The Ladies Revolution

*There are no pretty pictures to accompany this post. Just thoughts. You’ve been warned..

This year, the climbing world has experienced an explosion in talent, achievements, and new standards. We’re all familiar with Adam Ondra’s recent sending sprees. But that’s not what I’m hear to talk about. I want to talk about the evolution of women’s climbing. Last summer, Angie Payne became the first woman to climb V13 with her ascent of the Automator. Anna Stohr closely followed suit just a month later. Last spring, Sasha DiGiulian tore up the Red River Gorge with multiple 5.14c First Female Ascents and a 5.14a onsight. This fall, she went back for more, making the third ascent and first female ascent of Jonathan Siegrist‘s Pure Imagination, 5.14d, in just six tries. How’s that for inspiring?

So, what’s the explanation for womens’ sudden approach toward the standards recently set solely by men? Perhaps women are now more physically capable. But seeing as we probably haven’t evolved much over the past 10, 20, even 50 years, this seems unlikely. Perhaps we’re learning to try harder, but this also seems unreasonable, as I can think of some incredible try hard faces from years past, so our level of effort is nothing new. I think the answer lies in our mental approach to the sport. Yes, we are becoming more aware of our abilities and potential to climb harder, reach further, jump higher, crimp harder, etc. However, I think women are also becoming more and more willing to fail.

Climbing is all about failing. Ask anyone who is climbing at their limit, whether that be 5.9 or 5.15, and they will certainly agree they’ve failed a few times. We fall, and we fall, and we fall. We make a small step forward on our project, and then we take a giant step back. We go through a rollar coaster of effort, motivation, success, and failure, and then finally, when we can hardly tolerate the route spitting us off one more time, we succeed. This is the process that I love about climbing. While it’s not fun to grow increasingly frustrated with doubts that we’ll ever finish a particular route, overcoming these doubts and learning from the whole process of failure is what keeps us all coming back for more.

After writing this, I’m starting to think this progression has a little more to do with our unwillingness to fail than our willingness to fail. Deep down, we just can’t let these giant rocks defeat us.  And so we try and try again until we conquer. I think it’s a little bit of both. Trying at your limit requires making yourself vulnerable. You never know if the end result will be in your favor or not. We approach the route as a challenge, knowing we might not come out on top. But the perseverance, the determination, even the egoistic drive to overcome, pushes us to first attempt, and then succeed.

The climbing community could go on forever explaining the progression of our sport. But the point is, it’s progressing. A few individuals (incredibly inspiring individuals) are leading the revolution, yet the collective efforts and shared enthusiasm of the community as a whole are what will really take us to the next level. Sasha and Adam are giving us a glimpse into modern rock climbing. Who knows what is to come!

Disclaimer: I know I linked a lot of people’s names to this post, however these are just my thoughts. Don’t take them too seriously.

0 responses to “The Ladies Revolution”

  1. lISA says:

    It seems like the difference in accomplishments between men and women in sport climbing and bouldering is very small, but is much larger in trad climbing, speed/walls, long routes, linkups, and especially alpinism. Maybe a bit of a stretch, but are there any american women who regularly onsight 5.11 (traditionally) or actively climb in the mountains who aren’t sponsored? As someone climbing at the high end of things in the sport world, I wonder if you have any ideas.

    • Lisa, my knowledge of traditional and alpine climbing is somewhat limited compared to my knowledge of sport climbing. However, women have accomplished some incredible feats on gear. Jen Sauer, Sarah Watson, Sarah Garlic, Steph Davis, Brittany Griffith, Lynn Hill, Katie Lambert, Jenn Flemming, and Kate Rutherford are a few I can think of who have climbed at least 5.13 on gear. Beth Rodden made the first free ascent of the Optimist (5.14b) at Smith Rock. Mayan Smith-Gabot recently made the fastest free female ascent of El Cap and Hazel Findlay also recently freed El Cap. It is true that most of these women are sponsored. As for alpinism, I can’t speak too knowledgeably on that topic, but hopefully the rest helps!

  2. Amy C says:

    Paige, I’ve had this article bookmarked to read for weeks now and can’t believe I didn’t read it before today. Wonderful and insightful post!

    The mental aspect of climbing is so critical and (I believe) quite different between the genders. As women, we have a tendency to underestimate our abilities and blame ourselves for falling or failing instead of recognizing that it’s simply part of the process of learning (and not a personal reflection of us). It’s so important for us to realize that failing is GOOD and necessary to progress and ultimate success.

    Thanks for sharing your insights. It’s refreshing to see that the trends seem to be shifting. 🙂

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