I had a very different trip report composed—one that went through the blow by blow of our planning and disaster, that covered our constant revision throughout the weekend and tried to capture our humor and joy—but it meandered several pages and didn’t really get to the heart of the festival. So here’s a second attempt at why the Flash Foxy Women’s Climbing Festival felt so essential to me.
I went to Bishop with two friends that I haven’t spent much time with over the past year. We loosely planned beforehand and then had to scrap most of our plan and figure out a new approach at the last minute. This last minute shuffle brought me to tears but reminded me of the joy in planning with friends—we rallied so quickly and with such good humor and strength that everything felt ok. We flew in to LA, rented a car, and drove in to Bishop with endless music playing and the California desert unfurling its beauty as the sun set.
Friday morning we wake to snowcapped mountains and a full day to climb. We decide to head to Alabama Hills, about an hour outside of Bishop. We rack up for an easy route and I take the lead first. I get two bolts up and hesitate– it’s slabbier than I had expected and my brain just freezes. C takes over the lead next and works her way up to the 8th bolt. The route moves left off of the arête and it feels sketchy. She comes down and A gives it a shot but comes back down.
This is the first time I have climbed with a group of women that are so equally matched–there isn’t a rope gun among us and there is a shocking lack of ego. This is the moment the festival clicks in. We are shaking off travel and dust, we are working through injuries, and we are doing it together.
I head back up and the first part feels much easier than it did before. The move goes and I finish the climb and come down happy, though I honestly can’t tell you if it’s because I finished the climb or because we all were part of the process.
Back in Bishop we check in for the festival at The Rambler. There are lights strung up and as we get our name tags and tote bags we watch another beautiful sunset. Shelma Jun, the festival organizer, is standing near the tables and talking to everyone. In the line for beer the women behind us say hello and introduce themselves, and everywhere you can hear the same conversation and introductions. We mingle and talk and meet new friends and see familiar faces. We are a sea of beanies and puffy jackets, our new tote bags over our shoulders, and everyone feels approachable.
The next day the festival starts with breakfast at the fairgrounds. As each woman fills her hands with bagels and coffee we sit, but instead of the usual clusters of two or three friends, we form open circles with strangers joining each other and waving over other new friends. I’ve never seen anything like this.
Shelma leads a panel discussion, broadly about being a woman in a sport that is still dominated by men. The discussion moves in to issues of access and privilege and is over before anyone is able to dig too deeply in to any one topic, but it’s time to meet for our workshops.
Going in to this weekend, I was nervous but excited about the workshop I signed up for—Managing Fear with Nina Williams. Bouldering is not my top choice when it comes to climbing style and falling off of a problem is still a very frightening thing for me. Nina is kind and open and we go around the circle and make introductions and then head to the Buttermilks.
On our hike to our first boulder, Nina points to a large formation and says, “That’s Ambrosia.” A few days before she made the first female ascent and the climb is high, dangerous, and stunning.
As we climb Nina asks us to pay attention to our fear—she asks us what our physical reaction is and what it feels like in our bodies. She describes her own fear as a ball of light in her chest. She challenges new women to place the pads carefully at each new boulder and she cheers us on as we try and fail or try and succeed on each problem. As we wrap up at each spot she jumps on and moves easily through the sequences and it is beautiful to watch.
Throughout the workshop each woman cheers and climbs and spots and laughs. We share snacks and chase each other’s hats when the wind gusts tear them off of our heads. Did we climb? Yes. But I’ve been climbing before. I haven’t felt this kind of complete support where failure was simply part of the process.
Back at the fairgrounds we have dinner and find seats for the film fest. Two thirds of the way through the films we take a break to raffle off prizes and Shelma pauses to talk to the crowd. She starts to try to talk but gets choked up. Pretty soon everyone is on their feet, clapping and cheering, and when I look around everyone looks about ready to cry. This is space is so important. I can’t say it enough—the space to simply be together, without judgement, without ego—it sounds new agey to call it a gift, but that’s what it felt like.
The last day of the festival starts with breakfast again and a group photo, and then we break in to groups to climb or work on stewardship projects. My friends and I decide to join the crew working at The Pit. When we arrive the clouds are dark and moody and the wind is gusting. We grab bags and shovels and go campsite to campsite cleaning out fire pits, taking care of random garbage. The other half of our group pulls out Russian Thistle. As we finish the rain starts and, for us, the festival is over.
There were other things that happened of course— we encountered more kindness then I can mention here. We made jokes that played across the entire weekend and we all got overwhelmed by socializing constantly. We battled wind and laughed about puppets and soup. We had a very LA day and then we flew home and we tumbled out of our Lyft happy to be back in our own beds. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.