Guest post: the other side of women in climbing

February 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Following Charlotte Clark’s post here on The Girl Outdoors on the delights of learning to scale rocks, avid climber Jess Spate reveals the darker side of the pursuit.

Climbing is one of those sports that pushes the limits of what you can do both physically and mentally. Whether you’re just starting out on a relatively safe, friendly bolted 3+ sports route or figuring out what is possible at E11, the challenge is more or less the same- find something you’re not sure you can climb and do it.

Men dominate climbing at all levels but there are always a small number of women up there giving the boys a run for their money. It’s interesting to watch the progress of beginner groups. At first, the naturally stronger men will dominate, and will muscle their way to the top while the women are more likely to struggle. But after a few weeks everything changes. While those with greater upper body strength will have spent a few weeks completing routes with sheer brawn, the less physically strong- and this usually means the women- have been learning technique through trial and error.

As the group is introduced to more challenging routes that demand sophisticated technique, the burly folk will start to wonder why their usual method doesn’t work any more and they’ll be gradually overtaken by those with better balance and a more thoughtful climbing style. Brute strength will only get you so far.

The attitude of male climbers to female climbers is interesting. If I’m climbing with another woman there are still men who will assume we don’t know what we’re doing and try to ‘help’ by pointing out the easiest routes. These men are never experienced climbers. Climb outdoors for a single season and you’ll see plenty of women tackling hard routes no matter where you are.

Outside of competition climbing- something only a tiny percentage of climbers do- men and women climb the same rock. Do the same route and you get the same grade, even if I struggle to reach a key handhold where a six foot man wouldn’t. Once in a blue moon comes a move that’s easier for short people but by and large, those with longer reach and extra strength will have an advantage. There is nothing more annoying than at tall guy yelling ‘Just reach for it!’ from the bottom of the crag. He can reach it, you have to find another way to do the move.

It’s very easy to get frustrated by that (and to be honest, sometimes I do) but it’s important to keep it all in perspective. You’re not competing against the guy who just did this climb and made it look easy. It’s not the same climb for you as it was for him. This is your climb and you’ll have to find your own way. If you do, you’ll learn something he didn’t that will almost certainly be valuable on other routes.

At 5’4, I am taller than one of the greatest climbers the world has ever seen by a clear 4 inches. Lynn Hill was the first person to free The Nose on El Capitan in the US – an achievement that remains as one of the most significant in modern climbing history. It pays to remember that. Climbers are not limited by what they can reach, but by the ways they learn to deal with the problems that the rock presents.

As a woman, you are not necessarily a better or a worse climber than a man. You may not have the reach or the strength, but if you work at it you’ll develop balance, flexibility, and technique to get you through hard climbs. You’ll test what you can do and push that limit in the same way every developing climber does. There will be strong men who climb harder than you and strong men who can’t get anywhere near what you can do. They don’t matter. When you’re on a hard route there is nothing but you and the rock, and that’s the way it should be.

Jess Spate is an avid climber and edits Outdoor Equipment Online, a UK price comparison site that includes a large women’s climbing gear section. She also works for Appalachian Outdoors in the USA.


LOCATION GUIDE: Snowdrop searching

February 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you are getting desperate waiting for the bluebells, a sure sign of the advent of spring, The National Trust has published this guide to snowdrop spotting.

Stourhead, Wiltshire
In February, the grasslands are carpeted with the brilliant white at one of the most famous landscaped gardens in the world. Follow criss-crossing paths to enchanting temples, enjoy lakeside walks and spot the first signs of spring all around you.

Garden admission charges apply.
For more information please call 01747 841152.

Anglesey Abbey, Gardens and Lode Mill, Cambridgeshire
During Anglesey’s snowdrop season (24 January to 27 February) visit the grounds of this Jacobean house where 240 varieties of these lovely flowers flourish in the garden. There’s also the winter garden to enjoy with its coloured tree barks, winter flowering shrubs and ground cover plants.

Garden admission charges apply.
For more information please call 01223 810080.

Nymans, West Sussex
This 20th-century garden is famed for its amazing collection of rare and important plants. At the start of spring, spot wonderful displays of snowdrops as well as camellias and magnolias underplanted with a host of daffodils and grape hyacinths. The bulb meadow in the Wall Garden is full of snowdrops and early narcissus and there are rare hellebores all around the garden.

Garden admission charges apply.
For more information please call 01444 405250.

Dunham Massey, Cheshire
Take a stroll in one of the North’s greatest gardens and discover the delights of Britain’s largest winter garden, where the white carpet will be rolled out for visitors. The garden contains almost 700 different plant species and a further 1,600 shrubs specifically bred for the 7 acre wonder. January heralds the first early signs of spring with the delicate charms of snowdrops, where clusters of over 100,000 double and single snowdrops and 20,000 narcissi bloom amongst the trees.

Garden admission charges apply.
For more information please call 0161 941 1025.

Kingston Lacy, Dorset
While the weather forecasters can’t promise snow, Kingston Lacy can predict a dazzling blanket of snowdrops each winter. The garden wakes up in spectacular fashion in January and February when thousands of this favourite flower burst through the soil transforming the garden into a sea of white. Special snowdrop openings are a tradition at Kingston Lacy so visitors can wander through the displays and salute this first welcome sign of spring.

Park and garden admission charges apply.
For more information please call 01202 883402.

Belton House, Lincolnshire
With delightful gardens, a luxuriantly planted Orangery and lakeside walks, Belton is a pleasure to explore all year round and never more so as the early signs of spring creep in. Don’t miss delicate displays of snowdrops that melt away winter.

Grounds admission charges apply.
For more information please call 01476 566116.

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, Yorkshire
This World Heritage Site, set in 323 hectares of beautiful countryside, offers an unparalleled opportunity to appreciate the range of England’s heritage and natural beauty. Walk on a white carpet of snowdrops in early spring as you explore the magnificent 12th-century abbey ruins and amble through the beautiful landscaped Georgian water garden of Studley Royal, complete with Neo-classical statues, follies and breathtaking views.

Normal admission charges apply.
For more information please call 01765 608888.

Attingham Park, Shropshire
During Attingham’s snowdrop season (22 January – 27 February), watch the woodland floor transform into a stunning carpet of snowdrops. Stroll around this great estate between Shrewsbury and the River Severn and enjoy abundant sprinkles of the delicate flowers in beautiful parkland, designed to impress.

Park and grounds admission charges apply.
For more information please call 01743 708123.

Chirk Castle, Wrexham
These award-winning gardens contain clipped yews, herbaceous borders, shrub and rock gardens, as well as a terrace with stunning views over the Cheshire and Salop plains. In early spring, don’t miss the drifts of snowdrops that dance through the woodland.

Garden and tower admission charges apply.
For more information please call 01691 777701.

The Argory, Co. Armagh
With a backdrop of sweeping vistas, scenic walks and fascinating courtyard displays, come and see the stunning display of snowdrops and other superb spring bulbs on this riverside estate. Enjoy a gentle snowdrop walk as the frost thaws while children enjoy the adventure playground.

Grounds admission charges apply.
For more information please call 028 8778 4753.

HOW TO: Survive a bear attack

February 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

This is essential knowledge for the outdoorsy type as you never know when you could come across a Grizzly up a mountain. Unfortunately, opinions seem to vary on what to do when there’s a big bear snarling in front of you, quite possibly because some do not live explain their failed methods to pacify their fuzzy attacker. I have, however, compiled for you an extensive list of advice and know-how, so at least you’ll be spoiled for choice when faced with something that does not in any way act like Yogi Bear, Paddington Bear or, indeed, the Care Bears.

1. Backpacker Magazine’s guide to Black Bears and Grizzlies (the best bit is when they tell you not to run away. Yeah right)

2. Amazing adventurer Steve Young
I recently interviewed Steve about his impending walk to the North Pole, and he recommends that you “take a big gun” to shoot polar bears, as their paws are about five times as big as your hands and you probably can’t run away very fast on ice.

3. Bill Bryson (who is basically my hero)
“All the books tell you that if the grizzly (bear) comes for you, on no account should you run. This is the sort of advice you get from someone who is sitting at a keyboard when he gives it. Take it from me, if you are in an open space with no weapons and a grizzly comes for you, run. You may as well. If nothing else, it will give you something to do with the last seven seconds of your life,”

“A grizzly may chew on a limp form for a minute or two but generally will lose interest and shuffle off. With black bears, however, playing dead is futile, since they will continue chewing on you until you are considerably past caring. It is also foolish to climb a tree because black bears are adroit climbers and…you will simply end up fighting the bear in a tree,”

4. My personal favourite, Youtube user WimpeyPopeye1
“You don’t have to run that fast. Just take a buddy with you and outrun him”

5. Wikihow

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6. The Art of Manliness website (since bears don’t sexually discriminate)

Grizzly Attack: Carry bear pepper spray. Don’t run. When you run, the bear thinks you’re prey and will continue chasing you, so stand your ground. And don’t think you can out run a bear. Bears are fast. They can reach speeds of 30 mph. Unless you’re an Olympic sprinter, don’t bother running. Drop to the ground in the fetal position and cover the back of your neck with your hands. If you don’t have pepper spray or the bear continues to charge even after the spray, this is your next best defense. Hit the ground immediately and curl into the fetal position. Play dead. Grizzlies will stop attacking when they feel there’s no longer a threat. If they think you’re dead, they won’t think you’re threatening. Once the bear is done tossing you around and leaves, continue to play dead. Grizzlies are known for waiting around to see if their victim will get back up.

Black Bear Attack: Carry bear pepper spray. As with the grizzly bear, bear pepper spray should be your first line of defense in a bear attack. Stand your ground and make lots of noise. Black bears often bluff when attacking. If you show them you mean business, they may just lose interest. Don’t climb a tree. Black bears are excellent climbers. Climbing up a tree won’t help you out here. Fight back. If the black bear actually attacks, fight back. Use anything and everything as a weapon- rocks, sticks, fists, and your teeth. Aim your blows on the bears face- particularly the eyes and snout. When a black bear sees that their victim is willing to fight to the death, they’ll usually just give up.

The Art of Manliness has a handy disclaimer at the end:
The Art of Manliness does not encourage people to go out and find a bear to practice these skills with. Practicing on your significant other will not do either.

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