It was unusually bustling for 9am on a Saturday morning. But this wasn’t just any Saturday at the popular south London climbing wall, the Arch, as this year's much anticipated Women's Climbing Symposium (WCS) had arrived. Katy Dartford was there to find out more…
The WCS is the brainchild three-time British Bouldering Champion and number three in the world boulderer Shauna Coxsey and ashtanga yoga teacher and co-owner of The Climbing Hangar, Stephanie Meysner. The event, supported by the BMC, is dedicated to connecting, developing and inspiring women in climbing and is now in its third year.
The event is attracting more and more women every year, offering coaching by elite female climbers, workshops on training, nutrition and injury prevention, as well as inspiring talks on subjects such as ‘amateur’ climbers' adventures and Mina Leslie-Wujastyk’s struggles on the competition climbing circuit.
As an envious male friend of mine said ‘it’s not fair… there are no events like this for men….’ Well, tough luck boys, as exploring the female experience of climbing is something relatively new - and necessary – as with many other areas of history, women’s role and their experiences are only just beginning to come to the surface. With this in mind, the symposium opened with a fascinating talk by Angela Soper, former president of the women only Pinnacle Club. Angela described the evolution of female climbing culture since around the 1900s, what we need to go forward and her own journeys in climbing over the last 50 years.
We then spilt up into groups attending talks or workshops coached by the likes of Leah Crane, Shauna Coxsey, Audrey Seguy, Emma Twyford, and Katherine Schirmacher. The sessions focussed on footwork, training, dynamic moves and awkward holds and there was a yoga class for climbers too. Shauna opened the ‘dynamic moves’ workshop by explaining how many of the girls she competes against are much stronger than her, but ‘by getting better at dynos, you don’t need to get stronger.’ We were all rather negative about our abilities at first, but as we went through skill drills, we all managed to leap far beyond what we thought possible.
In the training workshop, Ellie Howard and Katherine Schirmacher emphasised the importance of goal setting. Katherine said she now only trains for Peak and Yorkshire limestone – crimpy and vertical to overhanging sport climbs and she only red-points. We then focused on the two areas that are important, regardless of your goals; finger strength and arm strength and were given a range of exercises to practice – including variations of old favourites such as the ‘wide’ pull up and the ‘close’ push up.
In the afternoon Rebecca Dent, team GB’s nutritionist, explained how you can safely reach your optimal climbing weight. We looked at the pros and cons of different weight loss methods, from intermittent fasting to low carbohydrate diets. In ‘Amateur Adventures,’ Emma Flaherty, who has bouldered V10, told us about her inspirational climbing trips to places like Hampi, Hueco Tanks, and Rocklands, squeezed in whilst having a ‘normal’ job. She urged us not to let life’s pressures get in the way of climbing and gave us her golden rules for keeping psyched; have a trip planned, go to amazing places, find people to train with who you can bounce off, get out no matter what, have a project inside and out and train something measurable.
After lunch we had a moving talk by Mina Leslie-Wujastyk on ‘self efficacy,’ which explored the mental barriers inhibiting her performance in the bouldering world cup circuit. Most significantly, after reading Lanny Bassham’s ‘With Winning in Mind’, which stated that ‘winners think they will finish first, the others hope to,’ Mina wrote her ‘positive affirmation statement.’ She read this out to us, something which she has not done before as she was embarrassed and wasn’t sure it would work. She discussed how we too can go about changing similar core beliefs about ourselves, which hold us back from what we want to achieve. We then watched a film by Jen Randall ‘Project Mina’ - which revealed Mina ‘suffering for her art’ on her journey as a world cup competitor.
The day was rounded off by a talk by Ella Kirkpatrick who at the age of just 13 climbed El Capitan with her father Andy Kirkpatrick. Ella looks well set now to follow in his footsteps as an adventurer and ‘lecture tour subversive’.
The mission of the WCS is to create a welcoming environment to women from every background and all abilities, and share best practice in climbing techniques and training methods. And we certainly all left better informed, inspired and feeling more connected to the other female climbers around us.
See lots more pictures on the Arch Climbing Wall's website.
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Inspired by the WCS? We'll be publishing articles about inspiring female climbers and mountaineers each day this week. Keep an eye out for Katy Whittacker on hard grit, mountain guide Tania Noakes, British lead climbing champion Molly Thompson-Smith and top trad climber Hazel Findlay.