The 2019 Womxn Up Festival was July 19-21. Hundreds of climbers and industry pros gathered for a weekend of climbing, discussions and clinics.
“It was amazing getting to return to Dogpatch Boulders for our third year and see even greater stoke than ever,” said Heather Bellgreen, Touchstone’s Marketing Director. “Everyone who either participated or spectated was so happy to be there, and we were able to have tough conversations as a collective of womxn supporting womxn.”
The festival began Friday, July 19, with keynote speaker Beth Rodden, a long-time pro-climber and mother. Rodden is perhaps best known for establishing one of the hardest trad climbs in the world, Meltdown (5.14c) in Yosemite. In her presentation, Rodden described how being a mother helped changer her perspective on climbing. Following her talk, attendees enjoyed beer, a silent disco, and hangboard contest by the title sponsor, Mountain Hardwear.
The Womxn Up competition began Saturday, July 20, at 8 a.m. Pro competitors had three hours to give their best effort on ten boulders. The top six competitors moved onto finals later that night. The final six were two-time World Cup winner Alex Puccio, 14-year-old Kylie Cullen, hometown favorite Cloe Coscoy, Canadian comp-climber Alyssa Weber, last year’s second-place finisher Kelly Birch and the highest ranked American from the 2019 Bouldering World Cup circuit, Alex Johnson.
Following the pro-climber’s qualification round was the citizen’s competition. While a live DJ pumped out beats, competitors had five hours to climb and check out Vendor Village. Nearly 400 women from 5 to 60 years old were on the mats pushing themselves and encouraging each other. In Vendor Village, attendees could get their portraits illustrated by a local artist, do crafts or buy local paraphernalia and apparel.
Later that night, pro finalists climbed four boulders with a $5,000 cash purse on the line. The boulders proved to be hard; there were only five total tops throughout the entire round. To everyone’s surprise, it was the youngest and most inexperienced of the finalists, Kylie Cullen, that took home the Womxn Up Champion title. Puccio placed second and Coscoy third.
“Going into finals was amazing,” said Cullen. “I was really excited to get to hang out with and compete with such an amazing group of women. I had never climbed against Alex Puccio or Alex Johnson in a competition and they are some of my heroes so it was extra motivating to get to even take part in the finals.”
Immediately following finals, several of the finalists started sessioning on the last boulder, which had gone unsent in the competition. Unfortunately, after topping the boulder, Puccio injured her knee while jumping from the top. Since the competition, she has had ACL reconstruction and meniscus surgery and is currently on the road to recovery.
On the final festival day, Sunday, July 21, attendees could attend clinics lead by womxn industry pros. Clinics included tips for climbing technique, setting and even Ninja Warrior skills. Following the clinics was the Breaking Barriers panel discussion. Women from many different backgrounds discussed climbing and inclusivity from their perspectives.
“That word iconoclastic came up during the discussion,” said Lynn Hill, a climber of 45 years. Hill has a history of firsts behind her name, including first person to free the Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite and first woman to climb 5.14a. Hill continued:
“The synonyms for iconoclast are non-conformist, questioning, maverick, groundbreaker, rebel, revolutionist and so on. Nowadays the culture of climbing includes a broader community of people, so I wouldn’t say that most climbers are non-conformists. More people begin to climb in a climbing gym, which is a totally different environment. The cost of entry could be a reason to argue that it is not inclusive. If you want to learn to climb in a gym, you need to rent shoes, a harness, belay device, and pay an entrance fee, which could cost as much as $60,00 for two people. When Summer Winston pointed out that she felt climbers did not seem to be much different than the culture at large, I realized that perhaps the culture of climbing has become more similar to mainstream culture.”
Hill noted that the experience challenged her beliefs about how people act in our community. That is, after all, what panel discussions are all about.
Another panelist was Nikki Smith. Smith is a rare breed of talent; she’s regularly published in Climbing, Rock and Ice and Alpinist. Her photography often makes covers. Smith has also written five guidebooks and established more than 150 first ascents throughout Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. Smith noted: “One of the participants at the event shared her experience of not feeling completely welcome. She expressed that talk of diversity and inclusion alone isn’t enough if we don’t make people feel welcome once they are included. Her story underscored just how much work there still is to do.” Still, Smith was optimistic:
“Climbing is starting to change. Our individual actions can lead us forward and we shouldn’t be afraid to stand up for what we believe is right. Everyone in the building that weekend has the power and ability to help that change continue to grow and hopefully speed up.”
More information on the panelists and the festival can be found on touchstoneclimbing.com. Stay tuned for Womxn Up 2020 dates.
Images by @sakicake