• Hayden Seder

Women Hit a Wall: Finding Empowerment at City of Rocks

In the fall of 2014, I found my calling: rock climbing. While growing up in Idaho backpacking, hiking, and snowboarding, I never felt a sense of belonging in those communities and didn’t call myself a passionate outdoorswoman. Then my boyfriend at the time invited me to go rock climbing at an area close to my hometown of Ketchum, Idaho. The boyfriend didn’t last, but the feeling of empowerment I felt while climbing did and thus began a lifelong foray into the world of rock climbing.

Often seen as a men's sport, rock climbing can seem intimidating to women. The gear, the culture, and the physical requirements are just a few factors that often prevent women from wanting to learn to climb in the first place. Despite what many think, women are actually more predisposed both mentally and physically to rock climbing than men. Climbing up rocks seems like upper body-heavy exercise but in reality, the power should come from your lower body, a strength that many women already have. There’s even a saying in climbing, “climb like a girl,” which means to focus more on lower-body strength, footwork, balance, and flexibility.

While there may be more barriers to entry to the sport—whether real or imagined—for women, once she gets on the rock, the act itself can help to empower and strengthen a woman mentally and physically.

These strengths were exemplified in a women’s rock climbing trip to City of Rocks in August. Six women in their late 20s/early 30s of varying experience levels took to the rocks for a birthday weekend in the natural reserve in south-central Idaho. Home to over 1,000 routes of varying difficulty, “The City”, as it’s known, is a climbing mecca for those in Idaho and beyond.

Brenna, a 32-year-old florist from Bellevue, Idaho, has been climbing on and off for several years and planned to use her birthday weekend as a means to get back into the sport. While discussing the empowering nature of rock climbing, Brenna offered that she had taken her mother rock climbing after her mother’s divorce as a way to instill confidence in her.

“I found that rock climbing helped me find a lot of independence and strength that I didn’t think I had,” Brenna said. “She loved it. She had that same feeling of ‘I didn’t think I could do that.’ She’s super scared of heights, but she got that glow of overcoming a fear and knowing she could do hard things.”

Making the biggest leap in skill level over the weekend was Alessandra, a 34-year-old makeup artist from Las Vegas. Though she had climbed a handful of times in climbing gyms before, this was her first time climbing outside. Those of us more experienced in the group taught her how to belay someone, then sent her up a 5.9-graded route with a particularly hard roof move.

“When I was strapped in, my heart started racing but the company I was in helped dissipate my fear,” Alessandra said. “I’ve adventured so much with these girls, there was that sense of trust. There’s also a passion and a sense of comradery in the sport that’s just cool; everyone wants to see everyone win even if you don’t make it all the way to the top or you’re just trying it out.”

She flowed easily up the route, conquering the hard move that others had failed to.

But Alessandra wasn’t the only one to push herself over the weekend. No matter her skill level, each woman came away from the weekend with a sense of accomplishment whether from leading a route for the first time, climbing a hard move, or even just making it a couple of feet up the wall. The power of the rock transformed into the empowerment we felt as female rock climbers.

Climbing Tips for Women

1. Keep your hips tucked into the wall

2. Focus on using your feet. Move your feet up the wall and push from your lower body rather than pulling up with your arms.

3. Keep your arms straight. Holding yourself into the wall or “chicken-winging” will wear you out.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice!

5. Utilize your strengths like flexibility, balance, and finesse rather than men’s strengths like upper arm muscle.

This article originally appeared in IdaHome Magazine.

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