Women climbers rock on at Ladies Climbing Night

A student attempts to climb one of the rock walls in the Towne Field House during the inaugural Ladies' Climbing Night
A student attempts to climb one of the rock walls in the Towne Field House during the inaugural Ladies’ Climbing Night

I walked into Towne Field House last Thursday, slightly anxious, but excited. I, like many of the other ladies new to the climbing wall, had never seriously rock climbed before in my life. We were given climbing shoes, helped into our harnesses and instructed on the climbing commands.

“On belay,” I was told to say.

“Belay’s on.”

“On rock,” I replied.

“Rock on!”

And then I was off, climbing a vertical rock, the summit of which seemed an unlikely, ambitious goal at best. However initially daunting, my feelings of anxiety did not last long. The welcoming and encouraging atmosphere as well as the surprising success that my fellow ladies and I experienced on the climbing walls made it an unforgettable evening.

The idea of Ladies’ Climbing Night, according to founder Sarah Vukelich ’15, came about around two years ago. She says she came up with the idea when she found the climbing wall “male dominated,” and while many male climbers were competing with each other, none of the women wanted to compete. And perhaps, most importantly, Vukelich said that the women “who were new to the wall were not coming back.” For Vukelich, Ladies’ Climbing Night was “a totally positive way to address an issue without pointing fingers.”

Although she came up with the idea a couple years ago, she said it initially flatlined after some people – mainly men – tried to “talk her out of it.” Many men, however, were also supportive of the idea, and it was not until this year when Vukelich was “talking to another woman at the wall” that she found support for her idea. In fact, Vukelich added that her fellow female climbers promised to bring all their “friends who were too intimidated to come before.”

Taylor Knoble ’18, a first-timer at the climbing wall, noted this positive atmosphere. She said it was especially encouraging for “someone who has not climbed before.”

Ladies’ climbing night, as Vukelich stated, has become “a claiming of the space for non-male [climbers] in general.” She noted that non-males “do not have a lot of spaces” to claim as their own, and she hopes that it can also create an atmosphere where non-males can address issues that they are uncomfortable sharing otherwise.

Aiding Vukelich were some experienced climbers, one of whom was Gemma Porras ’17. A former girl scout, Porras noted that she did not have “a lot of opportunities” to climb in high school. However, as a first-year at the College last year, she took a Williams Outing Club (WOC) Climbing PE Class and was hooked. She then decided to train to become an Instructor-Monitor (IM). As an IM, she explained, she “works during open hours” and makes sure “everything goes smoothly.” Porras now teaches WOC Climbing PE classes herself and says that she loves both “being able to enjoy climbing and teaching other people.”

Certainly, the outing proved successful for many new-timers. Knoble said, “It was fun! I feel it in my arms! It was a different kind of physical challenge.” Yinga Xia ’18, also a first time climber, added, “It looked intimidating at first. Its nice that you don’t have to have a lot of experience.”

Despite having stiff arms and fingers for a couple of days following the event, it was an exhilarating challenge. As I started climbing, to my surprise, I, with the help of the IMs and some encouragement from the ladies below, was able to make it to the top swiftly. We even moved on to more difficult climbs. As the novice lady climbers descended from each successful climbs, our forearms suddenly felt stiff. Vukelich explained that this sensation was called “being pumped” as the blood was now pumping through our forearms. After a few successful climbs, eventually I had to call it quits. But like Knoble and Xia, I was hooked. We had gained the confidence and appetite to return the following week.