My voice wavered as I told my boyfriend I was headed to Colorado for a weekend of ice climbing. “It’s an all-women’s trip,” I said. “I’ll make friends.”
He laughed. I’m not a climber, and I’ve never expressed interest in climbing. But off I went, taking ferries, hopping planes, and carpooling with strangers so I could arrive in Ouray, Colorado for the area’s annual ice climbing festival.
Although the Ouray Ice Climbing Festival brings together both men and women, I was here to spend the weekend surrounded by a dozen of my fellow Outdoor Women’s Alliance volunteers, many of whom I was meeting in person for the first time. We stayed together in a single house, took women’s-specific clinics, and I learned, through their example, how to belay, swing an axe, and get up a column of ice.
But more importantly, I experienced the magic created when women gather to learn together.
That magic is what Shelma Jun, the founder of the Flash Foxy Women’s Climbing Festival, is trying to cultivate. Launched in 2016 to bring together the growing number of female climbers in the United States, the festival has sparked friendships based on a love of laughter and vertical gains.
And it’s helping participants feeling encouraged, motivated, and willing to try moves beyond their comfort zones.
Taylor Nystrom, a climbing coach and former middle school science teacher, said, “If I’m belaying someone and it takes them four hours to climb a single pitch because they’re scared out of their mind … I’ll be there for that four hours, supporting them the whole way.”
The aim of the festival, as stated by Jun, is not to write off men as climbing partners. Instead, it’s “to open an experimental space that helps us acknowledge the growing community of women climbers, build solidarity with one another, [and] play with the possibility of climbing differently.”
Last year, Flash Foxy’s crew asked its attendees “Why are you here?” The responses echoed what I experienced during my time in Ouray: Jenna Johnson, a Truckee, California-based physician’s assistant, said, “to meet some cool chicks and get stronger”. Natalie Duran, a clinical researcher at University of California, Los Angeles said, “to build and get to know the women’s climbing community and to hang!”
But Colette McInerney, a Tennessee native and visual content producer, may have summarized it best: “to capture the magic.”
“A snapshot from the [Women’s Climbing Festival (WCF)] 2016 on our way to the Sads for some climbing. Meeting so many positive female climbers in just one weekend really turned my attitude around about my capabilities as a climber. I can’t believe the next WCF sold out in a mere five minutes! Stoked for the memories and friendships that lay ahead!”
“I miss the energy of lady power, lady stoke and the head throw back, no care, lady laughs. Just four months until the 2017 #womensclimbingfestival!”
“Surround yourself with bold females. Be adventurous and share inspiration. Empower each other, get out there, and love what you do. Feb 21st 2016 – One of the best weekends I’ve had with ladies in the outdoors. Thanks to @heyflashfoxy for starting this #girlcrew movement in Bishop!”
“Ginger had never climbed on granite before. […] She was “power-spotted” to the start hold, the mantel, where she was able to get up after a couple attempts. But one move higher and she got scared and came down. […] It was obviously outside her comfort zone but … she became very focused once she committed to the moves above the mantel. […] This problem, along with the support … of the other women, was a real confidence builder for Ginger. […] The type that becomes hardwired into her very being and she can draw from whenever life demands it.”
“To all the lady crushers out there: Let’s support each other. Let’s hold each other up. Let’s defend one another and anyone else who needs it. Let’s learn from each other, challenge each other and laugh together. Feeling all the warm fuzzies looking at these girl crew shots from this past year’s #womensclimbingfestival clinics.”
“So here we are, in a utopia filled only with supportive, stoked women and an abundance of amazing crag snacks…never to climb with men again? Well, that misses the point entirely. […] We want to re-imagine our relationships with climbing without feeling pressured to conform to masculine social norms, and for some of us, to subvert them. Instead, we ask: How should we climb together? What do we climb for? And how will these experiences transform our relationship with climbing everywhere?”
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About the author
Laura Grieser is a pre-nursing student and avid skier, mountain biker, and trail runner. Raised in Colorado, she has recently found her home in Sequim, Washington, where the mountains greet the sea. Her 2017 goals include: running a trail half-marathon, getting into nursing school, and transferring her ice climbing skills to rock.
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