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.

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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.

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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!

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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:http://eveningsends.com/the-curse-of-the-first-female-ascent/

Amanda Robinson Schwartz’s article on Moja Gear where he responds: http://mojagear.com/journal/2015/12/08/being-strong-and-fragile-a-discussion-on-sexism-racism-exclusivity-and-privilege-in-climbing/

Georgie Abel’s letter:https://medium.com/@georgieabel/an-open-letter-to-andrew-bisharat-2f14c76a0ec4#.hsttu05aq

Sidni West’s endorement shared by Light Shed Pictures: https://medium.com/@sidniwest/an-open-letter-to-the-men-running-the-climbing-industry-baf78f6df443#.zbe0ql20w

View at Medium.com

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The rattlesnake on the path.

Why

climbing comp february 13I’ve been writing since I was small. I’ve always been that annoying kid in class who actually read all the books assigned. But in my third year of college, I opted for a serious English degree thinking of my high school teacher, Mrs. Brenner, who showed me that books were more exciting than I assumed, and that good writing takes more work than you think  (as she crossed through the fifteen extra words I added in my essays from the thesaurus to sound smarter). I chose to specialize in Creative Writing instead of English Lit (since I probably read more than I probably talked to people at that point).

I would say that was probably the most influential decision of my life up to this point, but another decision, perhaps, impacted my life even more deeply– my decision to start climbing.

Always an athlete, I was obsessed with one sport to another. I tried tennis, ballet, tap dancing, swimming, softball, baseball, and the long-lasting volleyball for about eight years, but nothing stuck with my like climbing. When I started to climb at the Tallahassee Rock Gym, it wasn’t really love at first sight. I was terrible. My arms hurt like hell and all of my skin started to peel off, like the outside of a mushy banana. My fingertips were bloody and blistered. And thanks to the advice of my friends, I bought Evolv Elecktras that were three sizes too small (which now I have decided is a very stupid idea spurred on by strange, masochistic climbers).

For if no reason other than I hate being bad at something, I kept climbing. And somehow, I began to improve, and fast. Within six months I could do V3s easily and by the time I had been climbing for a year, I was actually pretty good. I entered a competition at TRG for kicks, just to see where I stood with the other girls who had been climbing far longer than I had, and I ended up in the finals. Not only was I shocked, but amazed that going from not being able to do a pull up at all, I had risen to placing third. And boy when that happened, there wasn’t much that could stop me. I’ve been climbing and competing now for about four years and despite my (many) injuries, a few surgeries, summers off and even drama at the rock gym, I haven’t stopped and I dont think I can.

Climbing has turned into my life.

I’m a yoga teacher, dancer (not necessarily a good one), an occasional volleyball player, aerial artist, but I don’t feel that any of these define me how climbing does.

I think about it, talk about it, and when I’m not doing it, I’m plotting the next time I can. It’s unavoidable, I’m a climber. I’ve been dodging the urge to start another outdoor blog as there and many, and plenty amazing to choose from, but I give in. How can I not write about something that is so much a part of me, that before I even started this post I had 20 more ideas of what I can write about next. I look forward to this adventure together & thanks for reading! -Alice