By Terra Dumont, 18 April 2010
Glenn asked me to write an article for mountainz about what it is like to be a female climber. Thought I would add it to Heels as well as I'm sure it will give you all a few good laughs! :)
I grew up in the Canadian Rockies with my parents taking me out of school on a regular basis to go hiking (aka tramping), rock climbing, skiing (cross country, down hill and telimark) and white water canoeing. Upon starting university I joined the Victoria University of Wellington Tramping Club (VUWTC) and became a very active rock climber and tramper. I had been under the opinion that mountaineering was incredibly dangerous and just plain scary and not something that I never wanted to do. Regardless, I was easily talked into going on the clubs Alpine Instruction Course (AIC) as I was told the skills were necessary for tramping. It got me hooked! Self arresting was way too much fun! So I decided to also go on Glenns introduction to alpine climbing course. That weekend changed my life. It gave me the confidence that I could go out there and climb stuff. I was capable. And it was fun! Since then I have taken every opportunity I can to get into the mountains including searching for random climbing partners and hitch-hiking to Ruapahue to meet up with them.
Being a female climber I have felt the need to be better than my male climbing partners to be accepted and treated as an equal. To not be as tiered at the end of the day, to be happy to carry the heavier pack, to be more enthusiastic at 2 am in the morning, to climb the harder grade, to keep a calmer head in difficult situations etc. Whether this is just me being my competitive self, or that there is actually something in the climbing community that makes me feel I need to be this way I do not know. It has brought about some amusing comments from my male friends who often joke that I am not a girl. Most of the time they also decide that I am not a boy and fit into some other classification such as cyborg. I normally beat them up at this point. I’m not sure if this really helps rectify their view point! But as I know most of them have tried to date me at some point (with varying levels of success) I do not take their comments to seriously. On that subject, being a female climber does have its benefits in the fact that you are often one a few girls surrounded by many lovely fit men! (Luckily for me I have found the pick of the bunch).
Now that I have matured a bit past my self-conscious self that felt I needed to be a super-boy to fit in, I have started to let my more feminine side into my climbing. I enjoy wearing skirts and sun dresses around Uniwin Hut, wearing cute earrings while on 10 day mountaineering missions, having bright pink gaiters (even though they were my father’s...) and of course not going anywhere without my little climbing partner Palpagradi! I do not feel that anyone shuns me for this. In fact I have received compliments from men who agree that women should not feel the need to suppress their femininity to be a climber. I have got a few amusing comments including from a guy I was instructing on a AIC who after meeting Palpagradi blurted out “I thought you were hard core!” and my boy-friend of the time who’s comment one day when I came back from climbing at the gym was “you never have any problems getting climbing partners do you?” To be honest I never have had any problems getting climbing partners at the gym. I discovered that if all my friends were busy I could just show up at the gym, find the best boulder and ask him (there was seldom females without climbing partners) if he wanted to climb. I was never shunned and gained many good climbing partners this way. I always thought this was just because climbers are all such lovely people. Maybe it is because I am a young female. I don’t know. Most of my climbing partners have been men, but that is because there are often few other female climbers around. I do enjoy climbing with other girls as much as with boys and really do not see much difference, other than the conversation tends not to enter the gutter as fast when guys are not present!
My parents have been very supportive of my climbing. I have received some lovely texts from my mother prior going on climbing missions telling me to go have fun and enjoy life. Most of my non-climbing friends openly think I am crazy. That’s ok; the world would not be very fun without crazy people! One funny incident that I remember fondly occurred in some girly jewellery and accessories shop to buy sun glasses for mountaineering (I see no point in wearing ugly manly glasses on the mountain – girly glasses cover just as well and I can also wear them on the beach!). I am trying on some glasses and the sales girl comes up and asks “How are you doing darling?” (internal cringe) and points to some bright pink ones saying “these are supper cute for beach parties”. I respond with “ummm I want them for mountaineering”. She gives me a confused look and quickly goes to help another customer.
Last year at the Darrans winter meet there were only a handful of women, but over 20 men. Ok, so in the mountains peeing is a bit harder and having your period sucks, but really, why is the climbing community so male-dominated? I have yet to find a sufficient answer to this question. I find this phenomenon very interesting as I see mountaineering as one of the few sports where women can perform close to or even at par with men. Ok so we are not climbing as hard of grades at the rock or ice crag, but mountaineering is more about endurance, knowledge and pain tolerance, elements women can excel in, than power. I really hope to see more women out there putting up new routes, achieving first ascents and most importantly just enjoying being out there in the mountains!
In conclusion I believe that the New Zealand climbing community is a fantastic environment for budding female climbers, as I have found it to be very supportive as I find my way to becoming myself as female climber.