By Sarah Rayner and Elan Paulson
On the weekend, seven middle-aged women (ranging from 39-57) go rock/wall climbing at the Junction Climbing Centre. Virtually none of us have prior climbing experience. We walk in, get harnessed up, and with our two young but experienced instructors we get safety and climbing instructions. In no time, we have all had our first climb to the top under our belts and quite happy with ourselves. We continue climbing different walls with different levels of difficulty….We were doing this and looking good!
At first, we were all apprehensive of the climb up: finding finger and foot holds and letting go of the wall and repelling down. You were really aware of your space on the (high!!!) wall and problem-solving how you were going to continue the climb up to the top. The experience was scary, but thrilling at the same time.
After the climbing we went next door to the local craft brewery and had a couple of beers, chatted and laughed about the experience and the fears that some of had to overcome. We then started talking about our next adventures as a group…Polar Rush, Yurting in Tobermory, some personal adventures like Peru Machu Picchu, Nepal, Hawaii and Kilimanjaro.
Post climb, we looked at a random selection of web pages about climbing, which has become a multi-million dollar industry for men and women. Here are some of the online messages that, based on our experience, we say to women who are new to climbing, either Heck Yes or Look Away!
- The physical benefits (fat-burning, muscle toning, etc.) of climbing. We concur: even with only one time out, we agreed it was a tiring but rewarding sport!
- The equality of male and female climbers, as women’s “strength-to-weight” ratio offsets any lack of power and reach. The ratio of men to women at the Junction was easily 50/50, and we went just before “ladies night” started.
- The fact that climbing is a form of “active meditation,” requiring focus but also heightened mindfulness. We found this is true, if for no other reason that if you aren’t paying attention you will literally fall off the wall.
- The focus on climbing and women’s physiques: “If you’ve ever seen female rock climbers, you know exactly the effects climbing has on the body.” No. We saw greater climbers with body types of all shapes and sizes.
- Over-expensive climbing clothes that seem only marginally related to the sport. Just wear light clothing that breathes.
- Photo galleries of extreme climbing. They are often awe-inspiring photos, but for novices they can be intimidating or heighten your fear. These pics may not represent your goals, and that’s totally okay.
Here are a few “tips for new climbers” that we probably should have looked at before we climbed (and recommend to others interested in trying out this sport):
- Climbing is about efficiency, and requires attention to technique.
- There are tips for new climbers that might have been useful to know in advance.
- These helpful tips include what to do when you feel stuck.
One thing we also strongly recommend–and this didn’t show up on many climbing advice web pages–is finding a group of people who will continually cheer and encourage each other on (in climbing, as well as in every aspect of life). In the climbing gym, we were (by far) the loudest group in the building, hooting and hollering as each of us climbed. Whether experts or novices, our climbing buddies gave us pride in our personal strength. We can’t wait for the next adventure!
Sarah Rayner is a hiking goddess. Elan Paulson is a defence soccer diva.