Women’s Climbing: Women Rocking the Wall

Rock climbing as a sport has grown in popularity over recent years and college campuses have only embraced the young sport, the University of Idaho campus included.

Anyone who walks by the rock wall in prime gym hours is likely to see a packed climbing area, full of students anxious to put their time in on the wall.

Climbing is a sport that pushes strength and endurance and can act like a puzzle on the wall challenging the climber to chalk up and tackle it. It is a sport that draws students to a small gym in the masses.

Yet the masses that flock to the wall are not always the most encouraging for newer climbers who may not have the experience other climbing buffs have under their belt.

Gillian Freitas, staff member of the Idaho Student Rec Center Rock Gym, said Lady’s Night in the climbing center began as a way to give newer female climbers an opportunity to get on the wall without having to fight off older, more experienced male climbers who can take over the gym on occasion.

“Being a girl climber myself, it is just kind of hard when there’s a bunch of guys in one area,” Freitas said. “It’s hard to jump in there so this is trying to encourage women to come out and build a community.”

Lady’s Night takes place 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. every Wednesday at the Climbing Center in the Student Rec Center. The program puts on a special class once a month, like lead climbing training, to give women the chance to get the training and practice in a safe space amongst a small group.

Freitas said the event normally attracts a smaller group of women, but she does not view that as a negative, but instead as a crucial part of building the Idaho climbing community.

“It does kind of create a community,” Freitas said. “I think I can see it with a lot of our newer climbers when they come in, I can kind of see them going after other stuff, or maybe it’s just because they know me and come and talk to me more, but I do notice they get a little bit more talkative and it creates a community with me and them so I can point it out and go and hang out with them if they aren’t climbing with anybody.”

Audrey Elias and Anna Cutler, Lady’s Night regulars and Climbing Club members, said Lady’s Night is the perfect start to build confidence in a time where the crowds are smaller and the wall is free.

“(You can) like try different things that you don’t think you can usually get when there are like 30 people around, like, ‘I didn’t know I could do this before but I am going to try it,’” Elias said.

Much like beginning a new job or starting a new school can be intimidating, so can starting a new sport. Lady’s Night gives new climbers the opportunity to ease into the sport without the pressure and intimidation that can come from a gym full of experienced climbers. For these women, Lady’s Night is the perfect starting point.

“I’ve seen a lot of girls I know. They will come climb for the first time at Lady’s Night when they are like, very beginning climbers. They will get their belay certificate and then this will be the first thing they do,” Elias said. “I think it feels like a safe place to come try things out. No one is judgmental. Everyone is just helping each other out – it’s a good intro.”

The initial intimidation of climbing does not last long though, according to Cutler, especially if you are around the gym and the community longer.

“Since I’ve been part of the team and I have a lot of guy friend climbers that are really supportive and don’t judge me and I don’t judge myself on the wall, its less of that now,” she said of the fear-factor that came with climbing in the early months. “In the beginning, it was kind of a good way to escape and practice without other people watching.”

Regardless of the jitters that may come to new climbers, climbing continues to pull athletes back in and continue to attract more. Why?

“It’s addictive, like super addictive,” Elias said. “Once you start and you get some routes you just can’t stop.”

Meredith Spelbring can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu


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