Climbing draws people who are adventurous and driven to explore new places both in the world and inside ourselves. Climbers like to be on top of the world and connect to the journey as well as the destination.
The fact that it isn’t easy is part of the draw and the puzzles and challenges the rock puts under our feet keep us engaged and coming back for more.
Climbing connects people. Literally by the ropes we share with our partners to keep us alive and the trust and personal connections we build that bring us joy and a sense of place and belonging.
But that trust isn’t always easy to cultivate and not everyone is offered a chance to connect. Too often we only invite others that are significantly like ourselves. We become elitist and exclusive.
Climbing like many outdoor pursuits had a recent history of being thought of as a men’s pursuit. Less than a lifetime ago the number of professional and high profile women climbers could be counted on one hand. (We might still be able to say that about trans and nonbinary climbers.)
It’s quite telling that almost half of outdoor recreational enthusiasts are women but the percentage of guides that are women is barely one in ten. One of the biggest barriers is a lack of mentors who share the same identity and experience which is why programs such as the Women’s SPI are so critical.
When I heard about the women’s SPI class it was like a huge door opened for me and I could see myself actually following a path that led to a career as a guide. I knew I had to get in this training. On the day that registration for the course opened, I woke up early to sign up as soon as the website would let me. I was thrilled when I found out I was accepted into the program.
Having access to women’s trips and courses is life changing. I need the support and the feeling of safety and community and I love being taught by women who share my experiences and learning style. I thrive in these spaces. But because I am a transgender woman, I am often excluded or unwelcome.
So I was a bit nervous in the days leading up to the start of the course. I honestly wasn’t sure if I would be welcome and part of me hoped no one would know I was trans. But at the same time, knowing how difficult it is for other transgender people to have access to spaces like women’s outdoor trips, I wanted to be visible. I wanted to show that I could have a meaningful contribution and be open about who I am… a woman who loves climbing, wants to share that love with others, and happens to be transgender.
The experience did not disappoint. I was welcomed and felt an immediate bond with my instructors and fellow students. I learned and practiced new climbing skills and felt safe to ask questions. Actually seeing and being taught by women who are such amazing leaders and teachers is powerful. You can’t help but feel inspired and feel like you can accomplish anything after being taught by Elaina Arenz, Tracy Martin, Erica Engle, Szu-ting Yi.
I learned as much about creating inclusive spaces as I did about teaching climbing. Because of the sense of community that was cultivated by the instructors and other students, I felt safe to share my story and the barriers that I have faced. I learned about the experiences and challenges of the other women and together we explored ways to make getting outside more inclusive. For me the most powerful part of the experience of being in this class was that it gave me a place to do what I love AND be accepted for who I am. For someone like me this is rare and precious and powerful.
Climbing resonates deeply in me and sharing my experience is so rewarding. I love teaching others how beautiful and peaceful as well as empowering and fulfilling climbing can be. I want other LGTBQI+ people to have mentors and see people like themselves outside. I want everyone to feel welcome and respected and that their contribution is valued in the outdoors. I want to help other climbers feel confident and be safe and self-reliant. That’s not something I can learn to do on my own. Taking part in the women’s SPI course was the first step and a big one for me toward my goal of being a professional climbing Instructor.
I had a wonderful experience and I learned not only the skills to bring climbers to the cliffs but also to trust and believe that I can have and contribute to the community in a meaningful way. My deepest thanks to the scholarship support provided by Five Ten. Without their support I would not have been able to come. Thanks also to Brown Girls Climb, Flash Foxy, the American Alpine Club, the AMGA and to each person out there who made this course happen and made it inclusive. I am so grateful!