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Learning to Lead: Forming an All-female Lead Climbing Team

08.13.18

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Learning to Lead: Forming an All-female Lead Climbing Team

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  • Taking a break on our first climb as a team. - Learning to Lead: Forming an All-female Lead Climbing Team
  • Heading back to the hut after a successful summit.- Learning to Lead: Forming an All-female Lead Climbing Team
  • Slowly making our way down to the base of the climb.- Learning to Lead: Forming an All-female Lead Climbing Team
  • Enjoying our surroudings. - Learning to Lead: Forming an All-female Lead Climbing Team
  • Pre-trip training session.- Learning to Lead: Forming an All-female Lead Climbing Team
  • Early start at our first climb.- Learning to Lead: Forming an All-female Lead Climbing Team
  • Mandatory summit photo.- Learning to Lead: Forming an All-female Lead Climbing Team
  • Training session in California.- Learning to Lead: Forming an All-female Lead Climbing Team
  • East ridge of Grand Montets. - Learning to Lead: Forming an All-female Lead Climbing Team
  • Summiting Petit Flambeau on our second climb as a team.- Learning to Lead: Forming an All-female Lead Climbing Team
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Pro Contributor

My girlfriend and I have only been climbing together for just over a year, and the majority of the time it was always with our significant others, especially on the alpine routes. Having two very strong male climbers with us was great, and it allowed us to climb harder routes. But last year on our climbing trip to the Alps, we got a taste of how different it was to climb with just the two of us. We had to make all of the crucial decisions and lead the route ourselves. It was a new dynamic, having a female climbing partner who was at a similar skill level, and we both wanted to explore the dynamic further. We talked about why it was the case that we have the tendency to take a backseat on climbs. It wasn't because our male partners weren't giving us a chance to lead. It was more about being around someone who was more skilled; we had shut ourselves out from the opportunities to take charge. 

This summer all four of us went back to the Alps. Planning routes was somewhat easier and tricker at the same time. I picked out portions of the route that we had previously climbed to see if I could lead it, knowing that it would be within my capability. Still, there was nervousness lingering.

As with any climbing trip, things doesn't always go according to plan, and this time was no different. The Aiguille du Midi cable car broke due to a heavy snow season, and it wasn't scheduled to open until the day we were to leave the country. Since there were a number of routes that we had planned in that area that would not be accessible, the plan had to be altered. But that also meant  that I wouldn't be able to do some of my test routes first. 

Our first climb ended up being in Aiguille du Tour area. All of us went up to Aiguille du Tour, and we used this opportunity to get used to being roped up together as the girl's team. The next day, when our friends set out on their objective, we went out to do our first all-female climb. 

It was nerve-racking as predicted, but we moved well and reached the base of the rock band in reasonable time. Here we experienced our first challenge, route finding. We later found that route finding is one of the challenges that we will need to work on. We moved carefully and probably much more slowly than we would have if we were climbing with our significant others, but there was a sense of satisfaction that we had made all of the decisions ourselves. From that day, slowly we gained more confidence to go out and do other routes. I'm not saying that there wasn't any nervousness, but we started believing that we could make a smart and safe decisions. 

There are many things that I learned from these experiences. The most important thing is probably to allow myself to believe in us. I learned that we shouldn't be afraid of the unknown. Once we were as prepared as we could be, we needed to solve issues as they came up and embrace that challenge. I found that excessively stressing about "what if " situations is pointless, and that doing the research during preparation is the best way to calm myself down. I also learned to trust my partner. In the mountains, especially in alpine climbing situations, climbers have to rely on each other. Trusting your climbing partner removes a little bit of the pressure that you might put on yourself. Two heads are better than one. I also learned that, while it is good to know my limits, I shouldn't be afraid to push myself. Whenever I climb a new route, I tend to get really nervous and question my ability. But I reminded myself to trust the months of training that I had put in exploring the limits of my skills, and that kept me from allowing nervousness to cloud my real ability. 

And finally, I was reminded to try to enjoy the climb and look around. Often when I get too serious or focused in a climb, I forget to look at the view and enjoy the whole experience. Some of my best and most memorable climbing moments happen when I get to pause for a second, look around, and really take in my surroundings.

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