Angie Payne boulders in Greenland. Payne will be in Lander for the International Climber’s Festival where she will speak, teach a clinic and participate in a discussion on women in climbing.
(Photo by Keith Ladzinski — click to enlarge)

International Climbers’ Festival to feature women in the sport

By Kelsey Dayton
— July 1, 2014

At 9 years old, Paige Claassen lacked confidence. She was shy, timid and also new to the town Estes Park, Colorado. She didn’t possess the coordination for ball sports and seemed to sink in the swimming pool. Her parents, avid hikers, took her to a climbing gym, hoping to find her an activity in her new town.

Kelsey Dayton

Claassen shot up the first route and immediately wanted to do another.

“Climbing gave me this sense if I work hard at something I can see results,” she said. “That changed my life at a really young age.”

The confidence she gained in the gym carried over into school and friendships. Climbing pushed her mentally and physically. It was what she needed at that age.

Climbing is seen as a sport that requires bravery and extreme upper body strength, and those are often seen as male qualities. Yet women are naturally inclined to be good at climbing, said Claassen, now 24. They are usually flexible and move gracefully. Women tend to rely more on their feet instead of attacking a climb with upper body strength alone. Climbing isn’t scary and dangerous and it certainly isn’t just for boys.

Claassen, along with other top women climbers including Angie Payne, Lynn Hill and Heidi Badarraco will talk at a roundtable at 4 p.m. July 10 at Lander Chamber Park. The “Women in Climbing” discussion is part of the International Climber’s Festival. The roundtable is aimed at both professional and recreational climbers, focussing on how climbing has changed for women, how women can continue to be successful in the sport and getting more females involved.

There are more women climbing today than in the history of the sport, and at high levels. Claassen said she was lucky to have women climbers as teammates, role models and friends. Yet there were plenty of times when she was the only female on a trip and sometimes she had to make sure her voice was heard.

“Your project is just as important as the guy’s project,” she said. “Sometimes you have to speak up. They should support your project and you should support them in their goals. It’s mutual.”

Sasha DiGiulian climbs at Wolf Point in Lander. The climbing in the Lander area draws not just attendees to the International Climbers’ Festival, but also lures professionals like DiGiulian who speak and teach clinics. This year, in addition to the Millet Speaker series, there also will be a roundtable discussion where professionals will talk about women in climbing. (Photo by Kyle Duba — click to enlarge)

Climber Angie Payne never feared playing with boys. She was the first girl to play in the local Pee-Wee football league in her Ohio town, even though she weighed only half as much as the biggest competitors. When her brother went to the climbing gym, she wanted to go, too. She took to it right away, scaling up the wall and getting the sense she might be good at climbing. There were not a lot of kids — girls in particular — at the climbing gym then, and Payne’s enthusiasm captured the attention of a staff member who worked with her on pull-ups and signed her up for lessons. Payne entered her first competition and won her division.

She then discovered bouldering, un-roped climbs on giant rocks. It allowed some independence: she didn’t need her dad to belay. As a sport climber, she moved slowly and deliberately. Bouldering forced her to incorporate power and dynamic movement.

Between 2004 and 2013 Payne completed first female ascents of 30 boulder problems rated V9 to V12 (high difficulty ratings in bouldering). Payne also completed the “Automater” in 2010, becoming the first woman in the world to climb a confirmed V13 problem.

Payne primarily climbed with boys and men when she was growing up. She had a poster of Lynn Hill on her wall, but there weren’t many other high-level female climbers for her to look up to. When she moved to Boulder, Colorado, for college she noticed more and more women were climbing.

“Now I climb with women all the time,” she said. “And now it’s totally normal when there are more women in the (climbing) gym than men.”

She also noticed that younger girls getting into climbing don’t think it’s unusual to be a female in the sport. They don’t even notice it or find it remarkable, which, she said, is the way you want it and the ultimate sign of progress in the sport.

International Climbers’ Festival

Sasha DiGuilian climbing near Lander. (Photo by Kyle Duba – click to enlarge)
– click to enlarge)

If you are a climber, chances are the International Climber’s’ Festival in Lander is already on your radar. But the festival offers plenty for those interested in starting climbing, as well as those appreciative of climbing who want to keep their feet on the ground.

In its 21st year, the festival is the longest continuously running climbing festival in the world. The goal has always been to meld the climbing community with the larger Lander community, said Mandy Pohja, director of the festival. Anyone can come wander the trade fair and see competitions like arm wrestling and tug-o-war.

The Millet Keynote Speaker Series is at 7 p.m. July 12 at the Lander High School Auditorium (tickets are $15). This year the list reads like a roll call of the most influential climbers in North America: Alex Honnold, Conrad Anker, Lynn Hill, Brad Robinson, John Long, Angie Payne and Paige Claassen.

It’s a cross section of people representing different generations and styles of climbing and it’s an incredibly unique experience to hear all of them talk in one place, Pohja said. It’s a testament to the energy of the festival and the sport.

Many of the speakers will also teach clinics. There are plenty of clinics for experienced climbers, but there are also ones geared to introducing people to the sports, with options specifically for kids and beginners, Pohja said. It’s one of the best ways for people to learn. The clinics are taught by National Outdoor Leadership School instructors.

If you’re interested in signing up for a clinic, Pohja suggests doing it soon.

New this year is a public art crawl, where people can check out adventure-themed art at 10 stops along Main Street. It’s free and open to the public. Click here to check the complete schedule.

— “Peaks to Plains” is a blog focusing on Wyoming’s outdoors and communities. Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide and the Casper Star Tribune. Contact Kelsey at Follow her on twitter: @Kelsey_Dayton

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Kelsey Dayton

Kelsey Dayton is a freelancer and the editor of Outdoors Unlimited, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. She has worked as a reporter for the Gillette News-Record, Jackson Hole News&Guide...

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