I’ve been eager to try my hand at rock climbing for years now; I had this hunch that I could be good at it. Despite my hunger, the sport was difficult to tap into.
For starters, it requires a partner to toprope – not just any partner, but someone you trust and ideally, someone who is equally enthusiastic about climbing.
Second, it’s a little intimidating. When you enter a rock gym, everyone seems like an expert – there’s a lot of fancy lingo, correct techniques to learn, and etiquette to know. Then when you do get on that wall, it’s hard to ignore the sensation that everyone is watching you. Spoiler alert: they’re not, and if they are, they aren’t judging you.
As a woman, things are a little trickier. It comes to no surprise that climbing is a male dominated sport – I mean, most outdoor sports are, right? This gender imbalance is reflected at the gym. I think climbing has pushed women away for several reasons:
- Strength. When we think of climbing, we think of physical strength and it has been ingrained in our heads that we, as a gender, are inferior in terms of toughness or lack it all together.
- Danger. We are told “No, no, don’t do that, it’s dangerous,” from when we are little girls watching our brothers climb trees to when we are women, walking home alone at night.
- Lack of women. It’s hard to feel received, like you belong, in a sport where there aren’t people like you, who you can relate to; someone you can groan with over a seemingly impossible route or commiserate with about periods. When you’re hanging out with only men, it’s easy to feel like an outsider, like a tagalong, not like an integral part of the group.
- The idea that we aren’t good enough. This is a concept that plagues our gender and it often bars us from trying new things.
So when I heard about the Define Feminine series of events in Portland, I instantly RSVP’d. Spearheaded by our local Arc’teryx store, the events aim to bring together females who are interested in mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing, or mixed climbing, as well as to create a safe space to exchange information and further skills.
The events kicked off with a ladies climb night at Portland Rock Gym (PRG) last week, followed by Define Feminine: Unveiling the Mystique, a presentation and networking event held several days later at the Portland Arc’teryx store.
The latter was particularly incredible.
Here I was, in the Arc’teryx store, surrounded by dozens of women – some new to climbing, some who climb 5.12s and more, some who ice climb, some who mix climb, some who have only climbed indoors, some who have scaled mountains. The energy was so positive, vibrant, and welcoming. We all wanted the same thing: to connect to other like-minded women.
What an amazing night of learning, community, friendship, stories, and laughter. Valerie Uskoski and Rebecca Madore had the galley in #hysterics as they told their tales of climbing #adventure and sometimes #mishap Thanks to everyone who made it such a fun night! . . . #evolutionhcf #climbing #mountaineering #girlsrule #badasswomen
The event featured two well-chosen speakers: Rebecca Madore and Valerie Uskoski. Valerie’s story specifically resonated with me; she didn’t get into climbing until age 30 and since, her climbing has brought her around the world, including Patagonia. It was a reminder that it’s never too late – I say this as if 30 isn’t young, which it is – to find what makes you feel alive. I often think about how I wish I got into the outdoors sooner. I look at other women, who are so skilled, and I’ll be overcome with envy meshed with dashed hopes; “I’ll never be that good.”
We commonly associate our twenties as our fleeting moments to live to the fullest, but in actuality, there’s no age limit on becoming a badass.
Rebecca and Valerie didn’t just focus on their triumphs; they discussed their failures openly. We always hear about the victories, but rarely the defeats and disasters behind them. We often put role models on a pedestal and assume their journeys are without blunders. It isn’t always rainbows and unicorns; sometimes you try something and it doesn’t work out, and that doesn’t make you less awesome or skilled or badass.
But the best part about Define Feminine: Unveiling the Mystique was the opportunity to network. We separated into groups based on our goals. My friend, Sarah, and I headed to the corner for women seeking mentors, and vice versa. I found some of those who were seeking a mentor were suitable mentors for others. We met a couple of really awesome girls; one who specializes in proper technique and promised to show us some moves, the other climbs mostly outside, including ice/snow climbing, and agreed to show us the ropes.
During the Q&A, an attendee made a valid point – it’s scary to approach other women. Not because of stereotypes that women are hostile, superficial, or judgmental, but because we, as women, convince ourselves that we aren’t cool enough to interact other women, especially those we admire. It’s one thing for a man to look down on you or reject you, but rejection from a woman is infinitely more painful. We are afraid of dismissal from our fellow women, when we shouldn’t be. We all agreed that we should openly approach each other for tips, or just to hang out.
Define Feminine advanced us as a group, and perhaps as a gender.
Sarah and I left feeling incredibly inspired, hopeful, and with refreshed determination. The following morning, we met up at our rock gym as it opened and proceeded to climb our hardest routes to date.
There is one more event left in the Define Feminine series! Meet us at Planet Granite at 5:30 PM tomorrow. More information available here.
Shoutout to the other amazing sponsors who made Define Feminine not only happen, but made it extra fun – SheJumps, the Mazamas, Portland Rock Gym, Planet Granite, Base Camp Brewing Company, Evolution Healthcare & Fitness, Happy Mountain Kombucha, and Union Wine Company.