Wednesday, February 4, 2009

First Female Ascents

If a woman has already done a climb are you more likely to try it?
In the world of climbing there are ascentionists: first ascenters, second ascenters and so on. The first ascenters are the climbers who envisioned a problem, brushed off the holds, and climbed a problem first. They are named in guide books and written about in magazines. A first ascent is known as an FA, pretty much anything after that is forgotten. But what of the female first ascent or FFA. There are those ladies in our community that seek them out and pour their hearts into them hoping they will be the first female to ascend. There are others who don't necessarily seek them out but find pride in the fact that they are the first woman to do a problem. These ascents are usually undocumented save those in the descriptions of 8a scorecards and personal blogs or diaries. The female that did the climb isn't named in guide books, and usually is only talked about in casual conversation. Is the FFA even relavent?
As a female I usually just assume that a guy has put up a problem, named it, and given it a grade. How that grade applies to me is usually just a number. (I'm 5'1" with an enormous amount of flexiblity which are two strengths usually not possessed in a male.) For me, grades are neither a motivating or a limiting force. I've tried problems that I thought were way easy that have really high grades and I've also had to work really hard for problems that have a comparatively low rating. It's all relative right? It's the problems, regardless of their grade, that bout climbers of both genders that are truly hard. For when you have to work at something isn't it more worth doing in the end?
In the case of the quick trip to a new area, I find that it's advantageous to know where to start. Guidebooks can tell you where things are and what they are rated and whatnot but I often find myself asking friends, who are women, who have either been to the area or live there, not men. If I have heard that a woman did a hard problem in the area I like to find out what it is, where it is and at least try it. If I know a woman has already done a certain hard problem and it continues to bout other women, then I know it's truly hard.
Why don't we talk about FFA's, are they so rare? Why aren't there two ascents listed in the guide book, a sort of democratic court that decides the true grade of a problem. Here we go again with a debate over grades. I like to plead the Sharma fifth here and just say, "I don't do grades." This way I can be innocent of any opinion pushing and grade dropping.
Picture this: A high ball, a classic V5 highball that has sat in your back yard for five years. It's a perfect climb that has always been in the back of your mind of things to try. What if one snowy day you go out and witness a woman, possibly even a woman with a child, send this problem without hesitation her first try. Flashed. Are you more likely to try it?
Knowing that a woman has done a climb and knowing that she isn't 5'9"++, it makes that problem all the more accessable. More within my reach both literally and figuratively. It's an inspiration. And isn't that what we all need, a little inspiration to push us just a bit harder, a bit farther, a bit beyond what w previously thought was possible for us. Isn't that what climbing is about: Discovering what is possible? FA or FFA, both efforts are significant in their own way. Now if we could just see more female FA's!


  1. If it were my backyard and a female or a female with a child flashed a problem I would think that's sweet. I'll watch! I'm a beginner so I need all the technique help I can get! I'm more of a technique appreciator so I think a lot of women deserve more credit because they use technique rather than all muscles. Maybe for females to get more attention there needs to a climbing magazine for women? Seems to work for some things. Personally, I think they should just leave the ratings to the competitions where numbers make sense. When I trail run there aren't any ratings, and I like it that way.

    When my 5year old daughter grows up and wants to pursue something like climbing, I hope she just enjoys the moment she's in to the fullest rather than thinking about a rating that people just need so they can feel better about themselves. ( no harm meant!)

  2. It's all a marketing ploy for the climbing industry to sell more product!
    Don't let it fool ya! Marketers are good at what they do!

    Who gives a sh-it what male or female did it first or second...

    Noticing someone climbing and sending a boulder problem/ route- then realizing then that you may have a chance to send?!
    Comparing yourself to who? I believe this is a bad cycle to begin with....

    Climb because you desire it, and want it.

    Next thing you know there will be the first person under 4' ft tall ascent- first woman with a beard ascent (they are out there!!), there are could be many firsts...don't succumb to bullsh-t!

    Go get real FFA's- it's just as easy....and they can go into the American Alpine Journal- first female ascents are not- because really, they mean nothing to anyone but to you, the climber!

    Who knows, "xyz" random chic may not be posting and comparing all her sends on 8a like some do, there is a lot of undercover bad asses out there who are not self promoting, or plain don't care if they are the first woman to accomplish a climb.

    We need to get over it and focus on climbing strong.


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