Climbing as a Girl: Sometimes You’re Not One of the Guys


“You’re a pretty girl who climbs; you shouldn’t have any trouble finding partners.”

I’ve heard variations of that line more times than I care to keep track of, and I still don’t know how to respond. Do I take it as a compliment? The middle-aged man just called me pretty. But he also just suggested, perhaps unintentionally, that the number one reason people will want to climb with me is that I’m a young, attractive female—Not what I’m going for.

“Every time a guy asks for your number to go climbing, unless he has a girlfriend, he’s looking for something else too,” my friend told me the other day. Really? I have a hard time believing that. First of all, I’m not so narcissistic that I think every boy at the crag has his eye on me. I’m also not looking for anything more than a patient catch and maybe some pleasant conversation when I ask someone to climb. Occasionally I’m hoping that I can toprope some harder routes than I would normally lead, but a reach-in kiss or the dreaded harness-grab-pull-in on the pitch 3 belay ledge is not on my mind. I’m not asking for a date; I’m asking for a climbing partner. Isn’t that what the guys I climb with are asking for too?

I’d really like to think that people want to climb with me because I’m a competent belayer who might even have a decent (or at least tolerable) personality. I want to be a fun friend to lap routes at the crag with and someone who will have the patience to belay you while you suss out the beta for your next project. I wish that every time I climbed with a group of guys that the people around me simply assumed that I was friends with them, not dating one of them. No, I didn’t start climbing because my boyfriend brought me to Rumney as a fun date—I found toproping in the gym and then my University’s climbing team on my own. I’m not always the strongest climber of my crew, but please don’t assume that just because I’m a small female that I’ll be the weakest climber in the group either.

So what can I make of all this? First, I don’t believe that all males at the crag want “something more” when they give me a catch. My friend Alec is one of my favorite climbing partners. He’s always stoked whether we’re climbing hard or messing around on V1s in Pawtuckaway, and he’d never seen me before he picked me up at my dorm for a morning bouldering session the first time we met. He’s not “looking for anything” except a fun time on some rocks, which is pretty much guaranteed every time I climb with him. However, I am told that I’m often oblivious to those who do have other intentions.

Overall, my goal is to be one of the bros, hearing their girl stories instead of being in their girl stories. I want to get stronger (a little physically, a lot mentally), so I can eventually project routes with them. I want to be an equal, one of the guys—or, better yet, just another climber.

Originally published August 31, 2015, on 

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