Climbers are a particular breed of human being. Particularly unafraid of dirt and opening beers of the edges of picnic tables, we have an abiding dislike for severe humidity and finger jams two millimeters too small. We also tend to have a natural disregard for state lines, loss of skin, and occasionally, personal hygiene; most importantly though, we are specimens with an incredibly respect for the outdoors, toe strength, and each other (and each others’ toe strength). This sense of respect shows in how much rock climbing dominates the sporting world in terms of the interpersonal support we feel in the milieu.
Climbers have an unparalleled love of the sport that leads to an inner competitiveness trumping any interpersonal competitive beef. Naturally, competition is human nature, but climbing is rather unique in that we are less driven to be better than anyone else than we are to be better than ourselves yesterday. This is certainly not to degrade all climbing competitions, but simply to say that you would be hard-pressed to find a climber who climbs as much for his place on the podium as he does for the love of the sport. There are those rare individuals whose two-fingered one-armed chin-ups makes the rest of us feel physically on par with Homer Simpson, but hey, a little friendly kick-in-the-ass competition can be healthy sometimes. We should just never forget why we do it. Deep down, we’re all little kids who still love to climb everything in sight. Little kids who love rocks, playing outside with our friends, beer, burly bearded men (in my case) and the well-underrated dirt nap in the mid-western desert.
On this note, I’d like to highlight some top women climbers of today, and show that “climbing like a chick” as actually a damn fine compliment. Though I haven’t been climbing very long (approximately three years), there are several women’s names that come up in conversations: women who have been pioneers in letting the boys know that a male-dominated rock climbing community just won’t do anymore.
If there’s anyone that can make a grown man feel so small, it’s Katie Brown. She’s been climbing for almost twenty years now, has won numerous climbing competitions, including the X Games three times, and is particularly adept at onsighting* almost everything she climbs. In 1999, Ms. Brown completed a route graded 5.14a*. At the time, only four other people had flashed a 5.14a – all of them were men. Though she has left room to the newer generation on the competition circuit, Katie continues to climb and be an inspiration to climbers everywhere, women as well as men.
Lisa Rands is another American rock climber, of Katie’s generation, who blazed the way for the present generation. She is principally known as a boulderer*, though excels in pretty much every rock she puts her hands on. Not only was she the first American to place first in an international bouldering World Cup, but she was also the first woman to complete the boulder problem named The Mandala, graded V12*, a notoriously difficult problem previously only climbed by the men elite. Though not as active on the competition circuit as she was a few years back, she continues to make the rounds – and kills it nearly every time.
I’ve mentioned these two pioneers, who have paved the way for the rest of us, namely:
Alex Puccio and Alex Johnson, two American boulderers who tend to share the podium at whatever competition they show up at.
All these women, and countless others (be they professionals or those women with whom I have a good fortune to climb with in my home gym), are an inspiration. Thank you for what you do, ladies.
Notes on climbing vocabulary:
Onsight: To climb a route having never seen anyone climb it before you (more difficult since you have no one to show you the moves before hand). Onsighting also implies that you succeed on the climb without ever taking a rest (sitting in your harness and letting go of the wall).
Route grades: Climbing routes are (in North America) graded according to the Yosemite Decimal System. With the YDS, routes are graded from 5.0-5.15, the lower the second number the easier the route. It should be noted that only in very recent years has the grade of 5.15 been in existence; with the improvement of equipment, previously impossible climbs are becoming possible.
Bouldering: This is a type of rock climbing that is devoid of a rope. General, these routes (called “problems”) are low to the ground, and thus far shorter than rope-needing routes. For protection, mattresses (called “crash pads”) are placed under the climber to cushion a fall.
Extension of bouldering: Bouldering problems are graded on a “V” scale instead of the 5.? of longer routes. The easiest boulder problems are graded at V0, and, for the present, the most difficult tops out at a V16.