Nina Williams' Weekend In No Man's Land | 2017 Women's Climbing Festival
The chatter at the Hostel California blended voices and laughter together with an evening breeze. The light faded, but our conversations continued strong. I took a moment to notice the amount of people lounging on the wicker couches and stuffed armchairs, their silhouettes blurring into the furniture. This weekend in Bishop, CA, had certainly attracted a crowd.
Abbey Smith, a new friend, pointed out the obvious. "Look at us ladies all hanging out! I don't think I've been on a climbing trip with this much girl time before," she said. I glanced around the group once more, finally realizing the complete lack of male presence. I grinned. Of course -- this was no ordinary weekend in Bishop.
The three-day 2017 Women's Climbing Festival kicked off on March 3 with an opening party: food, beer, slideshows, and socializing at the Mountain Rambler Brewery. I moved through the crowd searching for familiar faces. I found only a few. Most of the women were newcomers who had traveled from miles and miles around. Unfamiliar people and circumstances naturally erect social barriers that are tough to get through. But as the hours passed, those barriers slowly melted away. Fellow Black Diamond athlete Colette McInerney psyched up the crowd with a stunning documentary of past adventures, retelling her emotions and experiences from around the world. We pictured our own adventures for the following days. But our experience had already begun.
Saturday's early-morning coffee ran out, doing absolutely nothing to deter everyone's palpable excitement. We met at the Tri County Fairgrounds, packing into a red building made small by 200 ladies eager to hear each other out at the "Women in Climbing" panel. I stuttered my introductions in the wake of Jenna Johnson and Kate Rutherford along with Flannery Shay-Nemirow and Bethany Lebewitz. The sheer scope of our topic overwhelmed me. I hoped to articulate a small part of what being a woman in climbing meant, in a way that would resonate with my peers. Shelma Jun, the panel facilitator and master event organizer, navigated intelligent questions and discussions with grace. The ball started rolling, and we could have spoken for hours. But the day called, and everyone was itching to get outside.
The clinics offered experiences for all ranges of abilities. Traditional, sport, and outdoor climbing were introduced by skilled instructors and made safe by accompanying Sierra Mountain Guides. My assigned guide and another new friend, Kelly Fields, and I worked with women on confronting their "in the moment" fears while bouldering. The time flew by almost as fast as the gusts of wind in the Buttermilks. I worried we would be blown off the top-outs. But in spite of the wind, everyone rose to the challenge that I presented at the end of the day: the notoriously airy King Tut. I smiled at the try-hard and bravery of every clinic participant and cheered when several ladies summited the tall boulder.
That night we returned once more to the red building in the fairgrounds. The No Man's Land Film Festival featured inspiring women from different sports, backgrounds, and ages. The lights grew dim. We laughed, gasped, and cried throughout some of the more passionate pieces. As the night went on, I noticed the room seemed much smaller than before. An intimate space was being filled not only with our physical presence but with a spiritual, emotional, and mental one as well. Our budding sense of comradery began on Friday and grew into the connection we all felt in that moment.
I returned to the Hostel California and sat down in one of the patio chairs. Another friend, Evelyn, and I began to stack rocks for no apparent reason. We laughed ourselves silly and chatted with Abbey and Kelly, whiling away the night. As more women joined us, I thought of one -- only one -- other climbing trip I had been on in which the "girl time" had been abundant.
I attended last year's first-ever Women's Climbing Festival, arriving that weekend filled with optimism and just a little trepidation. I'm not sure exactly what I expected, but I sensed it would be good. My expectations were blown out of the water. I left with a full heart, renewed by that mystical feminine energy resulting from hundreds of women coming together for a weekend. We celebrated each other, with each other. These "vibes" were all anyone could talk about for weeks afterward. This weekend, for the second Women's Climbing Festival, the vibes were back in force. I left once again with a full heart and eyes already looking toward the horizon of next year's get-together.
Check out some photos from this year's Women's Climbing Festival:
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