treadway.Stephanie came to Red Rock with four women friends for a weekend of fun in the sun and rock climbing. A couple of them led, and the others enjoyed the topropes.

Guiding their group, I sensed that Stephanie wanted to lead, but hesitated and just kept taking topropes.

She just needed a nudge. Stephanie had the physical ability to lead and she wanted to take charge of her climbing, to feel independent, to improve her skills. I encouraged her to get on the sharp end, yet she remained reluctant. Only when I explicitly gave her the option to bail at any time did she accept the challenge of leading.

Once she was on the rock, I coached as little as possible to let her think for herself. She worked through sequences, and her confidence shone while her doubts faded.

You can do more than you may think.

Women, gifted with balance, strength and flexibility, and the will to test themselves, can be intimidated around men. Climbing with other women provides you with a supportive environment to push your limits and bolster confidence.

 

TIPS FOR CLIMBING WITH WOMEN

1. Be a mentor for all women out there getting after it. Jump on every chance to encourage and cheer on new, as well as experienced, female climbers. The crag is a better place with our energy!

2. Lead by example. If someone wants to try a climb, but is having trouble committing, collaborate. You could climb the route first and scope options, especially ones that suit her size or skills, for where and how to rest, hand and foot holds, and gear placements or clipping stances.

3. Share beta. One of the greatest benefits of climbing with women is swapping beta with someone of similar size and strengths. Similarly, in crack climbing it is usually more useful to discuss hand- and finger-size cracks with other women. Just remember to adapt the beta to suit yourself and your own climbing.

Also, ask onlookers not to yell beta as you climb. You can always ask for suggestions if you get stuck.

4. Use an encouraging voice while pushing each other in small increments, and choose your words with care. I advise against yelling, “You got this!” especially when you have no idea if she does or not. Say things like “Look around,” “Relax” and “Breathe."

5. Have fun. You will get to know each other and share life experiences while climbing. Relationships with your female climbing partner(s) may well become some of those you treasure most.

 

... WITH MEN

1. Speak up! Your opinions and goals matter. When you get to the crag or, better yet, before you arrive, pick out routes you want to climb. Many women find their agendas may become secondary, or that someone else assumes the lead, more often when they are climbing with men. Men can be more likely to arrive at the crag with a plan, and when women do not, they may defer (and can get stuck belaying a lot). You will benefit from having your own goals and ideas, and from leading rather than letting a guy take over. You may have to speak up to get your turn on the sharp end.

2. Empower yourself by learning to fall. If you dread falling, incorporate falling practice into your warm-up. Warrior’s Way (warriorsway.com) has a Falling Clinic and the associated book, Espresso Lessons, contains advice on falling. Maximum Climbing (MaximumClimbing.com) by Eric Hörst has a chapter on the topic.

3. Learn to catch a heavier climber. I often see women concerned about catching a heavier male partner. Discover and practice how to give a cushioned catch safely. See “Eight Ways to Avoid Braking Bad: The Art of the Soft Catch.” Sport Climbing: From Toprope to Redpoint, Techniques for Climbing Success by Andrew Bisharat (andrewbisharat.com) gives detailed advice.

 

TRACY MARTIN is an AMGA certified Rock Guide and a Warrior’s Way Instructor. She has been climbing 26 years and plans to climb 26+ more.

 

This article was published in Rock and Ice issue 237 (October 2016).

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