Chipping Away at the Icy Overhang: Ladies Slay Pillars at Texaco

By Frannie Bui, edited by Stephanie Parham, in collaboration with Kumi Wauthier, Alexa Rosenbloom, and Cailigh MacDonald

The Community Gathers to Discuss Barriers and Actions. Photo Credit: Alice Chiang

The Community Gathers to Discuss Barriers and Actions. Photo Credit: Alice Chiang

After the 2018 AMC Ice Program concluded last winter, Kumi Wauthier, an assistant in that year’s Ice Program and an incoming Co-Director of the 2019 Rock Program, asked some simple questions: “Why aren’t we retaining more women in our ice climbing community? Why aren’t we developing more female leaders? How can we change that?” These concerns propelled a year of thoughtful discourse around the barriers that exist for women in climbing rock and ice. Threads popped up on internet forums from local and national climbing communities. Kumi and Alexa Rosenbloom hosted two in-person community discussions centered around these questions.

These conversations led to an intention to consciously grow the bench strength of female leaders and participants in the community. One idea that came out of this brainstorming was to encourage mentorship by sponsoring more women-specific events. This interest narrowed into hosting an open cabin weekend in late February 2019 that would provide women an opportunity to come together and support each other, not just by sharing a rope or a trail, but by being present to engage with other women in the community.

Leading by example, Alexa and Cailigh MacDonald agreed to plan the weekend. The Harvard Cabin opened to adventurers of all ages and genders as a meeting place, but the cragging on Saturday was for just for the women who attended, nicknamed “the Slaydies.”

The weekend was by no means the first or only women-centered event the AMC Boston Chapter has sponsored in recent years, but it remains a turning point in recognizing the gap between men and women’s participation in the AMC ice climbing community and a sign of visible progress one year after Kumi’s inquiry.

Portraits of the Slaydies. Photo Credit: Frannie Bui    Top Row:  Maureen, Catherine, Alexa, Cailigh, Patricia  Middle Row:  Frannie, Laura, Sarah, Jess, Vanessa  Bottom Row:  Ramona, Ariana, Joyelle, Stephanie, Alex  Not Pictured:  Akiko

Portraits of the Slaydies. Photo Credit: Frannie Bui

Top Row: Maureen, Catherine, Alexa, Cailigh, Patricia Middle Row: Frannie, Laura, Sarah, Jess, Vanessa Bottom Row: Ramona, Ariana, Joyelle, Stephanie, Alex Not Pictured: Akiko

The effort brought together Ice Program graduates from 2015 to 2019, and veteran women climbers who inspired with their skill and graceful technique. Over a dozen women showed up and did what badass ice climbers do—climbed the hell out of Texaco Amphitheater on a bluebird day. These are their words:

Vanessa Climbing the Pillar. Photo Credit: Frannie Bui

Vanessa Climbing the Pillar. Photo Credit: Frannie Bui

That evening, ecstatic from the day’s escapades and the luck of phenomenal weather, a mixed-gender group gathered at the cabin to share an abundant potluck dinner featuring countless appetizers, never-ending pizza, and an array of desserts starring one glorious carrot cake. A full spectrum of winter activities was represented: those who went climbing shared their conditions reports, those who took an AIARE course shared snowpack facts, those who went hiking shared photos, and those that went skiing shared their conquests. Conversations ranged from replacing toilet paper to facial hair to plans for Sunday, and included a demonstration of a pencil sharpener-like file for ice screws. With full bellies and tired bodies, the merrymakers eventually retired to the comfort of their sleeping bags. One benefit of sleeping in a loft space filled with mostly women? Less snoring!

The open cabin weekend was one full weekend of fun and inspiration. The days following the event triggered a spontaneous email chain of appreciation and brainstorming future initiatives. Efforts currently under discussion include an equivalent weekend following the 2019 Rock Program, themed meet-ups and gym nights, and forming a subcommittee to facilitate discussions and events. The 2019 Rock Program is sponsoring an injury prevention clinic led by Girlfit Physical Therapy (https://www.girlfitrocks.com/). Their practice specializes in injury prevention and physical therapy for female athletes, but the event is free and open to everyone. The clinic will be held at CRG Watertown on Wednesday, May 8, 2019 at 7:30 PM.

The AMC Boston Chapter and Greater Boston climbing communities recognize that growing a sustainable group of diverse leaders will require continuing investments. Certain local climbing gyms and chapters have had initial success in gaining traction. Building the community at large and collaborating with other like-minded missions are part of a solution.

When all is said and done, training, access, and awareness of resources are the easy part. The crux is the development of a network of women who will continue to lead and crush at rock, ice, and life.

If you have interest in supporting this or similar efforts, please contact the AMC Boston Mountaineering Committee and Rock Program (rock@amcbostonclimbers.com).

Having a Blast Climbing at Texaco. Photo Credit: Frannie Bui, Joyelle West

Having a Blast Climbing at Texaco. Photo Credit: Frannie Bui, Joyelle West

Looking for more inspiration? Visit the Women Mountaineers online exhibit: https://spark.adobe.com/page/nUjhZgACLjrqH/