FlashFoxy Women's Climbing Festival

words and photos provided by Kayleen Castelli

6:30 a.m. Bishop, California: The sun is beginning to light the horizon. I want to snuggle a little deeper into my sleeping bag. Instead, I crawl out of my tent and breathe a sigh of relief. Today, a Friday, I am thankful not to be at work.

Frankly, I am also thankful to no longer be in a car. Three of my friends and I drove from Boulder, Colorado to Bishop, California to attend the first-ever Flash Foxy Women’s Climbing Festival.

The trip took us about 20 hours thanks to an odd series of events, including a rock fall on the highway, a windstorm with 100-mile-per-hour gusts, a rainstorm, a whiteout snowstorm, and the engine of a semi-trailer truck exploding which shut down the highway for a few hours.  

But now we are here, and I’m waking up in my tent, in the desert, about to attend the first-ever women’s climbing festival in the United States. I’m excited.

FlashFoxy Women's Climbing Festival

One of the guys

I’ve never had many female climbing partners. My first climbing partner, a guy, brought me into the climbing fold. One of my best friends, also male, joined us and we became an unstoppable trio, climbing everywhere from the Red River Gorge in Kentucky to Snake Dike on Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. My climbing community was me and a bunch of dudes.  

I was comfortable being the only girl in a group. At that point, I was used to it. It wasn’t until I moved to Colorado that I noticed the absence of women in my climbing life. It was there that I began to see more women in the climbing gym. So, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and starting talking to women to try to make friends. However, a new circle of friends doesn’t happen overnight.

One day, on a coffee break at work, I was chatting with one of my female coworkers about my excitement for an upcoming climbing trip, and I discovered that my friend also climbed. She told me that she was going to the Women’s Climbing Festival and had an extra ticket. She asked if I wanted to join her and her two friends. I jumped at the opportunity.

Going to the Women’s Climbing Festival pushed me out of my comfort zone. I embarked on the trip with one girl that I only knew through our brief interactions at work and two women that I had never met. I had never before had a group of female climbing friends and wasn’t sure what to expect.

Climbing with women

Eventually, I emerge from my tent and hit up “Happy Boulders”, a popular bouldering spot near where festival events are taking place, with my newfound crew. Walking into the boulder field, I’m astounded—there are women everywhere, trying and sending hard. A soundtrack of laughter and the exchange of climbing beta fills the air with palpable energy. For the first time in my climbing life, I boulder outside with a bunch of chicks and I, to my own surprise, feel right at home.

And for the first time I am out of excuses. I can’t balk and say I’m not strong enough. I have to get up on the boulder and send or fall, and I’m stoked to do it because my female peers are behind me, cheering me on.

On Saturday night, there is a panel discussion. It’s my favorite part of the trip. It makes me realize that climbing with women means no excuses. Bringing more women into the climbing community is important because women think differently and approach problems differently. Seeing other women climbing hard and giving it their all is beneficial for all climbers, particularly other women, because it gives everyone a different perspective. Other female climbers are a positive reminder that no woman is too weak to accomplish her dreams. Maybe she hasn’t figured out the beta that works for her yet, but there are no reasons, no excuses, not to push forward.  

FlashFoxy Women's Climbing Festival

Why we need all-women gatherings

Why do we need a women’s climbing festival? Because it creates a safe space for women to discover their own identity in a sport dominated by men. As the panel discussion at the festival highlighted, an all-women festival allows women to come together to encourage each other. It also encourages more women to pursue climbing, even if they are in the minority.

In the company of men, it was easy for me to give up the lead when I got scared. My male friends, possibly conditioned by societal norms to be protective and bold, would always—even if begrudgingly—take the lead. But as Katie Lambert, a professional climber, pointed out at the panel discussion, “Somebody’s got to get the rope up there. Get up there, girl.”

When it’s all girls, there is less of an opportunity to opt out.  

The festival wasn’t about excluding men. It was not about celebrating the demise of men as women rise up. It was about creating a safe space to ask questions, not having to worry about patronizing comments, and not hearing that you sent your project because you have small hands or because you are flexible.

Most importantly, it was about empowerment. Women may need to seek the middle hold or jump to the start holds if they are shorter or work on explosive strength training so they can dyno or campus past part of the problem. Whatever the tactic needed, the message was clear: No excuses. We, as women, can climb. We just need to find our voices, our style, and our unique expression of this sport that we all love so much.  

. . .

The second annual Flash Foxy Women’s Climbing Festival will take place March 3-5, 2017, in Bishop, California. Tickets to the event will be available for purchase December 1.

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