Why It Matters: One Story of the Women’s Climbing Festival

I am a socially anxious creature, so deciding to go to any kind of festival gives me clammy hands and cotton mouth. “Gatherings” in general just really aren’t my jam. Deciding to go to a women’s only festival, well, that’s even more intimidating. Both men and women have negative connotations with large gatherings of women. Women are “catty.” Women are “insecure.” Women are “hard on each other.” I’ve been guilty of saying and thinking all of the above.

Needless to say, leading up to to the first ever women’s climbing festival, I was in knots. Friends (men and women alike) complained about the exclusiveness of the event, saying it was “over the top”. Others made fun of it. I just listened, because I myself didn’t know what to expect. I was excited, proud of my friend (and founder of Flash Foxy) for organizing such a large event, but I was also apprehensive.

The first night in the Mountain Rambler Brewery, I stood in a corner, calling my parents and my boyfriend as an excuse to feel less awkward standing there alone with a beer in a room full of people I didn’t know. The first couple of women I met, I felt myself trying too hard. My voice came out croaky and squeaky and I jumbled words around. “Fuck”, I thought. This is what I was worried about. It’s going to be another one of those “Why am I here?” experiences, where I want to connect with other women but am too stuck in my own head to be able to do it.

Two beers later and I was hamming it up. I was still jumbling words around but I didn’t care. The women seemed friendly, and mostly I was struck by just how excited they all were. Why couldn’t I just be excited too? I went to sleep with a few less knots. The next morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn to help with registration. I spent the morning chatting with a sun-kissed, friendly Canuck who had spent the last year plus living the climber dream: living in her van, climbing all over the country. We greeted, checked in and gave goody bags to smiling girl after smiling girl. I felt more knots loosen.

That first afternoon out at the boulders, I watched the various clinics – hoards of women led by women, roam about the massive pieces of granite scattered in the hillside. I weaved my way in and out of them, pausing to take photos and observe, and finally layed down my own crash pad to join. There was a really subtle yet beautiful energy buzzing. I could hear girls questioning their ability to do something and then watched them try it anyway. Chants of sweet encouragement and laughter filled the Buttermilks, and a general sense of ease was palpable. As a close friend said to me while driving out to the boulders on Sunday, “It occurred to me yesterday that I got so used to being the only girl in a group of climbers, I didn’t know how that had affected me until now. When you’re the only girl, there’s this pressure. Like you have to try hard to prove yourself as the cool girl. And here…it’s all girls. So I don’t have to try to be anything.”

Sometimes it’s so subtle it’s almost impossible to detect. But it’s there. When you are the odd woman out, you can never escape the feeling that you have something to prove.

The festival was a huge success, and I am happy to say I had a fabulous weekend. In retrospect, I wonder what I was so worried about and why everyone was quick to be critical about something that had never taken place before. I suppose previously, getting groups of women together has felt somewhat forced to me. It was as if we felt and recognized, as women, the need to exclude men without knowing how to relate to one another once they were gone. I don’t know that “womanness”, whatever that means, has been enough to make me want to connect with someone. Often in groups of women, I feel somehow like I’m “missing it”. Like I’m not experiencing and benefiting from the same deep connection that the women around me are. And it’s felt pretty crappy. Because I care a lot what women think of me, more than I care what men think of me. I need female-specific support in my life. Rejection stings a little bit more, and acceptance feels all that much sweeter. Without realizing it, I have slowly over the years alienated myself from women as a whole, and I am realizing now this was in part due to a fear of rejection, but mostly it was that my experiences were lacking a key component, and it was so simple. We were missing a shared interest.

What hit me at the end of the day on Saturday was along the lines of what Climbing editor Julie Ellison realized in her piece published this morning. We were all there to climb. That was it. It really was that simple. Climbing was our bridge, our connection, our reason for coming together. The exclusivity of the event and our gender…that all came second to our desire and psych to climb. During a panel held Saturday night, founder of Flash Foxy and moderator Shelma Jun said something along the lines of, ‘There’s something magical that happens when you get just women together and climb. If you want to climb with just women, why do you have to have a reason to justify doing it?’ The more I relaxed into the weekend, the more I got it. Stripped of the political statements, stripped of the act of exclusivity, stripped of all of the cultural stereotypes and pigeon-holing, we were just a group of women climbing together, and it felt good. It wasn’t forced: it felt natural and comfortable. It felt as if we were saying to each other, “Hey, being a woman can feel really confusing and hard sometimes, let’s just hang out and climb and forget about all that bullshit”.

Womanhood is our bond, and climbing is the language that enabled us, for one weekend, to express and understand that bond. It’s never felt so easy.

All photos and words by Sasha Turrentine.

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Evelyn Park susses out the delicate moves of The Hulk (v2) in the Buttermilks, with the support of her fellow Highball clinic ladies, while teacher Georgie Abel observes.

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The all-woman panel talks about gender-specific issues in climbing, with all-female ears listening. Moderator Shelma Jun got the panel moving by asking a few questions and then opened it up to the floor.

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Lady vibes.

sasha_turrentine_castlerockSASHA I learned to climb around the time I learned to walk, taking trips to Yosemite where my dad would take my mom and I up classics like Munginella & Nutcracker. Climbing isn’t something I found, it has always been there, as much a part of me as my big toe, or tendency to overthink. As a kid it instilled in me an appreciation and need for adventure. As a teenager, it gave me purpose & identity. Now, as an adult(ish), climbing feels like…home.

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