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Climb like a girl

Sara Lingafelter
Sara Lingafelter
3 min read

During the comp, I watched this girl TM flash a problem, which basically traverses across the wall through a dihedral. Moving between the two walls, she subtly adjusted balance, body position, and foot placement as she moved diagonally down through the dihedral. Talking to little A-chan (Yes, I know little and -chan are redundant, but she is that cute.), I told her to watch TM climb. I stated something like she climbs like a girl, not a guy. A-chan asked what I meant, and I responded that by “like a guy” I meant it was really powerful and feigned a big move with a guttural exclamation, for which she immediately understood the brutishness I was implying, while contrasting that with TM who danced up the wall.

ClimbingNarc’s guest poster Zonk recently posted a topic called “Climb Like a Girl,” discussing some generalizations and citing some outside sources on the topic. It dawned on me… I’m a rock climber, a girl, and a blogger, and I don’t think I’ve ever devoted a post to climbing like a girl, so here’s my contribution to the fray.

We climbers — at least, the 99% of us who aren’t highly evolved enough to not make such sweeping gender stereotypes — use the phrase “climbing like a girl” to describe a guy who uses proper footwork and balance, and who exhibits flexibility and the ability to stretch on the wall. On occasion, we use the phrase “she climbs like a guy” to describe a girl with lots of power and strength, and who relies less on her footwork than we’re used to seeing in women.

I’m going to neither defend, nor disclaim the phrase and its accompanying stereotypes. It is, what it is, and I’m fine with “climbing like a girl” as long as it’s not used in the derogatory, discouraging sense that “throwing like a girl” connotes — so I guess I reach the same conclusion as Zonk.

Personally, I climb like a girl. For me, it’s all about the balance, I place too much emphasis on my footwork (even according to girl climbers who have coached me), I stretch and slink my way up the wall using opposing pressure moves, body tension, and only on rare occasions do I use my arm muscles enough to wake up sore the next morning (I can’t remember the last time). On the other hand, I grunt like a trucker, so I’m not entirely girly. Most of the climbers in our gym are fairly quiet climbers… oh, how I wish I could just be quiet and keep the noises in. But when I’m nearing the top of the lead wall, I’m pumped, I’m tired, my hands are barely holding on, and I make one last desperate move (whether on a 5.9 or a 10c) I make noise. Lately, strangely, I’ve been making more of my “falling” noise, which is decidedly more girly — like a squeal, and I’ve been teased about letting seagulls into the gym when it happens. I don’t know what that’s all about… I guess it means I’ve been surprising myself by falling more than powering my way through moderate moves that I can make with enough effort to grunt but not enough to fall.

I also climb like a girl. I’m typically the coffee-brewer in my camp; I do have days — fewer lately than when I first started out — where I’m happy to belay all day without climbing because I just don’t feel it, or I’m unusually afraid that particular day. I am generally the one with the first aid kit, and I can’t help but “mom” on occasion even though I’m not actually a mom. I have, a few times, had to rely on my guy friends to retrieve lost gear when I got too sketched out to finish a lead. That’s not necessarily girly — that means I’m a beginner, still, even after three years, and I’m still learning — but it sure feels girly in the moment when I have to ask for help. I wonder, a lot, since I climb a lot of the time with really strong guys, if everybody is as afraid as I usually am on lead and they just hide it better than I do.

So, I guess the bottom line is, go climb. Who cares how. For me, climbing like a girl is being strong, loving my muscles, working hard to become a stronger climber mentally, and getting outside and having fun with my friends as much as humanly possible.

Edited — By the way, I meant to add to my list of Climbing Blogs of Note but forgot to, earlier. Enjoy!

Sara Lingafelter

Sara (Grace) Lingafelter takes steps forward and backward toward a right-sized life on a daily basis.