How to Climb Your First 14a

[All photos by @Ladylockoff ]

There are things about sport climbing and redpointing that no other person can instill in one another, or at least no one had ever told me. Some people say trying hard is the only thing that you can’t teach, but in my own life I found more than that to be missing. There’s a drive, a devotion, a mental capacity and strength that isn’t always innate (especially for me). An ability to tell yourself that you can do something and actually believe it, even if it’s not logical.

In the past, I’ve had very negative experiences projecting. My failure to accept small gains or believe that a route was possible, led me half-heartedly to try but then eventually give up. I’d learned to sport climb without a mentor or anyone to explain how to adapt from bouldering and it felt like almost a different sport to me.

Before projecting a harder sport climb, my insecurities and lack of confidence held me back. There were many worries that came into my head:

What if I can’t do it?
What if it’s to too hard for me?
What if I pick the wrong route?
What if I just waste my time?

Last year I decided to challenge myself bouldering and I stepped out of my comfort zone. I tried something that made no sense. I couldn’t do any of the moves and I couldn’t figure out the beta easily either. It was a complete puzzle. But about 2.5 weeks of trying it later, my body had completely adjusted and my mind was open to the possibility and I was able to do it.

When we look at a route or problem as something measured more in time than in ability, the motivation shifts. The finish is always in sight. Success is constant, from each joyful moment of progression.

This year I wanted to experience the same progression but on a route. I hadn’t tried anything for longer than 10 days previously but then, I had failed. It had been a defeating process, leaving me more discouraged than before. I tried to pick routes at my ability but struggled. I wondered, am I ever going to climb something harder? I’d always found climbing on a rope much more stressful, each clip full of fear and anxiety, consequences greater, demands on time immense, far surpassing just a boulder.

© Irene Yee

After sport climbing for a few years sending consistently 8a, despite my boulder grade progressing steadily, I was climbing the same grades.

Then something strange happened, I got injured. In my injury I was climbing about V4 in the gym, taking it easy and careful of the pain in my knuckle from a collateral sprain. While only able to climb V4, I found myself sending an 8a. How could I still send an 8a, my top grade, and be about 1/3 as strong? It made no sense to me.

Out of curiosity and encouragement from my partner Molly Mitchell, not to mention the pure fact that the local Vegas crag didn’t have many climbs 8a+-8b, I picked an 8b+ project. Although 8b+ to many professionals is a warm up, this grade felt unachievable and intimidating to me.

The first day on the route, to be honest, went pretty badly. In fact, I kind of hated it. I couldn’t get to the top… or even the middle. I was even unable to place a draw in the crux section with the marginal holds available. Already about 30m up, there was no option to bring a clip stick or retrieve one as my rope was too short…

It started on a 7b+/12c pitch and I couldn’t even do the 7b+/12c for 3 days, a grade I can typically onsight on this climbing style when in shape. All logic pointed to not try this route.

But somehow I didn’t let this stop me from trying. It took another 3 – 4 days to re-send the 7b+ pitch in order to even start redpointing. A full-stretch, powerful move on small feet made the 7b+ extremely droppable and the 5m whip each time made me scream at the top of my lungs.

I found that my fear was crippling me on all parts of the route. I tried to tell myself the transition after not climbing limestone for almost a year was just a phase. My body had lost all of my fitness for climbing vertical crimpy routes and instead only powerful overhangs from the Red River Gorge and Red Rocks. My forearms burned on each go and my mind riddled with the stress of small feet and hands.

The moves were a mix of powerful and technical. The climb was a 45m pitch and until me hadn’t been sent by a woman. Those who know me know I typically only climb up to 25m max, as I have mainly bouldered for most of my climbing career and struggle to gain route fitness. It had obviously not been climbed this year. There was no chalk and I spent hours trying to find my sequence. With sharp holds, a mono slab to finish and insecure clips with a power endurance finish on bad feet – I’d accidentally chosen everything I disliked in climbing.

After time passed, I progressed, but so slowly and in such volatile chunks, I wasn’t never sure I would be able to send it. Each go took over an hour to learn something subtle. It was so time consuming you could only red point 1- 2 times a day. To get to the harder section I had to climb the 30m 7b+/12c so by the time I got to the extension, I was often too tired or demotivated to work the harder moves. I found it mentally exhausting to be so high up, to be constantly run out, and to climb for more than an hour each go. It wasn’t unusual for me to never go to the top of the climb. Again, all logic pointing to stop trying the climb.

It was by no means a quick process. But over the span of almost 2 months, I felt a slow transition from extreme fatigue and fear to then going to the top every time. I felt like a different climber. To evolve into not even noticing when I took the 5m whip, and confidently clipping draws on the slab was an incredible and wonderful feeling. But the progress was so slow, I started to doubt myself and become very discouraged, I faced the fear that everyone faces – have I picked a climb that I am actually not physically able to do?

I was unable to do the moves properly until I had practiced them so much that they felt second nature and could do them without getting stressed. But even so I wasn’t making it through the crux. I realised that what was holding me back was my mind.

Sometimes the only thing holding us back is our confidence. It was only when I was relaxed that would I get a high point.

Then all of a sudden I made it two clips from the end. But I wasn’t ready. The thing I found most difficult in the process was staying motivated over such a long time. I wanted to do the climb, but the drive and the ambition, the try-hard and the passion has faded. I worried I was trying it too much. I wasn’t sure if this was just what happens over time with any project. I felt like if there was a way to find my passion and motivation again, the process would be so much faster, but I just couldn’t. I wondered to myself, ‘Do I really have what it takes?’

© Irene Yee

Maybe I’m over dramatizing the process, but for me, everything was different on a rope. When you have to try hard consistently and stay focused for 45m, the drive to finish seemed to diminish as I climedb higher. When I was 5m from the top, I was tired and unmotivated to push on. I still didn’t know if I was capable of this climb. Could I do it? I wasn’t sure, but I needed to find a way to try my absolutely hardest. When I started, it felt impossible, but the route had turned into something that I could maybe do. But in the end, I just felt discouraged. It became a mental battle. I sought the council of friends, of those who had encouraged me to try the route in the beginning. I didn’t believe that I was capable of the climb, but they reassured me that I could. I don’t know if they actually believed if I could or not, but no one ever said otherwise. It almost didn’t matter if they believe what they said to me, because it was just the kindness and support that I needed. I couldn’t find the confidence in myself, but somehow I found the confidence in their words. If they thought I could do it, maybe I could. Maybe it was true. And then one day I did it.

Watch this space!

Stay tuned for another blog coming up on The Mental Strategies and Redpoint Tactics that I applied in order to prepare my head for each try. Subscribe to make sure you don’t miss it.


17 days climbing on the problem
25 approx goes
2 months trying

The schedule I typically kept to was:

Mon – project/train

Tues – rest/rings/core

Wed – project/train

Thur – rest

Fri – project/train

Sat/Sun – rest

Writing down the progression of days on the project, I noticed a few patterns:

  • After 1 days of rest I tended to get highpoints rather than 2 days, despite ‘feeling’ better after 2 days
  • 3 days on the project showed significant jumps
  • 6 days on the project showed significant jumps
  • 7- 9 days regression in performance and feeling discouraged (Week 5)
  • 10 days on the project showed fitness jumps
  • After 10 days began the final redpoint phase. Progress for 3 days in a row then fell into a pattern of every other day advances
  • After 10 days I was able to climb on it 3x a week not just 2x

Thanks for reading!





Gear Testing: Scarpa Vapour V W

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In the switch from winter to summer, I went from climbing indoor blocs in London at the Blokfest series to started to summer sport climbing outdoors in the Peak District and up in Yorkshire at Malham and Kilnsey. I won’t get started on the indoor vs outdoor argument, but in making the switch,  I found more than anything that I was slipping off constantly.

Either my footwork was rubbish or was it my shoes?

At the time I was climbing in my La Sportiva shoes (a variety) and getting a bit frustrated so willing to do anything to keep my feet on I decided to try  Scarpa for the first time and went for the Vapour V.

Spoiler alert: THEY WORKED.

Okay, so I have the tendency to be a little over excited, but I slipped on the Scarpa Vapour V and I found that it was much easier to edge, to heel hook and even to press my toes on far away footholds. My core hadn’t gotten stronger, my hamstrings certainly hadn’t been trained, so it had to be down to the shoes.

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Slightly Downturned Toes and Bi-Tension Randing



The Scarpa Vapour V are actually a woman’s specific shoe boasting to be the best all-round shoe.  The Scarpa website describes them as a precise and versatile shoe, which they claim as their best-seller.

The Vapour V have ever so slightly downturned toes while the shoe is generally flat, so the result is they still works for overhangs and small footholds. What makes the shoes so special, however, is probably their unique randing, which is how they put the rubber on the shoe. They use a Bi-Tension Randing which pulls from the toes back towards the heel, and in turn  makes the shoe feel more part of your foot and snug, so pressing onto small footholds is a lot easier.

Their Ultra Thin Flexan Support is their unique arch support that basically means the shoes are mostly flat but supportive and flexible enough that you can wear them on longer climbs on on multi-pitch routes, which I found to be true. I wore them all day without a problem.

Equipped with the tried and tested Vibram® XS Edge rubber, their stickiness was one of their best attributes, which no doubt contributes to the ease with which you can switch from straight-up climbing to overhangs without feeling like you have to change shoes.

Malham Cove – land of tiny and polished feet, a true test for the Vapour V


These are a pretty stellar all-round shoe. Compared to some of the other shoes on the market claiming to be all-round such as the La Sportiva or Five Ten, I felt that the Scarpa were more successful in the sense that they were fine for all day wear and any type of climbing. They could be used on difficult overhangs as well as tackle small footholds on a slab.

On my trip sport climbing to Malham, I found the shoes perfect on the polished and small footholds that otherwise, would’ve sent me reeling. The shoes more than excelled my expectations and I could focus on the moves and the climbing, rather than my feet slipping off constantly.

Testing the Vapour V on Sardine 7b+ at Raven Tor, Peak District

At Raven Tor in the Peak District, I tested them bouldering as well and found that on the overhanging and small footholds that the toes stuck extremely well. No doubt the result of the unique randing and the downturn toes. Heel-hooking, I expected them to be lacking as the heel was a little bit loose, but instead they stayed in place, well enough for me to work the moves of the Weedkiller Traverse (7a+) in the cave.

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I think the one setback was where the fit was concerned. I originally ordered the Scarpa Vapour V in a 37.5 which is one whole size down from my normal shoe size 38.5. I read up online and I was told that this would be suitable, but when my shoes arrives, I couldn’t even put them on. I went into a shop and tried on a few pairs and the only ones I could even put on were my exact street shoe size 38.5.

When my 38.5 arrived they were extremely tight at first, but I found that they stretched very quickly (within 2-3 sessions) and then they were very comfortable. But over time I found that they continued to stretch and that the heel and the arch became a bit loose.

It’s important to note though, that I was still able to use them climbing on the same type of blocks despite being a bit lose on the heel, heel hooking was still very solid. For next time though, I think I will buy a half-size down and take a few painful sessions of breaking in to gain the perfect fit.

My suggestion for Sizing: same as regular shoe size

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Photo: Ben Johnson


  • Comfortable: great all-day  shoe
  • Versatile: good for overhangs, slabs, and  technical climbs
  • Long-lasting: sturdy and well-wearing
  • Perfect for heel hooking


At the risk of sounding like a Scarpa convert, I’ll definitely be buying these again.

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One Woman Psyche Part 2: Nerves

I stepped out of the car and despite my apprehension, a seemingly normal looking man stood before me. He rushed over and gave me a hug, his voice dripping with a southern drawl. I wasn’t just in America, now I was in Kentucky.

All seemed well and with no other option, I followed him and his buoyant, chubby black lab into the massive house behind. Bright yellow walls and an exposed wood kitchen welcomed us. The house was more than big enough for a family of six. He led me down the stairs into a basement. I hadn’t seen a house this big in years. ‘And this is my freezer, where I keep all my meat, ’ he said with a smile, red packages glinting as he snapped the door shut. But tiredness blurred any worry and I sleepily said goodnight, watching the many bottles of Jack Daniels lining the shelf near the ceiling slowly shrink.

I lay down in extremely soft bed, my eyes jumping to the lock on the door, thinking of the stranger just a few steps away in his bedroom. And in that moment, I felt the complete emptiness of being alone, thinking how different things would have been if my partner had been here. If I didn’t have to trust this stranger, when all the signs pointed to ‘Run-away!’ But despite the nagging reminder of the deep freeze in the basement, I felt I had no choice. And in a bold moment of trust in the moment, I even left the door unlocked, finding sleep as the morning promised a first day climbing.


The next day as I sat in the front of the black truck and made small talk, I did my best to remember the gravel-covered roads and church signs marking the way to one of the main areas in the Red, the PMRP, PendergrassMurray Recreational Preserve.

It was 25 degrees Celsius and sweat poured down my back ans mosquitoes bit my legs as I tried to stay positive. But it really wasn’t hard taking in the sweeping sandstone pockets and massive overhangs, the signature of the Red. I offered to belay first, quickly deciding that I would scope out my unknown partner and host. But then he was quickly down and it was my turn. No more excuses to be had.

My heart started to beat faster and I tied in, careful to show that I knew what I was doing. I stripped off my top; it was too hot to climb with proper clothes. My armpits dripped and palms were soaked. This wasn’t climbing, this was survival. It was only a 6b but my biceps and forearms burst with the pump, but I couldn’t fall off. I didn’t know this guy, but not only that; I had a reputation to live up to.


Before I arrived, I had been included in a group message telling all these Kentucky locals that I was a 7c+/13 climber and above. A message obviously shared to let them know I wasn’t going to sketch them out with a dodgy belay. But in turn I felt under pressure to live up to these claims. They’d made assumptions and heard rumours and then I’d arrived, not knowing how my body would feels but I felt I to perform. And here I was on the other end, not knowing the climber holding the grigri, but where was the pressure on him? I felt I had to perform but did he?

I had never been in this position before – under the pressure, again to perform, but in a different way. This time it was to ensure the other’s safety and to live up to the words said about me before. I had to onsight this 6b otherwise they might think me a hypocrite, a poser, a liar.

But the nervousness made me even more pumped, and as my forearms exploded from the holds, the rippled open-handed jugs, burning into the bottom of my forearms, I quickly learned why the Red was famous for shutting people down.

My heart fluttered the whole way to the top but I sent it. I had to. Then I battled through a 6c and a 7a+ to follow, but the adrenaline left me exhausted, skin shredded, and callouses torn from my palms in the heat and humidity. I’d gone climbing, but I couldn’t be sure I was having fun yet.

I stayed another night, but the next day I thanked my host and packed an on-lend rope & draws that he’d graciously offered. I decided it was time, time to head off into the unknown, and I finally headed to the infamous camp-site at Miguel’s Pizza, what some call the Camp Four of the East…

Photo: Karsten Delap

A Taste of ‘Professional’ Climbing

In the past 6 months, a huge amount of change has occurred in my climbing career (not to mention the fact that I feel like I have one now). I climbed a few 8a sport climbs, was offered my first sponsorship from Monkey Fist – a skincare brand I really love, and I was an athlete (imagine that!) in two climbing films, one with Bloc Features and the other with Volo Digital for the Reach Film.

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Blokfest finals at Boulder Brighton. Photo: Karolis Pipiras

I’ve been competition climbing for years and won here and there  but nothing really came of it. This past year I was 2016 Senior Female Blokfest Champion, but nothing really happened, they didn’t even mention it on UKC. I’ve learned a few things along the way and it’s mostly that if you don’t tell people about what you are doing, they don’t really notice, which then encourages the unashamed self-marketing, but the real truth is it’s pretty much the only way to succeed in this industry. In all my recent travels I’ve met a lot of people climbing really hard, something that happened when I moved into the slightly more ‘advanced’ bracket of climbing and relocating to the climbing hub of Sheffield.

But I found as soon as you climb a little bit harder, you then move to the bottom of the fish pond again. I’ve had the opportunity to meet women who are bouldering 8a and 8b as well as sport climbing on the same level or harder. This progression has definitely given me a lesson in humility.

Back in London I didn’t know many women who were climbing at a similar level (or were super psyched) so I felt like a little bit of an anomaly. But now being  one of less strong women climbing, it’s brought me to question how much I love climbing – do I love it more than being on top or winning? I went through a phase of struggling to see my own ability as worthwhile, as most people are topping out boulders faster than me or climbing grades way harder. I constantly felt under pressure to ‘prove’ myself, as I didn’t know them well or haven’t climbed much with them.

Contrarily trying to publish my achievements as seems necessary to be a an aspiring professional, I started to feel a little bit like a poser – as if what’s the point of posting about myself if I’m not nearly as good as these other women? Georgie Abel, one of my favourite womens/climbing/etc bloggers posted a nice explanation of this odd phenomenon — feeling like an online imposter, which I really relate to. Since posting about my climbing, I have had those feelings of questioning whether it’s worthwhile, but especially with the lack of women climbing in the media, I hope that it would have the same effect that my friend’s posts always have for me – that I’m inspired to try as hard as they do.

Frustrated at not sending at St Bees. Photo: Lee James Thompson

Recently in the making of these two climbing films, I was put under the pressure of the camera – a totally new experience for me. We drove 3.5 hours and went to St. Bees where I was told to climb a certain boulder and then I had to make everyone wait while I tried to get it, over and over and over.

It took maybe 3-4 hours. I’d never really been in the position where I had to climb something and people were dependant on me. The pressure was immense, and it again made me question how much I really loved the sport. If being a professional or a sponsored athlete meant finding it within yourself to be able to perform any time, but not only that, having fun any time, I wasn’t sure I was capable of that! I started to question whether being a professional is really something I want, as it was seeming more work than stardom.

Trying to send my project under camera pressure. Photo: Volo Digital

In the filming of the Reach, we travelled to Magic Wood. There were a lot of us being filmed and on the one day I had the camera crew I felt really bad and wasn’t climbing well. And then there was always the problem of someone trying something harder that maybe should be filmed instead. Maybe the camera crew should have gone with them instead of me; I had to make it worthwhile. All logistics and pressures I had never really considered before.

This taste of professionalism I have to say has definitely brought on a reality check. We all talk about wanting to be pros, but these pros, the people I’ve been climbing with, deal with these pressures all the time, and it’s something you really have to work through. I think perhaps I was under the guise of this disbelief that there was a lot of free gear, free press and loads of fun to be had as a sponsored athlete. A lot of people want to be pro climbers but they (me included) don’t realise how difficult it really is – when people are waiting on you, when your brands are emailing you asking you what you are climbing, or worse, when your sponsors are dropping you if you don’t win or get injured, it’s not so fun.

In Magic Wood, I didn’t send my project under the pressure and took a little break to re-vamp. At the moment, I’m focusing on climbing outside and trying to have fun instead of focusing on ‘sponsorship.’  I’m trying to find the space in my mind where I’m back to achieving and climbing for myself, no matter whom is asking, as it proves a totally different ball game. In a recent conversation with Zofia Reych, my climbing partner before she off and moved to Bulgaria (why?!), we talked about how sharing your life and achievements with others should become more of a conversation than an advertisement, and that’s what I want to have (with the occasional gear mention…)

Becoming a professional is still something I’m aiming for, whether silly or not, as more than anything I really want to see more of my friends getting really psyched and trying hard. As well as encouraging women to feel confident, get huge muscles and climb really really hard. But for now it seems difficult. Hopefully I can move back into climbing just for myself, something I think is worthwhile to find in anyone’s climbing life!

9 Tips to Send Your One-Day Boulder Project

Looking through my log of climbing journals, I found this little throwback and I was surprised to find some good advice…I found my own Tips to Send a Project, which I hadn’t read in so long, I found pretty useful myself and will use them my upcoming trip to Magic Wood.

If you’ve ever had that feeling after a day out bouldering like you just could’ve done better or could’ve climbed harder, then you’ll relate to my account of a trip I had to Fontainbleau a few years back. It was my fifth trip to Fontainebleau – an amazing crag where most of us struggle to climb hard while expanding our bellies with croissants, pain aux petites (my favourite) or chocolat viennoise. I wanted to send my first Font 7a/v6 and it felt like the right time. I was feeling positive. I felt it was definitely going to happen this trip. But despite the sun and the pastries, I got the bleau blues.

Falling off L’Helicoptere 7a, which I still haven’t done. Photo: Steph Choy

I’d been climbing for three years, off and on – given two separate foot surgeries and a few injuries – but it had felt like long enough to be able to climb my first 7a. My first visit to Font had been a few months before and I tackled a 6c+ with a fractured thumb. It had been my unfortunate luck to shut my thumb in the car trunk (trunk fully closed, thumb in). Okay, Okay, there was alcohol involved. Learn from my mistakes! Do not go anywhere near car doors while drinking unless very experienced with doors.

Thumb bandage apparent on my first outdoor v5, Le Nez 6c+ at Canche Aux Merciers

I reasoned with myself, if I could tackle a 6c+ with a useless and painful thumb, what was holding me back from my 7a now?

At first learning the F system was my excuse. Fontainbleau uses the same letters and numbers at the European Sport grades but it’s graded based on the climber doing it the easiest possible way, knowing the beta, and having practised. A little harsh, I felt. Knowing that flashing isn’t even an option, the hope is to figure this beta out in the day with enough time for your body to also perform by the time you’ve exhausted yourself.

In retrospect, this isn’t harsh at all, but completely normal. Projecting in a day is extremely hard, especially if it’s at the top of your grade. But at the time, I wasn’t sure it was down to just strength. I feel it’s probably the same for most people.

I thought that perhaps the problem had more to do with strategy and the fact that I didn’t really have one.

Needless to say I didn’t send a 7a on that trip, but I did learn a few things to help send day projects. These tips are mostly my own opinions and hopefully they help you too, but consider we are all different so read with a grain of salt, but maybe can help you work out your own strategy as well, which I do feel is the key to sending those day projects.

9 Tips for Sending a Day Project:


      Choose your project carefully, make sure it plays to your strengths (and favourite moves) if it’s at the top of your grade. If you don’t know what your strengths are (which I hear a lot) next time you go to the bouldering gym, try and be aware of what moves you find easy and do without thinking and that might be the key to what your ‘style’ is.


    • WARM UP

      Warming up is one of the most important parts of climbing well and preventing injury. By definition this is an actual heat rise in the body of 2-3 degrees. Read more about what warming up really is and all the physical benefits on Physio Room.



      Get on your project right away after warming up. A trainer that I worked with last year, Rich Hudson of New Heights Fitness, advised that you should go to the hardest boulder problems you want to try in the day immediately after warming up thoroughly. This decreases injury as you are fresh and full of energy and, hopefully, increases chances for success.



      Try to watch others climbing your project rather than wasting all your energy on it. All of people moan about others ‘greasing up holds’ but I think it’s good to have a crew on your problem because it can save you energy remembering your sequence or finding new beta, particularly someone whom you know climbs similarly to yourself.



      Use every failure as an opportunity to try and figure out why. You’ll improve your technique and body awareness and hopefully see failure as something useful for your future climbing rather than a negative experience. Sometimes the difference between getting the move and not can be as subtle as starting a problem sitting two inches to the left to pull on.



      Before you know all your beta work in sections and rest for 3-8 minutes after each attempt. Don’t wear yourself if you know that you can’t do all the moves, by trying from ground up (unless you have to, in which case rest longer). During rests, it’s best to stay moving rather than sit down as the body will be clued in that activity is coming again. This is a good time to do physiotherapy exercises. Once you know your beta and you’re going for a redpoint attempt, for each failed attempt, rest for 10 minutes minimum, up to 30 minutes between goes.


    • EAT MORE

      Don’t forget to eat every hour. You may even find it helpful to eat a small bite every time you have a strenuous go. I find that coffee or sugar in small doses can help give a bit of an energy spike, but only in small amounts.


    • TRY HARD

      Trying hard isn’t as simple as we might hope. Recently I had a discussion with a friend about the inability to ‘summon the power’ when we are trying a hard move bouldering. Often this is due to brain conditioning. We aren’t able to tell our body to pull hard and so we don’t. Seth Lytton has a hilarious blog about how to ‘try really freakin hard‘ that suggests conditioning yourself with a ritual.



    One of the best pieces of advice about climbing I ever heard was to remember to have fun. The more you love and have fun climbing, the more you can achieve. For me, this is one of the most helpful aspects of projecting. I can always perform better when I’m having fun. Even in failure, you are still learning about your body’s movement and improving your technique. Bottom line – stop taking it so seriously!

    Another project in Magic Wood, Blindfisch 7b that escaped my send.

Just remember this is my own advice and may not work for you, but I think my suggestions are pretty general and may help most climbers overall. If you have any other tips on how you send your day projects, I’d love to hear them as I’m sure I’ve missed some. We’re all different, so different things can work for different people.

After that frustrating Font trip, I went to Font two more times before getting my first 7a, but then on the third succeeding trip I got 3 in one day, using a lot of the techniques described above.

Confessions of a Climbing Sexist

Today rummaging on the internet, I stumbled upon a shared post by Light Shed Pictures, reposting a ‘high-five’ to a letter from Georgie Abel in response to Evening Sends author Andrew Bisharat. Not typically one to get too involved in the climbing-sexism topic (I usually leave that to my friend Zofia Reych who does a great job on her blog), I really had to speak out on this one.

Andrew Bisharat has been heavily criticised for his opinions on his website about feminism and women in the climbing community. Upon reading most of his stuff, I couldn’t help sense the twinge of male-privilege and condescension that his tone often carries, but I have to give him credit, he did his best to remain as neutral as possible…Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Andrew, I know 10s of thousands of guys like him, and I generally just ignore them and try to change the world towards female-male equality in my own climbing life.

However, this letter to Andrew from Georgie remarkably conveys how I truly feel about the climbing industry. It was such a great response to his perspective. I had to endorse it. Georgie says that instead of highlighting women for their achievements separate of men (this was discussed in Andrew’s original article on FFAs) she wishes for a world where we can just climb and get on with whatever the fuck we want without anyone really caring or thinking about us being females. This is the world that I want too. But upon reading Georgie’s cry out for this equality, I suddenly realised that maybe my perspective is also contributing to this sexism.

As a woman who ‘climbs hard’ and is relatively above the average of many women, I sometimes consider myself ‘above’ this sexism in the sport. The men I often climb with respect me, consider me one of their own. I recently got told to try a route that was ‘one that girls like’ and I was shocked by this phrase as I am normally surrounded by guys who really don’t care if I’m a girl or not (sometimes I regret that with never-ending talks of  bowel movements).

But in my personal climbing life, Georgie’s article made me realise that perhaps I am climbing sexist myself.


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Going for the dyno on Piranja 7c+ Magic Wood (I didn’t get it yet)

I often try to be braver, train harder and be stronger than men…just because I want to redefine how women are seen in climbing and in life. But even that perspective is just fuelling the differences between the sexes. I should be brave, strong, train hard because it’s fun and I love it — not because I need to demonstrate to men that all those stereotypes are not true. Sometimes I find myself looking down on women who are scared at the top of a climb  and come down, or ask a man to put their draws. I feel frustrated that they are giving into these female stereotypes – why can’t they just man up! Wait…’man up’? What are we even talking about here? I’ve realised that even my own thinking sometimes follows this sexist pattern. I should, instead of judging these women, or trying hard to never be one, I should be saying, you can do that climb! Or, you know what, it doesn’t matter if you don’t want to or if you are afraid — you can do what you want. Climbing is person, you should be the climber you want to be. Sometimes that means not topping out a high-ball or finishing a route. If it’s not fun to conquer your fear, you don’t have to! If you don’t like doing pull-ups, then forget them. If you don’t want to train on a finger board, then don’t do it!

No more am I going to be brave, strong, train hard because I have something to prove. I’m going to do it for myself because I love climbing, being strong and training hard. Oh, and I’m also a woman.

All the articles I mentioned are below:

Andrew Bisharat’s original article:

Amanda Robinson Schwartz’s article on Moja Gear where he responds:

Georgie Abel’s letter:

Sidni West’s endorement shared by Light Shed Pictures:

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Why You’ll Love Climbing Alone

For the past six or so years of my climbing career the majority has been dependant on climbing with others. I started out in a gym where I would text my friends to come climbing before I went and sometimes not go if no one else was. Although climbing is one of the few sports that you can actually do alone, the sense of community is the essence of climbing. I can’t stress that the community in climbing is what makes it such a great sport, the type of people you meet and the trust that you build with each other’s lives in your hands. It creates bonds that an afternoon of badminton never could.

But off my philosophical speaker box, I’m here to talk about Climbing Alone.

This past week, I spent some time in Colorado trying to learn about where to climb in the massive state. Not only did I end up lost pretty much every day, but unlike in Europe, the crags were relatively empty except on the weekends and most days I found myself all alone trying to climb.

Crossing the Selfie Threshold
Crossing the Selfie Threshold

My motivation in my head was extremely high, but when I walked up to the first boulders at Horsetooth near Fort Collins, Colorado, I suddenly realized that a 10m v0 even wasn’t going to happen by myself. I tried to think positive, but then a low rattling sound made my heart drop – a rattlesnake lay across the path, just a few feet from my legs. The dry jingle of it’s tail made me realize even moreso that if I was bitten I would still be all alone. I backed up and moved to a high line of boulders, hoping that the snake would stay where it was. I decided to make up some problems, tossing the guidebook aside and taking what low climbs I could handle, something this guidebook guzzling girl never would dream of before. The sound of my shoes on the ground and the shuffling of the mat left a hallow feeling like I would hear the snake again instead, so I put on some music just like I was at the indoor gym.

After an hour or so of some attempts to spot myself, trying to fall exactly where the mats where (and of course missing), I concluded I was probably going to be fine.

When we are on our own, whether we mean to or not we start to err on the side of caution.

I decided to walk down to a v5 traverse I knew was low and long, promising hours worth of relatively safe entertainment. I brought my bank of supplies with me, my two measly mats, my phone playing music and body ready to get some ‘real’ climbing in.

Punk Rock Traverse v5

The hours crept by. I tried the problem a few times, but struggled at the end, worried that I actually had to do 80% of the problem without a mat at all. But it was fine.

I was worried that my motivation would straggle and I would sit around like I sometimes do with my friends and stare off into space or just watch others climb. But when it’s only you, it’s almost easier. No one is watching and you really find out how much you actually like climbing. I tried the v5 over and over and I found I was getting exhausted in just a few hours. With no one else to show me how it was done or to make me rest, I was tired pretty quickly and found just a few hours enough for a full day.

I continued to another boulder called the Meditation Boulder, where my two mats were definitely not enough, and decided to do some easy face climbs. I got to the flat and wide top of the boulder and had a seat, suddenly lost in the expansive view afforded me. It was quiet except for the wind and the faint twinkle of my cell phone playing some song I could barely make out and in that moment, I was glad I was alone.

The view from the path in Horsetooth Resevoir.

In the stillness of the Meditation Boulder I suddenly heard a sound and snapped my head towards it. I saw a few boulder mats poking from the dry bush near the water. The voice carried and I could see the approaching climber – another soul to save me! I quickly down-climbed and gathered my things. I’m not usually the type of person who runs to speak to others unless they are my friends, but I couldn’t resist having a conversation, a climbing partner and some more mats.

That’s the thing about being alone, you really start seeing other people as opportunities rather than someone to be judged or not good enough to climb with you. Everyone can bring something special to your day.

I rushed over trying to be cool asking if I could try the traverse with him. I was ecstatic on the inside, I knew I would take anyone. But in a few moments of his incessant chatter and complaints at failure because of a hangboard session the night before, I felt all too quickly that being alone wasn’t so bad after all. But then I realized that we need companionship and that he was just a passionate climber, just like me, brave enough to bare the dusty rocks alone too; we we’re one and the same and I was glad for the company at the mats.

Feeling worn out, I walked back up the trail to my car, so tired I hardly noticed where I was going. I suddenly realized that I was on the snake path and quickly shuffled onto a boulder instead of the path. I stopped, breathing a sigh of relief that he wasn’t hiding the bushes or on the rock. I paused and decided to turn back just to see if he was still there, to reassure myself that I had even seen him at all. I dropped my bags and crept along the path and sure enough there he was. In the same position on the side of the path, guarding the way to the boulders, ensuring that no one else could pass. I thought to myself, perhaps he wasn’t out to bite me at all, but maybe he was there to watch over me, to keep all those other people away, so I could climb alone in peace.

The rattlesnake on the path.