Wild Woman: Climbing Escapes Founder Emma Contaoe
Based out of her hometown of Montreal, Emma Contaoe (@emmacontaoe) is the founder of Climbing Escapes where she leads rock climbing trips and womxn empowerment climbing retreats in Quebec. The 30-year-old came to love climbing in 2013 after learning in both Australia and Thailand during some of her many travels. Climbing Escapes was founded in 2016 as a way of providing more accessibility to beginning climbers in Quebec. The FQME certified rock climbing instructor offers intro to climbing, anchor building, and womxn’s climbing courses for all levels of climbing. When she’s not guiding, Emma works as a freelance project manager for an e-commerce agency. And when she’s not doing either, she LOVES to travel. Just a few highlights of her many adventures are travelling solo for three years in Australia and southeast Asia, trekking Everest Base Camp, and hitchhiking across Morocco!
When did you start rock climbing?
Emma: I started climbing in 2013 at an indoor gym in Australia. A year later, I spent an entire month in Koh Tao, Thailand, learning about climbing and helping my instructor take clients out. I fell in love with outdoor climbing and never travelled the same again!
When did you start Climbing Escapes and what led to starting it?
Emma: I started Climbing Escapes in 2016 after coming back from a humanitarian project in Nepal. I had spent all my money on travelling and volunteering, so I came up with this as a way to make quick money. Little did I know I would become passionate about teaching and make a business out of it.
I’m not familiar with climbing in the Montreal area, is there a lot of outdoor climbing?
Emma: Yes, there is actually! We have over 120 crags in the province of Quebec and we are very close to the U.S. Around Montreal there are a lot of single-pitch crags within a 2-hour drive from the city. Quebec is actually known as being graded hard, so you definitely get your butt kicked when you climb here!
What do your rock climbing trips look like? Where do you go?
Emma: I offer different courses from intro to outdoor rock climbing to advanced courses to climbing retreats. My intro course is for anyone starting out and who wants to try rock climbing outdoors. It usually takes place at a local crag just 40 minutes from the city. I go over the equipment, safety in the outdoors, basic knots, how to belay, and how to tie in. I also show different climbing styles and techniques. My advanced course takes place at the same crag but lasts 2 days. I teach climbers the fundamentals in anchor building, rappelling, and cleaning a route. After this course, climbers are able to set up their own top-rope anchors and become autonomous outdoor climbers.
What are your womxn retreats like? Why do you think womxn need a space where they can climb with other womxn?
Emma: My climbing retreats take place over the weekend. It's a full weekend getaway of camping, climbing, and yoga between womxn. Our groups are quite small—max 6 participants. The weekend is all about disconnecting from our sometimes chaotic lives and reconnecting with ourselves, with nature, and with other like-minded womxn. I do think that womxn need a space where they can feel safe, open, and inspired to try something new or push their own boundaries, whether that be through climbing or being vulnerable with others. There is nothing more empowering than trying hard and pushing your limits while having other womxn cheer you on. There is no judgement or pressure to be or do anything but just acceptance and fun.
Where are your favorite places you’ve climbed?
Emma: The people I climbed with definitely made the experience memorable. That is why I have many favorite climbing places! I really loved Cat Ba in Vietnam, Cantabaco in the Philippines, Kalymnos in Greece, and Squamish in BC which I fell in love with last summer!
What have been some of your favorite experiences as a climbing instructor or leading your retreats?
Emma: My favorite experience is seeing someone really get out of their comfort zone and succeed. For example, I've had someone who is completely afraid of heights join my retreat. It is so impressive what the mind can do. They started off telling themselves they couldn't do it, but as they grabbed one hold at a time, they tried their best and kept at it. The other womxn encouraged her all the way to the top, and she couldn't believe it when she made it! The smile on her face is a reminder of exactly why I do what I do!
Have you ever had a negative experience climbing specifically because you were female?
Emma: Not at all thankfully. I have had some challenges for sure but never because of my gender.
Where did you grow up and what was your relationship like to the outdoors growing up?
Emma: I grew up right in the city of Montreal, Canada. My parents immigrated from the Philippines 5 years before I was born. We are 3 siblings, therefore a family of 5. My parents could not afford for us to do any sports, but they did take us camping which was the highlight of my year. Every summer we would drive down to the Adirondacks in New York, camp for 3 nights, and go to an amusement park. My mom once told me that when I was young, we would drive by this wall face and I was in awe of the climbers climbing. I told her that one day I would be just like them. And here I am!
What other hobbies/activities do you like to do besides climbing?
Emma: I love hiking and camping, dancing, playing the piano, and slacklining.