Meet the death-defying female climbers who overcome gender bias to climb huge rocks

Meet the death-defying female climbers who overcome gender bias to climb huge rocks

CultureDecember 09, 2016 By Amanda Lynn

Women. Unequivocally, the gender that deals with the most crap. Voted for the first time less than 100 years ago, still making only up to 80 percent of their male counterparts' salaries, still outnumbered in tech fields and positions of leadership, not allowed autonomy over their own reproductive rights in some states — yeah, they're getting the short end of the stick (short end of the labia? Even our metaphors are male-skewed.)

Times like these, it's important to recognize just how much freaking ass the so-called "inferior gender" can kick ... something we've witnessed first hand amongst a group of awe-inpsiring female rocks climbers who seem to defy gravity in the same way they do gender norms and pressures.

Maybe you climb. Maybe you’ve seen Valley Uprising on Netflix, decided “FUCK THAT,” and promptly dug out an underground bunker where you can spend the rest of your life avoiding heights. Maybe it never occurred to you that people spend their entire lives training to conquer gigantic rocks without any safety equipment (aka “bouldering” or “free climbing”), and now you’re wondering what essential gene for badassery skipped your generation.

Whatever your attitude toward boulder climbing, there’s one thing you can’t deny: women are absolutely kicking ass in a sport once dominated by men. Fourteen-year-old Ashima Shiraishi demonstrated this by being not only the youngest person to climb a V16 (the highest possible difficulty on the bouldering scale), but the first female climber to achieve what the bouldering community considers to be the hardest climb in the world.

Ashima certainly isn’t the only one dominating extreme rocks. These three women warriors — Sasha DiGiulian, Hazel Findlay, and Brianna Greene — were kind enough to chat with Rooster about their experiences in a literally death-defying sport.

Sasha DiGiulian

Photo cred: Sasha DiGuilian

How long have you been climbing?
I have been climbing since 1998, since I was 6!

Where are some of your favorite places to climb?
Yosemite, Red River Gorge (KY), South Africa, and Spain.

What inspired you to start climbing, and what keeps you inspired now?
I fell in love with the fact that, in climbing, what you put into it is what you get out of it. There is an endless spectrum of personal achievement and it is a physically and mentally demanding sport. It has also served as my vehicle to explore the most remote corners of the world and has been my gateway to creating a global community.

What do you feel has been your greatest climbing accomplishment?
Feeling like there have been very few days in my life in which work has been distinguishable from play.

Are there any barriers for women, physical or otherwise, when it comes to climbing? If so, can you tell me about how you've approached and/or overcome them?
The barriers for women are overcoming popular perception that men are better or more fit than women to perform at elite levels. By putting ourselves out there and defining our own limits, we can overcome this setback. Also, by banning together and supporting one another.

How would you describe the general attitude toward female boulder climbers? What changes, if any, would you want to see?
Something that men need to realize is that just because your female bouldering friend is fun to climb with, this does not mean that you are going to be dating. Haha. But seriously, women in outdoor sports, I believe, in particular, experience responses from men often that, in a way, condescend the shared experience of just enjoying a sport together. I would like to see women respected by their male counterparts and supported equally with encouragement and inclusion.

Hazel Findlay

Photo cred: FatBoy Ace Bouldering

How long have you been climbing?
Twenty one years.

Where are some of your favorite places to climb?
Yosemite Valley, Pembrokeshire (South Wales), the Grampians (Australia), and Indian Creek (Utah).

What inspired you to start climbing, and what keeps you inspired now?
My dad inspired me to start climbing. I don't find it hard to stay inspired now—there are endless amounts of rock to climb and so much to learn mentally and physically from rock climbing.

What do you feel has been your greatest climbing accomplishment?
Probably climbing the PreMuir on El Cap. (Author’s note: PreMuir is rated 5.13+ on the sport climb scale, which translates to “crazy ridiculous hard.”)

Are there any barriers for women, physical or otherwise, when it comes to climbing? If so, can you tell me about how you've approached and/or overcome them?
We are physically smaller and on the most part weaker. Apart from that, there shouldn't be any other barriers for women.

How would you describe the general attitude toward female boulder climbers? What changes, if any, would you want to see?
I don't really think there is a general attitude towards women boulderers. If I would like anything to change, I think it's the way the climbing media portray women so differently to men. Women have to be pretty as well as climb hard, whereas men just have to climb hard.

Brianna Greene

Photo cred: Ian Achey

How long have you been climbing?
I’ve been climbing for over 10 years. I bouldered exclusively for the first 7 of those year. I have gotten into sport climbing in the past 3 years, and started trad climbing this year.

What are your favorite places to climb?
I love Bishop, CA. It’s a magical, beautiful place with a diverse range of rocks to boulder on. I also love Red Rocks, NV, and Ten Sleep, WY.

What inspired you to start climbing, and what keeps you inspired now?
I’m not sure what initially drew me to climbing. I started out as a very casual gym climber when I was 18. When I was 21 I went through a difficult phase in my life where I wasn’t sure what value I had to offer the world beyond being a “cute girl.” I started using climbing as an emotional outlet, and it was at that point that I began to love climbing and feel addicted to the sport. Climbing helped me find greater confidence in myself as my strength and technique grew. It also provided a mental space free of external thoughts beyond just calculated movement, and it challenged me to address my fears and push beyond my perceived limitations. Even after 10 years, I still find new challenges through climbing, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally.

What do you feel has been your greatest climbing accomplishment?
I’m only 4’11”, so everything feels “reachy” for me. I really struggled with this for the first few years that I was climbing. I felt like everyone else could climb harder grades simply because they could just reach up and grab the hold. I almost quit climbing at one point because I hated not being able to keep up with my friends. I was sick of having to try over and over to get a move that was so easy for taller climbers.

Eventually, I learned that climbing isn’t about keeping up with anyone else. It’s just about your own personal experience. Every climb is a different experience for everyone. I realized that because I am so short, I was actually becoming a better climber. I was learning how to use the absolute best technique and foot placements to get where I needed to go. It’s still frustrating sometimes to be a shorty, but I am really thankful for the challenges of finding my own beta, discovering hidden intermediate holds, and putting more thought into climbs to make the moves work for me. I’ve learned how to get every inch out of my body, and I get to experience every climb in a unique way. Overcoming the mindset of not feeling good enough compared to other climbers has been my greatest accomplishment with climbing.

Are there any barriers for women?
I don’t think there are barriers for women in climbing, but I do think there are challenges for us. As women, we just don’t have the upper body strength that men do. This can make starting out a bit of a challenge, especially when you see how much easier climbing can be for a six foot tall guy. However, I think we are actually lucky not to have the brute strength that men do, because in the end, women tend to be technically better climbers. If you can't power your way through a climb with your giant arms, then you have to get creative and figure out what body movements require the least amount of effort. We get to gracefully dance our way through climbs, finding the best possible movement.

I think the best way for us to approach climbing is to take our time, learn from others, especially other women, and discover what it means to have good technique. It might take longer for women to develop the skills to climb harder grades because we are shorter and less muscled, but that certainly doesn’t mean we can’t get stronger and better and work towards climbing whatever routes, problems and grades that we want to climb.

How would you describe the general attitude toward female boulder climbers? What changes, if any, would you want to see?
I think the attitude towards female boulderers is pretty positive. It’s well-accepted that women like Nina Williams, Meagan Martin, and Alex Puccio are crushers. Not only are they strong climbers, but they are also bold, and understand how to control their fears to achieve new heights. Women might never climb quite as hard as men, but that doesn’t mean we can't continue to push the limits. Part of the reason I have a drive to climb harder grades is to prove not only to myself but to everyone else, that tiny little girls can be strong and can do amazing things.

Above & Beyond

Despite what our President-elect seems to believe, ovaries do not an inferior group make. These women — and the thousands more climbing crazy cliffs for fun—prove you don’t need balls to have balls. Certainly, boulder climbers of all genders have the advantage for scouting the terrain when climate change and political unrest force us all to relocate to Mars. Until then, we can all learn a thing or from these fearless females.