Only one in ten people inquiring about exploratory climbing expeditions are women. Even though soft character traits many women possess are actually more valuable traits in an expedition team member than impressive climbing abilities.
By Maiju Lucas
The 2014 rock climbing year was full of amazing achievements that have set new standards on many areas of climbing, and 2015 seems to continue the same trend: bigger, better, stronger, faster, and so on. To the delight of the female climbing community, and I’m sure many men as well, several of these new records and big achievements were made by women. In many parts of the world the top female climbers are also not only climbing harder grades and bolder routes than ever before, but are also being more accepted as newsworthy in the mainstream media. The growing amount of interest in the last few years from the mainstream media toward climbing has surely had a significant effect on climbing becoming a more popular sport in North America as well as in Europe.
Based on these developments, it would be fair to assume that women are also very much part of the exploratory side of climbing, new routing around the world and opening new areas for others to enjoy. This is certainly more and more the reality for the female climbers at the top of their game, but sadly, in our experience it is not the case across the field. Together with my husband, I run a British-based company called The Expedition Consultancy (TXC) that organizes exploratory climbing expeditions around the world. Although I am still fairly new to climbing, my husband has been running climbing expeditions for over 15 years and in his experience there are less women signing up on adventurous climbing expeditions today than there were ten years ago. In fact, in the last few years on average only about one in ten people inquiring about our expeditions are women, despite the fact that according to the statistics up to a third of all climbers are now women. So in recent years we have ended up running trips with all-men teams even though we have worked hard to encourage more female climbers to join our adventures.
So why has such reverse development happened, when at the same time there has been positive progress in the amount and the quality of news about the impressive feats of female climbers? In my opinion it is not about women being less adventurous than men or about there being fewer women who climb at a sufficiently high grade for new routing. Instead, I believe it has a lot to do with the image being projected to us that it’s only the pro super-athletes who can go on such expeditions, supported by production teams and sponsorships. The image that only women with near 0% body fat and 15+ years of climbing experience can be part of these teams that pioneer new routes and areas. But this is just not the case at all.
It is of course true that the amount of possible routes to establish in unclimbed areas increase considerably if you are regularly cranking those 5.13s, and in general we would happily welcome climbers who are able to climb at such a high level. But what comes as a surprise to many is that when we—and and other companies that we know who run different types of expeditions—consider applications to our expeditions, climbing hard is not the most important factor. Instead a level head, bucket load of common sense, and thirst for adventure can be much more valuable characteristics for an expedition team member than just impressive climbing abilities.
In addition to overemphasis on the grades climbed on expeditions, it often seems to be forgotten that at some point all those 5.9 routes in the climbing guidebooks have also been climbed for the first time—often by people who climbed at that level or even at a slightly higher level. In fact, I believe that pioneering climbing accomplishments of the ‘everyday’ climbers can be as inspiring to other climbers as reading about the achievement of professional climbers on the magazine covers, but in a way that many might find easier to relate to. So I think that it could even be argued that for the general development of the sport, in terms of making it more accessible to a larger amount of people, all those lower- and mid-range routes have contributed more to the sport than the opening of those super hard lines that only a fraction of climbers can ever even contemplate climbing.
To find a permanent solution to this discrepancy is certainly a complicated issue, but to do our bit, we have decided to try an approach that is something new to us: Together with another UK-based company called Women Climb, we are organizing an all-women climbing and bouldering expedition to the south Sinai mountains in Egypt. Women Climb first suggested the idea of a women-only trip to us, but we were immediately very excited about something new and different. More importantly, we saw it as something that will hopefully succeed in spreading the message to ‘normal’ female climbers everywhere that they, too, can be part of expedition teams exploring exotic corners of the world and opening new routes to the climbing generations of the future. We also hope that this team will inspire other women to push their own boundaries and comfort levels and through that opening the eyes of others to the possibilities available to most climbers out there.
To learn more about the Women’s Sinai Climbing Expedition and how you can become part of this or other TXC’s adventures, have a look at expeditionconsultancy.com. There are also several posts written about the Sinai expedition at womenclimb.co.uk.