GET INTO CLIMBING: ADVICE FROM 4 WOMEN WHO’VE MADE IT THEIR LIFE

Two million fewer women participate in sport and physical activity than men, yet an estimated 13 million women say that they would like to do more.
It can often seem like there are extra barriers to participating in outdoor sports, and climbing in particular, that can put many people off ever trying them. We decided to ask four female Rab athletes to tell us a little about how they got into climbing and how they overcame the early challenges of accessing the sport. Hopefully their experiences can help to guide others taking their first steps into the world of climbing.

 

JUDE SPANCKEN

Jude2

Jude balancing her way up a slab in Italy

Q. HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO CLIMBING?

“I grew up in the countryside in Northern Germany and I spent my childhood surrounded by fields and woods. I don’t know whether it was the circumstance of being the only girl in a very small village or my natural energy but I spent most of my time playing with the other kids; climbing trees and getting into all sort of outdoor adventures.
Horses also played a big part in my youth and many, many days were spent galloping around the woods and across fields on our ponies. I can therefore say that the outdoors always played a big role in my life right from the start.
At 17 I spent a year in an English school and I joined the school’s climbing club. Joining the club was inspired by my housemistress Mrs Whittey. I’ll never forget meeting her for the first time. She was sat in an arm chair, wild hair framing a face that had seen a lot of wind and sun, with a spark in her eyes that spoke of adventure. Her leg was in a cast propped up on a chair and we soon found out the break was the result of white water rafting in Africa.
“You girls should try rock climbing. Join the rock climbing club” she said. I was inspired!
With no hesitation I took her up on the challenge and soon found myself spending the weekends rock climbing in Swanage, Cornwall and Pembroke. Half-terms were spent on the isle of Lundy and winter climbing in Scotland. The rock climbing club was led and organised by the school chemistry teacher Mr Wilochowski, a truly inspiring and unique man who spent his weekends introducing a bunch of keen kids to the beauty of British sea cliff climbing.
I’ll never forget my first day out climbing. Abseiling down the cliffs at Swanage, smelling the sea, feeling the wind on my skin, hearing the ocean and seagulls….and…..doing this thing called rock climbing! Something I had never heard of before arriving in the UK. My first climb, such a struggle, so exhilarating. So wholesome…feeling all of my body engaged from head to toe. Both mind and body challenged, spending time with like-minded people and all in this beautiful setting by the sea…the outdoors. I was hooked!”

 

Contemplating the next moveContemplating the next move

Q. WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU FACED EARLY ON AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME IT?

“My school year in Sussex finished. I had to move back to Northern Germany to finish my schooling for another two years. There I was, far removed from rock, cliffs and mountains. Money was tight and at that time there were no climbing walls, and nobody else who climbed. Most of my friends, like me a year earlier, had never even heard of rock climbing.
What to do? Where to go…how to continue?
I had such a longing in me to be back on that rock high above the sea feeling the wind in my hair, hearing the sound of the waves.
During half-term breaks I travelled back to the UK to join Mr Wilochowski and the other students on trips to Lundy. One required some sneakiness as German and UK half-terms didn’t always correspond. But I was determined. However, apart from those two precious weeks I had to do without climbing for a couple of years. I continued school in Germany, finished my Abitur which would be the equivalent to the English A-Levels and continued dreaming of returning to rock climbing. I so wanted to make it happen.
I guess it was my newfound love for rock climbing by the sea and the beautiful memories I gathered during my school year in England that influenced my decision to go to university in the UK rather than staying in Germany. I ended up studying Geography at Aberystwyth University, joining the climbing club there and spending my weekends hitch-hiking to North Wales. Summer holidays I went further afield to the French Alps and Squamish in Canada. To make it all happen I worked evening shifts in Burger King and rather than spending my money on drinks, saved as best as I could to buy plane tickets instead.
The climbing world is a sociable one and despite the growing number of climbers, it’s still relatively small. One is never alone and many of my trips in the last years have been done solo; meeting up with climbers from all over the world along the way.
I am aware that I was lucky, having had an excellent introduction to rock climbing, learning safely under the watchful eye of my teacher. Much of his advice still rings in my ears today.
Maybe one of the biggest challenges I see for somebody new to climbing is how to develop their rope and climbing skills and to stay safe out there. How to venture from indoors to outdoors. How to acquire the techniques involved with trad climbing, alpine peaks, sea cliffs, multi pitch…How to meet people.
Luckily there are many people who offer courses today teaching these things. If money is an issue joining a club is a great option. If you are somebody out looking for a climbing partner, be assured you are not the only one and there are many ways these days of teaming up with people. Climbing or any outdoor activity is such a good way to meet people and make new friends!”

 

JULES LITTLEFAIR

Jules early on in her climbing careerJules early on in her climbing career

Q. HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO CLIMBING?

“I went on a multi-activity holiday to the Lake District with school when I was 11 years old and they took us climbing. I absolutely loved it. However, growing up in London there wasn’t much opportunity to pursue it. When I was in 6th form I started going to the indoor wall near my house, but it wasn’t until I went to university in Sheffield that I really got into outdoor climbing. I joined the university climbing club and got hooked.”

 

...and much later in her career…and much later in her career

Q. WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU FACED EARLY ON AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME IT?

“My biggest challenge early on was that my lectures stopped me going out climbing as often as I wanted! Apart from that I was pretty lucky as I met a great group of people and I didn’t really have any problems.
Some years later when I started training seriously with my coach in Spain I used to get a lot of stick down at the wall in the UK which I found a bit challenging. Training wasn’t so popular in the UK back then and people often asked me why I was taking it all so seriously. I’ve always really enjoyed training so I just kept doing my own thing and eventually things changed.”

 

LIBBY PETER

Libby enjoying winter in SnowdoniaLibby enjoying winter in Snowdonia

Q. HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO CLIMBING?

“I grew up scrambling around Cornish coves and headlands but my first ‘proper’ outdoor stuff was hillwalking with the school rucksack club. I soon wanted to tackle more adventurous “scrambly” routes up mountains and this led me to climbing. I’m eternally appreciative of the door that was opened by a pair of enlightened teachers, who gave up their Saturdays to help us get going in the hills. All youngsters should be given a chance to walk up a hill or mountain, or visit a cliff top with an infinite horizon.”

 

Q. WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU FACED EARLY ON AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME IT?

“For some reason I thought I was scared of heights, maybe someone had told me I was because I seemed timid. Once I discovered that this feeling or fear is perfectly normal and natural, it’s what keeps you safe, and that you can learn to control it, a whole new world opened up to me. I suppose the urge to stand on top of spiky, inaccessible mountain tops was stronger than the feeling of fear. And the more you do, the more comfortable you become.”

 

EMMA TWYFORD

EmmaEmma reaching for her next clip

Q. HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTO CLIMBING?

“I got into climbing through my dad and the Cockermouth Mountain Rescue team. I first climbed at Shepherd’s crag at the age of 7 in my full-body harness on a diff called ‘Donkeys Ears’. I was hooked straight away!”

 

Q. WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU FACED EARLY ON AND HOW DID YOU OVERCOME IT?

“I didn’t face any particularly big challenges early on but at the age of 17/18 I got glandular fever and had to start all over again. I had to remove my ego and accept that I wasn’t going to be at my best for a while. I had to figure out what motivated me and which bits of climbing I enjoyed. In the end it was a tough but rewarding battle.”

 

Article from Rab Equipment in honour of Women Outdoors Week, a British Mountaineering Council initiative to encourage more women to take up outdoor sports and activities.

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