Squamish is a mecca for rock climbers of all ages, abilities, and genders – but the community’s youngest climbing festival is all about celebrating women who send.
“We’re creating a little more camaraderie, a space for women to be helped and mentored by other women,” said Katie Hurley, organizer of the Treeline Women’s Climbing Festival, which held its first-ever weekend event in 2017. “We really want to encourage women to get into outdoor sports and break down barriers that might be holding them back,” she said.
For every inspiring female athlete in the corridor, there are others – especially newcomers — who might be intimidated at the crag or discouraged by a perception of the sport being too macho, despite the scores of accomplished women who have been involved since the very beginning.
Hurley said the women’s festival was inspired by similar events in the U.S. promoted by Flash Foxy, a group dedicated to celebrating women in climbing.
Squamish now has three festivals dedicated to climbing, the two others being the massive Arc’Teryx Academy, which attracts international pro climbers for talks, clinics and film screenings; and Squamish Rampage, a community-led fundraiser that bills itself as a bouldering and acro-yoga festival.
Hurley and co-organizer Vikki Weldon weren’t sure what the reaction to the women’s festival would be.
No similar event existed in Canada, and without any major sponsors in the first year, they worried if they could sell enough tickets to break even.
Instead, the two-day event — which included on-site camping — sold out with 60 participants.
“I don’t think we need to limit things to just girls all the time, but I think this was something really needed in Canada,” said Weldon.
“Climbing is growing so fast, and the women’s movement is growing fast as well, and it just seemed a good fit. Squamish is kind of a quiet community of female crushers. It’s really, really cool.”
Weldon herself is one of those crushers who calls Squamish home – she’s a sponsored athlete, international traveller and competitive climber with first ascents in Morocco and Greenland.
The first year of the September weekend-festival included eight different clinics ranging from an intro for first-time outdoor climbers into more advanced workshops on techniques like rope rescue, longer route climbing and taking safe falls.
All the clinics were taught by certified female guides — an impressive feat, notes Weldon, because of how intensive and male-dominated the guiding industry is.
For participants, taking workshops led by female guides can also be practical. Hurley notes that the average woman has a very different body type than the average man, and it will affect her technique and climbing style.
It doesn’t mean that women can’t crush hard grades – but it might take a different approach. “A ot of it is that just the simple fact that we’re made differently, we climb differently, and our strengths are in different places,” explained Hurley.
While the first year of the festival focused on bringing in beginners and building confidence for intermediate climbers, Weldon hopes that as it grows, it can bring together the entire spectrum of skills together to celebrate the love of the sport.
The 2018 Treeline Women’s Climbing Festival will take place August 24 to 26 with registration starting June 1st. •