The following was written by Jenni Davies, a writer and climber based in Toronto after travelling to California to partake in the popular Flash Foxy Festival.
Climbing saved my life once.
After many years of substance abuse, self-hate, mental illness and codependent relationships, I stumbled into climbing and it taught me who I am, what I’m made of, and how to build resilience out of failure.
This is not an uncommon story. Many climbers have shared this narrative and many will in years to come. There’s something about facing yourself, in climbing, that I haven’t found in other sports.
I think women have a particular tendency to find out what they are made of through physical activity. What it is to learn that you and the rock are one, battling only your own weaknesses.
You are not conquering the wall. You never will. It will always be. There’s something inexplicably beautiful about finding other female climbers and watching them cheer each other on, projecting routes, hands outstretched, spotting falls and yelling, “Left high foot!”
When I first heard about the Women’s Climbing Festival, I was dumbfounded to find out how many other women traversed the country looking for other #climbergirls to send with. I didn’t even know there were that many other women who actually climbed.
The Flash Foxy Women’s Climbing Festival of March 2018 was an event I looked forward to from the moment I snagged my ticket when it sold out in literally, less than 60 seconds – to pulling up in my rental #campervan.
It was my first time in California, nevermind Bishop. I stayed in “The Pit” with the other dirtbags – and met up with a bunch of other Canadians who I’d been in contact with previously, through Instagram.
Hundreds of women came together to celebrate our favourite sport – our passion project: #slaydies with a mission to have fun. On top of a pretty sweet swag-bag, with goodies from sponsors such as Black Diamond, Organic Climbing, Patagonia and Arc’teryx – there were shoe and pant demos, and an all-female panel of industry insiders, tackling questions about intersectional feminism, environmental sustainability and sexism in the sport and at the crag.
There were also a ton of pro-athletes who came to get in on the fun. Some of the headliners included Kate Rutherford, Katie Lambert and a whole pile of others who hosted clinics, and let me girl-crush on them. I was lucky enough to catch a spot with Emily Harrington – The North Face and Petzl multi-sport professional skier and climber.
Emily is also the first female climber to ever ascend multiple 5.14 climbs. Naturally, I consider her a significant role model and an inspirational lady climber: plus she’s dope as f*k.
Bishop is home to over 1,200 world-class bouldering problems, ranging from slabby V0’s to V9s and V10s like Ambrosia – a fifty foot highball sent by Nina Williams last spring. You can’t put into words what it feels like to run your fingers across those sleeping giants, to trace the steps of thousands of climbers who have come before.
The rock itself is harsh to the touch, and either super warm from the blaring heat of the desert sun or ice cold, cast in shade. I had a chance to climb in both the Happy Boulders and the Buttermilks over my four-day Bishop trip, and left without any broken bones – which was a huge win in my mind.
On Saturday, Emily, myself and about 20 other women ranging from late-teens to early-40s, met together on the Tri-County Fairgrounds for a day of bouldering, in the Fear Management Clinic.
After a brief introduction, we sorted out carpooling and headed out to the Buttermilks. I rode with Lacy, a climbing crusher from Utah, and her two crag puppies Ophelia and Odin. We pulled into the Birthday Boulders parking lot less than a hundred metres from the boulders themselves – and congregated with dozens of bouldering pads, backpacks full of snacks and a mutual love for climbing.
Like many climbers, I struggle with the mental aspect of climbing. Projecting can be both the best and worst experience of my life, simultaneously. Fear of falling is real. Climbing is dangerous. I know a ton of climbers who’ve had some really serious injuries.
Last fall, I snapped several tendons in my left ankle high-balling in Squamish. After an extensive recovery process, my mind just wasn’t in it when I climbed outdoors.
Emily’s clinic in the Buttermilks was to be my first time outdoor bouldering since that accident. To say I was nervous was an understatement – but I was equally as intimidated by the women surrounding me. I’ve always been the kind of girl who had more guy friends than ladies. I’m not girly.
I’ve had less than five manicures in my life and I usually have my hair tied up in a messy pile on my head. Girls can be terrifying. Girls can be mean. Girls usually don’t like me – and I don’t like them. I had no idea what to expect.
Something interesting happens when 20+ women come together for a common cause, each with a singular love for a sport that builds them up. A space is created, connecting female climbers from across the continent, without competition.
But it wasn’t the fact that we were women: it was that we could be climbers, without being keenly aware that we are women. Without a bunch of dudes confirming that we are in fact women. That we are “crushing it for a girl.”
Hard to believe it’s already been a week since the #womensclimbingfestival ended. It was amazing to see 135 women show up for our stewardship projects last Sunday – we also raised $2,942 for @accessfund and @friendsoftheinyo!! Huge thanks to Kris Hohag of @payahuunadu @legendaryskiestribalguides for starting our day with some sage, a prayer and knowledge of the first people of this valley. Also a big thank you to @accessfund @friendsoftheinyo @mypubliclands @u.s.forestservice @easternsierracc for partnering with us! PC: @thervproject #flashfoxy #bishop #bouldering #payahuunadü naadu #outdoorwomen @blackdiamond @outdoorresearch @organicclimbing
Supportive environment? Yes. But it wasn’t the kind of support where you pat each other on the back and hand off a participation ribbon after one move on a V0. It wasn’t girls with their faces did and nails polished, posing for photos in front of rocks. It was blood and sweat and grunts and swearing. It wasn’t self-consciously shimmying out of our sweaters and into our sports bras – we weren’t there as girls: we were there as climbers.
It was freeing. I didn’t feel weak or feminine when I asked who else struggled with the fear of falling. I was answered with, “Yeah, obviously,” and “Yup, but you just push through,” and “It’s goddamn terrifying but it’s part of the climb.” Such simple answers. So perfectly uncomplicated.
I asked Emily how she combats her fear of falling and she said, “I don’t, really. There isn’t really any trick. You just climb smart and trust yourself.” That doubles as a metaphor for life.
Emily’s clinic wasn’t an answer to fear-management or an instructional #lifehack – but served a bigger purpose: I met a bunch of other women who, like myself, struggled with leftover fear from injuries and said so what. I met other women whose love for the climb outweighed the fear holding them back.
I met women who were like me, meant for the mud and the dirt and didn’t know where the closest Sephora was. We spotted each other and worked out moves on technical slab, power-grunting through big moves, and shoveling Clif bars into our mouths.
Towards the end of the day, the wind really picked up and our bouldering mats were tossed to and fro, pinned down by half a dozen spotters. But it allowed for more time huddled in puffies, sharing conversation about our lives. I learned I wasn’t the only one who found purpose through climbing.
Several other girls shared stories of abusive lives, destructive behaviors and mental illnesses. Depression and anxiety seemed a common theme. But they weren’t sad stories – they were stories of resilience and triumph: stories of bad-ass climbers working through their problems on the rock and in their life. More women who said “yeah, and so what.”
I never thought I’d enjoy an all-girls event. I never thought I’d actually make some female friends that I’d actually want to talk to again. I was wrong.
And fear of falling? I still have it. Mental illness? Still affects me. But so what? Get out and climb something. It could change your life.
Flash foxy’s #womensclimbingfestival weekend was like a blip on the radar. What an incredible experience to have met so many other climbers, including @emilyaharrington who ran a clinic on the mental side of climbing – something I definitely struggle with. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ . . I only sent a couple of problems in the buttermilk’s, but I was super happy to get out on real rock and end the day with confidence (since last time I bouldered outdoors I tore 2 ligaments in my left ankle). ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Thanks to @shelmatic and @heyflashfoxy for this awesome event. Also for the Instagram community which let me connect with a bunch of people I wouldn’t have otherwise! ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #climb #bouldering #california #buttermilks #projecting #climbgirls #girlsboulder
Follow Jenni on Instagram above and visit her website here.