Women’s Climbing Initiative

Interview by Karolina Kocimska with Juliette Baxter

The Women’s Climbing Initiative was started this year by a few passionate women who had noticed that there were a lot more men than women in the climbing sector of ANU Mountaineering Club. Anna and Elena wanted to make the sport more inviting and accessible to girls and to do that, decided to form a women’s only group. Starting with an FB page, and then an Afternoon Tea in O-Week, the group has progressed to running technique workshops, where women are taught by other women, allowing them to learn to climb in a way suited to their body type, and frequent weekend outdoor climbing trips. The group is very much community based, focused on development and skill building for women at any level. I met up with Elena, Anna and some of the other women involved right before they headed off to an outdoor climb at Snake Rock, in the Corin Valley.

Photograph supplied by members of the Women’s Climbing Initiative

What made you take part in the Women’s Climbing Initiative (WCI)? Would you have tried it out if not for the initiative?

Claire: I probably wouldn’t have. I’ve always loved climbing, but I would’ve been way too intimated to get started. 

Kaitlin: I think particularly with the outdoor climbing, it’s a bit hard to get out there, get the gear and know what you’re doing, so I think that having this opportunity, with a beginner atmosphere, like “these are all the steps let’s start from the beginning” has really made me feel more comfortable. I don’t think I would have gone on any trips without this.

Taylor: I would never have started climbing, or felt empowered enough to continue if it were not for the WCI. 

What is the best part of being involved?

Georgia: I think one of the good things is getting to meet some really lovely people, as well as the climbing of course. 

Marissa: It’s wildly supportive. 

Anna: Yeah, it’s like a cult

[all laugh]

Elena: I also think it’s really nice to go and be able to climb with other women. We now have a lot more women taking part, which is really great and encouraging to see.

What skills have you gained through climbing? 

Elena: I’ve become a heap more confident in the skills I have, and think I’ve become better at teaching them! A year ago I was new to outdoor climbing and had never thought I’d be capable of leading a trip so soon! So I’ve learnt to trust myself in what I know. It has also massively reinforced my knowledge of climbing! We’ve taught basic technique in indoor climbing workshops – i.e. learning correct foot placement, body positioning, and stretches. Likewise, in our outdoor trips, Anna and I have been teaching how to set up, belay, tie in and climb safely. Some of the participants have learnt how to lead climbs, lead belay and clean giving them the skills to become an independent climber. 

Photograph supplied by members of the Women’s Climbing Initiative

What do the WCI outdoor trips look like? 

Elena: At the start of the year Anna began running indoor climbing workshops for the WCI to teach basic techniques to new climbers in a social setting, without the pressure of a busy gym. We then started running outdoor workshops, starting with easier climbs in Queanbeyan to teach outdoor climbing basics. We then moved onto harder climbs, before teaching lead climbing out at Nowra. We’ve run around seven outdoor workshops so far. The best was a three-day trip to Nowra with eleven of us, where we rented an airbnb and climbed non-stop. The trips are super fun; it’s great climbing in such a supportive atmosphere. The trips make me feel super proud; it’s awesome to see girls who started as newbies this year absolutely take off at climbing and smash these climbs perfectly. Additionally, it’s nice to see other people pick up a love of climbing like I have. 

What does climbing mean to you? What does it give you?

Anna: I think for me it’s just that sense of achievement that you get out of it, that I haven’t had in any other kind of sport. And I think the climbing community is a really wonderful community, it’s sharing and supportive, and it’s like no matter what city you’re in or where you are, you can always connect with other climbers.

Kaitlin: Personally, I’ve gone through a lot with my mental health this past year. Climbing has helped me on the path to feeling stronger than I have in a long time. Every time I climb, I feel like I’m gaining control over my body again. 

Photograph supplied by members of the Women’s Climbing Initiative

Same question, but adding the context; what does climbing with a group of like-minded women give you?

Elena: It’s really good to see people with similar bodies types and similar abilities all working towards the same goal. Opposed to climbing with men, who have different abilities, you can get caught in the “oh no I can’t do that, I’m bad” mindset. But in reality, we have all these other skills and when we work together, we can see that it’s something achievable.

Claire: We have these awesome female climbers that we can always see, and when they get it, we are empowered and know that we can also do it. If Elena can reach the hole, I probably can too [laughs.

Has climbing, and being part of the Women’s Climbing Initiative taught you anything? 

Elena: It’s made me a lot stronger I think, and it’s cool to see strength in terms of something that’s pretty functional as well. It teaches you a lot of outdoor skills, and you can learn to really trust yourself, like really trust yourself. 

Anna: For me, it’s just given me a lot of confidence, to know that there is a group of supportive people out there, and that just really gives me the confidence to do things, that I probably wouldn’t try otherwise.

Georgia: Also being crap at things [laughs] I wouldn’t have really picked up any new sports at a Uni level, because I would feel bad being an absolute beginner and entering groups with people that have been doing it for years. But everyone here is so supportive it’s been really nice to remember that its okay to start at the very bottom and work your way up. 

Kaitlin: And with climbing I think it’s really easy to see your progress, and that’s really exciting to be able to experience and share with other people.

Photograph supplied by members of the Women’s Climbing Initiative

Do you see yourselves continuing your involvement in the future?

All: Yes!

Anna: I’ve just been watching a lot of climbing videos this week, and every time I’m like “Oh man why am I not climbing right now?” [all laugh] 

Anything you guys want to add?

All: Come climbing! [Laughter]

For those interested to join the Women’s Climbing Initiative; 

– Become a member of the ANU Mountaineering Club (can be done online through the ANUMC website)

– Join the ANU Women’s Climbing Initiative FB group

– Get your belay pass (courses run by the club throughout the year)

The Mountaineering Club climbs indoors at ANU Sports every evening except Tuesdays and Sundays.