The Women's Climbing Festival: Just the Beginning

We awarded one woman of #thecliffscommunity a chance to travel to Bishop, California and partake in the very first Women's Climbing Festival hosted by Flash Foxy. Out of all the awesome applications, it was Jessi's that stole our hearts. Jessi is a research scientist in the fourth year of her PhD, an advocate of women's rights and endangered species of lichen everywhere. Here's her account of this momentous weekend:

 The moon rising over Bishop's famous Grandma and Grandpa Peabody boulders

The moon rising over Bishop's famous Grandma and Grandpa Peabody boulders

I love traveling, especially when a trip includes adventures in new places, and most especially when they involve physically challenging outdoor activities. The Women’s Climbing Festival in Bishop fit all of these criteria, and I was super stoked as I prepared to leave NYC. At the same time, I was apprehensive because I’d never been to an all-women’s anything, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

My travel partner Emily and I arrived at the Buttermilks just as the sun was setting on February 20th. We meandered and scrambled our way to the nearest high point and soaked in the incredible scenery. Spread before us were the largest erratics (boulders left behind by glaciers) I’ve seen in my life with the awe-inspiring snow-covered Sierra Nevada Mountains as a backdrop. As the moon rose and the pink slowly faded from the sky, a cool, sagebrush scented breeze blew across the boulder field and climbers reluctantly walked back to their cars and tents, and we eventually joined them. I could not wait to start climbing the next day!

 Mt. Tom, the most prominent of the Sierra Nevada peaks when standing in Buttermilk Country

Mt. Tom, the most prominent of the Sierra Nevada peaks when standing in Buttermilk Country

The event officially kicked off with beer and empanadas, a happy hour that started awkwardly but which quickly got rolling as we all dove into great conversations about climbing, followed by a slide show by Daila Ojeda. The passion for climbing and excitement for the weekend was palpable among participants that first night, and my apprehension about the event was slowly dissipating.

The next day, they were completely blown away. During the clinic at the  Owen’s River Gorge with our guides Barbara and Taylor (a Cliffs coach!), it was inspiring to watch the other participants in the clinic noticeably progress in skill and confidence in the few short hours we spent together. Everyone was super supportive and excited to be there, and I felt an ease in the group that I don’t often experience in co-ed situations.

 Cliffs coach Taylor Nystrom leads a clinic at the Owen's River Gorge, just outside of Bishop

Cliffs coach Taylor Nystrom leads a clinic at the Owen's River Gorge, just outside of Bishop

We spent the evening at the ironically appropriate Home Economics building at the fairgrounds in Bishop. A panel discussion was held among Julie Ellison, Katie Lambert, Kelly Fields, and Collette McInerney, who took questions from moderator Shelma Jun and the audience. Female first ascents, body image, dynamics of all-women vs. coed climbing, mentors, and many more topics were covered in the hour-long discussion.

Stop worrying about what people think of you and your body, and what they expect from your behavior, and do what makes you feel empowered and joyful.

Two messages from the panel discussion stood out. First, Kelly Fields reminded us in a really powerful way of how long women have been oppressed and the immense gratitude we owe women who have pushed those historical boundaries. The second was to stop worrying about what people think of you and your body, and what they expect from your behavior, and do what makes you feel empowered and joyful. Two messages that cannot be repeated enough.

The day finished with a viewing of the No Man’s Land Film Festival, which was essentially exactly like the Banff Mountain Film Festival, but all about kick-ass women instead of all, or almost entirely, about men (one film even included an interview of a man about his wife’s athletic career!).


There aren’t many spaces, both in time and physically, where I find women reveling in conversations about their passions ... without the distractions of relationships and responsibilities .... This festival created that space.

There aren’t many spaces, both in time and physically, where I find women reveling in conversations about their passions—in this case climbing—without the distractions of relationships and responsibilities. Places where we’re viewed and valued as individuals who are pursuing their interests without consideration of what we ‘should’ be doing, or how we ‘should’ be behaving. This festival created that space, and as a woman who is very passionate about her career, traveling, and climbing, it felt incredibly liberating and exciting to participate. It made me consider how I can bring these same qualities back to my relationships and interactions in my everyday life, and how I can foster similar experiences in the future, whether it’s in climbing or other facets of my life.

The festival was a celebration of passionate women climbing and generally kicking ass, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in it. I’d especially like to thank Shelma Jun of Flash Foxy for putting this magic together, Eva and Lei-Lei at The Cliffs for helping me with logistics, Emily for being such a great travel partner and sharing her serious sports climbing skills, and The Cliffs for funding the adventure.

All photos taken on site by Jessi!