Heroes of the Women's Climbing Festival

Pro climbers and guides share their perspectives on why an event like the Women's Climbing Festival matters to them and to the sport at large

Photo: Julie Ellison

We spoke to professional guides and climbers who were teaching, leading, and helping out at the 2018 Women’s Climbing Festival in March. Here’s what they had to say about the importance of the fest and women in climbing. 

“I think climbing is a great example for the larger athletics world as a sport that generates equality among all athletes,” says climber Kyra Condie, 21, pictured above. “Pro female climbers and pro male climbers make similar wages, earn the same prize money, and get the same amount of air time when it comes to competitions. Festivals like the Women’s Climbing Festival can pave that path to equality in all sports, because in my opinion, climbing is already strides ahead.”

Photo: Julie Ellison

Abbey Smith, 35, Pro Climber

“I’m here to connect with inspiring women who motivate me to be the best I can be. This festival provides a safe space where I feel like I can be 100 percent me. It’s a great honor to guide a bouldering clinic on transitioning from the gym to the outdoors along with one of my best friends, Olivia Hsu. When I was introduced to the sport over 20 years ago, I learned to climb outside through extraordinary mentors. They taught me valuable techniques, proper ethics, environmental principles, safety essentials, climbing history, and true camaraderie. These critical fundamentals are often missing in the gym, so I hope to pass on this tradition in the same way by providing a memorable, educational, empowering and life-changing experience.”

Photo: Julie Ellison

Olivia Hsu, 41, Pro Climber and Yogi

“I often think of climbing as a microcosm of the world as a whole. The fact that more women are climbing these days is a reflection of women’s equality and voices in this world. Climbing has shaped me to be the independent human that I am today. It’s given me the strength to overcome challenges on the rock that translate to my everyday life…This festival is an empowering place where women can meet other women and empower themselves to acquire the skills to go crush on the rock on their own. It’s a privilege and a treat to be able to pass along my skills and knowledge to others.”

Photo: Julie Ellison

Miranda Oakley, 33, Pro Climber and Guide

“As a guide, I notice a huge difference between how women and men perform around the opposite sex. Around other females, women tend to be more confident in their abilities and need less attention. Having confidence while climbing is more important than physical strength, and women can take that with them beyond the climbing world. As a climber and guide, I hope to act as a strong female role model and change preconceived notions about what strong and competent climbers look like. We are our own worst enemies. I have seen far more sexism from female climbers than male climbers—perhaps because men have been called out for it in the past. I am guilty of making assumptions about female climbers. If we want change, we need to make it happen and not just wait around for guys to change their ways.”

Photo: Julie Ellison

Jenn Flemming, 34, Pro Climber and Humanitarian Aid Technical Specialist

“There is more to our lifestyle, industry, and culture than just climbing. We need to protect the outdoor spaces we recreate within. We need to teach a massive new generation of gym climbers how to safely and ethically transition to the outdoors. We need to note the ways that our media, language, and practices reflect prejudice and exclusion—and be proactive about changing them. This event places these issues front and center, encouraging dialogue and creating supportive environments to have these conversations. Climbing does not exist in a vacuum. As we reflect on the ways that our country at large is currently a mess, let’s simultaneously interrogate how those issues are mirrored within our own community. And let’s embrace the inevitability of change.”

Photo: Julie Ellison

Lizzy Van Patten, 28, Guide and Co-Founder of She Moves Mountains

“The Women’s Climbing Festival is important because you can’t be what you don’t see. Here, I run into all these inspiring women who encourage me to be stronger and more confident. I don’t actually climb with a lot of women, so it’s really neat to get to see women are out there crushing, especially the ones from within the industry. It’s great for networking and connections, and you get to meet your heroes. Emily Harrington has been my girl crush forever, and when I met her on the first day, I was too nervous to say hi.”

Photo: Julie Ellison

Taylor Nystrom, 27, Climbing Coach

“When you’re here, being a female is not the thing that defines you. I’m not just ‘the girl who climbs,’ because we’re all girls who climb! I’m here because I love Bishop, and I love any opportunity or excuse to come out here. Plus, it’s really exciting for me to see climbing growing in the way that it is, and I think events like this push it in a direction that I want to see climbing go. It feels important to me to be teaching people about climbing outdoors, being good stewards, and being inclusive.”

Photo: Julie Ellison

Angie Payne, 33, Pro Climber and Photographer

“I’ve been a pro athlete for years, and recently I’ve started to transition more into photography. For me it’s a new skill set, and this is a great opportunity to combine my past experience with my future goals. I’m at home in these climbing spaces and I feel comfortable around the climbing community, so it’s a safe place to try something new. It’s perfect for boosting my confidence in something that I don’t feel like I’m quite as good at.”

Photo: Julie Ellison

Becca Droz, 27, Climbing Instructor and Beatboxer

“I am four for four for the Women’s Climbing Festival, so I would feel an immense amount of FOMO if I missed one. That’s because the people out here are just fantastic. I’ve met some of my favorite female crushers out here, and every year I get to reconnect with those who I’ve already met. We come here and build this level of psych for coming up with ideas of things to climb together, and it helps drive my entire year.”