Confidence With Women: Self-assurance realized in a female trad climbing clinic
June 25, 2021 | Posted in: JHMG
By: Ashley Brown
Self-assurance realized in a female trad climbing clinic an icy day in February, I learned about a Women’s Trad Climbing Clinic hosted by The Mountain Guides in Red Rock, Nevada. From the frozen peaks of the Wasatch, I began counting the days until the end of March and my reunion with desert sandstone.
Climbing in Red Rock is sacred and holds a special place in my heart as the location of my first trad leads and where my husband proposed. I’m not a novice climber. I’ve been leading Trad or traditional climbs for several years. The use of cams, nuts, slings, ropes, and anchors are all part of my climbing repertoire. Undoubtedly the course would cover familiar basics. I knew all this upon signing up for the clinic. I wasn’t there to learn trad climbing fundamentals; I was there to climb with women and get a confidence boost.
Despite holding a lapsed SPI (Single Pitch Instructor) certification from the AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association), I’ve found myself in several discouraging climbing experiences. Unsuccessful navigation attempts have scarred my confidence as a climber. The Women’s Trad Clinic turned out to be the needed medicine. I found self-assurance and more.
Miranda Oakley, Szu-Ting Li (nickname Ting Ting), and Brie Chartier instructed our group of seven participants over the two-day clinic. When we met Saturday morning, we were quiet, and the introductions that followed were without pompousness.
We began by sitting calmly around a massive sandstone boulder below the crag, ten women oozing politeness. There wasn’t the feel of “measuring each other up.” It was more about how to communicate with kindness and respect for our diverse group. Students included a NASA engineer, a lawyer, an accountant, a nurse, a neuroscientist, a non-profit employee, and a journalist. Yet, the instructors delivered information in a way that was approachable to our varied types of learning.
After reviewing proper cam and nut placement, my confidence began to swell. I know this stuff. Student’s practiced gear placement, and when it came time to give each other feedback, there was tenderness. Consistently first, we point out the gear that does work, then gently discussed poorly placed pieces with awareness that overly harsh feedback could deter the confidence we all came to find.
Mock-leading the first day, we were still reserved. Yet, there was compassion that built a safety net for learning. By the time we walked down to the parking lot, we laughed and inquired about each other’s lives. The shyness dissipated and in its place a buzz of excitement.
On our second day, we met in Red Rock to climb at one of my favorite areas, Willow Springs. Guides and students alike were open, laughing, guard down in the safety of our woman-centric group. We dove into more complex ideas, including anchor building, belaying from the top, and belay station management. Ting Ting comedian and educator had us laughing and engaged while she demonstrated advanced techniques.
After we built anchors and mock-lead a few pitches in the afternoon, we had the opportunity to lead a trad pitch. I’d climbed in the area before and was eager to get on the sharp end. As I roped up to climb Lucky Charms, I never felt so supported. Miranda was on the ground, first observing my belayer, then watching me. Brie was above capturing images, and I felt like a climber in a photoshoot. As I ascended the climb, the 5.7 grade was well within my comfort range, and movement felt free and easy.
When I got back on the ground, I asked for feedback, feeling sensitive about the main comment from my SPI certification course, “Ashley had a nail-biting lead.” I recounted my SPI comment and a concern that some of my pieces were further apart than a textbook perfect lead to Miranda. She smiled and said, “That wasn’t your first lead. I watched you move. You looked strong and stable. Did you feel at any moment like you were going to fall?” My response, “No.” She smiled, and I got the gist.
After my climb and the heartening feedback, I opened up to the instructors that the real reason why I signed up for the course was to gain confidence. I’d gotten lost trying to find the crag and started ascending the wrong route countless times. The experiences left me feeling shattered and incompetent. “I’ve gotten lost finding the crag, too,” Miranda says. Instantly I’m comforted. Just because I’m not a naturally dialed navigator doesn’t mean I can’t be a dialed climber. Ting Ting assured me that over time navigation, and “mountain-sense” will increase.
At the end of the second day, I found what I was looking for, confidence and the knowing that I can climb and take my friends climbing safely. The Women’s Trad Climbing clinic was a gentle, comical, and joyful approach to learning. The atmosphere of empathy and encouragement was a stark contrast to many other climbing experiences. What I needed to go forward in my climbing adventures was the strength I found surrounded by other capable women.