Emily Harrington is the first woman to free-climb El Capitan in a day

 November 12, 2020

Challenging limits! Exploring possibility!

Professional rock climber Emily Harrington made history/herstory when she scaled the 3,000-foot granite wall of Yosemite National Park's El Capitan in under 24 hours.

Emily Harrington is an American professional rock climber and adventurer. She is a five-time US National Champion in sport climbing and the first female climber to ascend multiple 5.14 sport climbs. 

“I never believed I could actually free climb El Cap in a day when I first set the goal for myself,” Emily wrote in her Instagram post. “It didn’t seem like a realistic objective for me. I didn’t have the skills, fitness, or risk profile to move so quickly over such a large piece of stone.”

“I knew I was in for a big day — but that’s exactly why I was there. I wanted to find my limit and exist in it and fight beyond it,” she wrote.

Climbing communities are an inclusive space for women

Women exploring - northface mountain

Rightly so, industry-wide conversation has increased regarding representation, diversity, and equality in what has traditionally been a white male sport.

The world of climbing has thankfully moved on to a better place so women no longer solely learn from male mentors and only see examples of male leadership in the industry. More inclusivity changes how women approach the sport and serves to increase their confidence as decision-makers and risk-takers.

Women have historically been outnumbered by men in the world of climbing, both professionally and at the gym - but thankfully that’s changing. The proliferation of climbing gyms especially in urban areas - which by nature tend to be more diverse - has improved access to the sport, and this has lead to an increased number of women taking up climbing. Women now comprise 50 percent of all competitors, according to the American Bouldering Series.

Shelma Jun, founder of an online women’s climbing collective and multimedia platform Flash Foxy says “I realized I often deferred to my male partners on decisions on the wall, even when I was more experienced and more knowledgeable,” Jun says. “It's really important for women to be teaching women because it reinforces the fact we're completely capable of climbing and leading at the highest levels.”

Increasing media coverage of women climbers

Women exploring mountain - we move mountains - north face

Discussing the positive shifts in women’s climbing witnessed during years in the sport, professional rock climber Molly Mitchell says, “The women who were pushing the limits years ago are now still role models for the young girls now...People...who are selfless in helping push the sport, who care about supporting and teaching other athletes, have propelled the sport forward, especially for females.”

Professional athlete and climber, Angela Van Wiemeersch, says, “We have more access, more knowledge, and generally more female interest in the sport than ever. As a community, we are improving at highlighting women’s achievements as an objective accomplishment as an athlete, not just as a female.” She also notes the growing trend for the media to strive for equal coverage of genders and the increase of women climbers pictured on the covers of climbing magazines.

The rise of women is getting higher

And so the journey continues as we see ever more women-specific climbing events garnering strong interest. Product and clothing lines have becomne far more female-relevant. The number of climbing gyms, and their member diversity, has increased exponentially. And, the number of women at the crags is increasing too.

Onwards and upwards!


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