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New heights in women’s climbing

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women climbers impressive world-wideWomen are changing the sport of climbing, setting new records and standards with nearly every big climb they complete,

A relatively young yet very experienced group of female climbers in the UK are leading the way in changing the make-up of the sport of climbing.

Many pin the increase in numbers of women climbing on the growth in popularity of indoor climbing walls.

Stephanie Meysner, a climber and activist, told The Guardian that she noticed the change about five years ago.

Climbing walls and bouldering, where you need minimal equipment, she explained, have made the sport more accessible.

Bringing women together to share experiences and learn from one another has also been important in the sport’s development.

And the British Mountaineering Council (BMC), the annual Women’s Climbing Symposium and the Pinnacle Club are providing essential support to the growing numbers of female climbers.

The all-women Pinnacle Club, set up in 1921, aims to ‘encourage the development of rock climbing and mountaineering amongst women and bring together those who are interested in these pursuits’.

The annual Women’s Climbing Symposium is organised by Meysner, and is the only all-female climbing event dedicated to connecting, developing and inspiring women in climbing in the UK.

The symposium provides coaching by elite female climbers, workshops on training, nutrition and injury prevention as well the opportunity to listen to keynote speakers on a variety of subjects – from the trials and tribulations of competition climbing to representation of women in the climbing media.

Speaking about the growth of the sport, Meysner said, “The change has been organic.

“We are seeing a wider change in attitudes towards risk-taking.  In the past, women have tended to be villainised by the media for taking risks.”

The overall growth in popularity of the sport, and its higher public profile, is due in large part to the current leaders’ success in all areas of climbing – indoor competitions, sport climbing, bouldering and traditional climbing.

Sport climbing involves clipping a rope onto bolts already set into the surface of the climb.

Bouldering is short, ropeless climbing, above mats.

Traditional climbing requires climbers to carry and place wedges that they can then clip ropes on to.

Often considered the most dangerous type of climbing, traditional climbing is where women are making the biggest headlines as they continue to surpass expectations of both their physical and mental ability.

Mina Leslie-Wujastyk, one of Britain’s leading young climbers, began her career in bouldering, and as she built up her confidence, kept climbing higher and higher.

She said she ‘realised I could do hard moves high off the ground and [that] I was comfortable with my head game.’

UK climbs are graded adjectively and technically, with the most difficult climbing category, Extremely Severe, broken down into sub-grades E1 to E10.

Some of the women currently climbing Extremely Severe grades include Emma Twyford, Katy Whittaker, Hazel Findlay, Leslie-Wujastyk, Shauna Coxsey, Leah Crane and Ali Garrigan.

Twyford climbed an E9 in Wales in September 2013, becoming only the second British woman to do so. Findlay was the first.

Whittaker and Leslie-Wujastyk both recently climbed E8s, and Findlay free-climbed California’s El Capitan for the third time in late 2013.

Other headline climbs include the all-female team that scaled London’s Shard building in July 2013, on a Greenpeace protest against Shell’s oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.

The climb took the six-member team, of which Garrigan was a part, 15 hours to reach the top of the building, and required a mix of techniques, including the traditional mountain climbing method of free-climbing by the leader of the group.

Other events, such as December 2013’s Italian Cogne Ice Opening, continue to raise the profile of the sport, in all its various disciplines, as more and more women get involved – and achieve ever higher levels of success.

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