Inclusion, barriers to entry, and respecting the land were topics of conversation throughout this year’s Women’s Climbing Festival (WCF), held in Bishop, California, in late March. This isn’t the first time the annual event has addressed these subjects, but 2019 marked its largest effort yet.
This year a third of all funds the WCF raised were donated to the Bishop Paiute Tribe and Bishop Indian Education Center, to acknowledge that the festival takes place on Paiute land. Jolie Varela, founder of Indigenous Women Hike and a member of the Paiute and Yokut Nations, spoke at the opening ceremony and let participants know that the original name of this area is Payahuunadü, which means “place of flowing water.”
For the last two years, WCF participants with higher incomes were given the option to pay $145 (regular event registration costs $120) to help keep overall ticket costs lower. At this year’s event, for the first time, the WCF gave out ten scholarships—$250 travel stipends and free entry to the festival—in an effort to make the event more accessible. The WCF also partnered with the Hazel Foundation, an organization for nontraditional athletic groups, to work with more adaptive climbers. The two organizations focused on seeking out the leadership and skills of more people of color, indigenous, and trans leaders to fill the roles of panelists, photographers, instructors, and facilitators.
WCF founder Shelma Jun doesn’t see these efforts as optional but as requisite to holding a women’s event. “If we aren’t addressing the multiple layers of oppression that some women face, we are not uplifting women,” she says.
We spoke to some of the participants, many of whom attended the weekend’s Women of Color Workshop, which was centered on tools to help attendees advocate for themselves in climbing culture, about their experiences at the WCF, and why inclusivity and representation are vital to their experience as rock climbers.
Photo: Jael Berger, 24, is the national events coordinator and California leader for advocacy group Brown Girls Climb, which partnered with the WCF this year. Berger, a climber from San Francisco, was a panelist at the festival and a co-facilitator of the Women of Color Workshop.
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives have started being implemented in organizations in the outdoors and other industries. This is essential,” Berger wrote to us after the festival. Berger, who is of Egyptian and Moroccan descent, wants to ensure that DEI initiatives in the outdoor industry also make intersectionality a priority.