Women began rock climbing in 1779, which is when the first female ascent was recorded, according to Climbing.com. Since then, female climbers have taken their place in the outdoors as strong crag chasers, developing communities and changing their lives in the process.
Whether you’re new to climbing or have been adventuring on rocks since you were little, rock climbing has probably changed your life in some way. These stories will inspire you to get outside and remember why you love it so much.
“When I started climbing it just felt right.”
Bridget Kilgallon, Co-Founder of Têra Kaia, found a home in rock climbing. “I think before I found climbing I felt like I wasn’t in the right place. I would compare it to being an outdoor cat that is stuck indoors. From the places I went to the activities I partook in, none of it really felt right.”
Before discovering her love of climbing, the feeling of being “out of place” led to anxiety, unhappiness, frustration and discomfort in her own skin. “The people around me didn’t feel like they were from my soul tribe, if that makes sense.”
But that all changed when she started climbing. “When I started climbing it just felt right. Everyone around me shared my odd sense of humor, and no one was afraid to express their own unique sense of style. In the climbing community you could be both an introvert and an extrovert at the same time. No matter how different climbers are in the context of the world we can always relate over climbing rocks.”
Her life after finding rock climbing. Her anxiety turned to contentment and the skin that didn’t feel like hers shed away, leaving her to be who she was meant to be. “All those negative feelings were replaced by an internal fire that still hasn’t gone out.”
Thanks to that fire, she started Tera Kaia, where she encourages every woman to “be your outside self” too.
“Rock climbing gave me confidence.”
Bonnie Way, founder of Koala Mom, started rock climbing in 2010 with her cousins, who'd already been climbing for several years. They lent her a pair of old shoes to start and taught her the ropes.
Way explains: “We climbed together for several years and it was always a highlight of my week. As a mom of two young children, I spent most of my days cleaning up toys, doing housework, and answering ‘why? why? why?’ At the gym, I had the chance to push myself physically, to be ‘me’ again instead of a mom.”
She quickly learned this new-found confidence on her first climb. “The first time she sent me up the wall, I got to the top and looked down and nearly panicked. She said, ‘Okay, let go, and I'll let you down.’ I said, ‘LET GO?’ It took me several minutes of encouragement and self-talk before I could let go of the wall, and my cousin caught me and helped me walk down.”
Moments like these also taught Way both trust and community: “We coached and encouraged each other, as each of us tried a hard route until we found a way to get over the difficult sections.”
Most importantly, “Rock climbing gave me confidence and helped me stay fit. I enjoyed pushing myself to try new routes, and learning with and from my cousins as we attempted different moves to get over difficult places.”
“The sheer pride at finishing—plus the view—was unsurpassable.”
Sydney Lester Bass, CEO and Chief Stylist for Chic Stripes and Style Camp, came to rock climbing late in her life, five years ago on her 30th birthday during a trip in Colorado. However, she quickly came to love the sport and how it pushed her. “It became a place to exercise mental and physical strength—especially climbing outside.”
From the beginning, she knew rock climbing was going to be important in her life. She tells the story of her first time on the rocks: “I remember my very first outdoor lead climb. It was a four star 5.8 called Geisha Girl at the New River Gorge in West Virginia.
Objectively not that hard of a climb, but it took me 45 minutes to scale the 100 foot wall—every few minutes stopping to tell myself I could do it.”
And what came next was life changing: “The sheer pride at finishing—plus the view—was unsurpassable. And I proved to myself that I am capable of doing pretty hard things and succeeding—even if it takes a long time.”
The best part? She went back to that route 3 years later and finished it in 10 minutes.
“I really like feeling strong and capable.”
Snezhina Piskova, Copywriter for Independent Fashion Bloggers, found rock climbing as a kid with her father. “I was 8 or 9 at the time and I was trembling with excitement—climbing was something that aligned perfectly with my adventurous spirit. I was never afraid of heights, and climbing rocks felt familiar and comfortable. The way my fingers searched to find something to grab onto was effortless, instinctive even, and seemed so natural.”
Soon, climbing became more than just a fun adventure for Piskova, who explains, “As well as a means of meditation for me, climbing is also a very good workout for my legs and upper body, and I really like feeling strong and capable.”
And that’s what’s changed her life: that feeling of being strong and powerful. “There is a silent comfort in being alone against the rock, relying on only yourself and your desire to get to the top. Sometimes it’s hard to find where to grab on to and sometimes it even looks impossible, but with perseverance, I get creative and conquer the rock.”