Most athletic and sporty girls can probably tell you that growing up, they were used to hearing things such as, “you’re really good for a girl” or even worse “you’re more like a guy than a girl.” The problem with these, often seemingly harmless phrases, is that it demeans the abilities of women and that in order to be successful a woman needs to have masculine traits. Fortunately, in our current culture’s climate, that attitude is changing and women are being embraced for their abilities as a woman. With ads such as Always’ “Like a Girl” campaign it helps to counter the notion that femininity is a form of weakness. We want to introduce you to a female climber who, not only is breaking barriers as a woman, but also for climbers everywhere, her name is Heather Weidner.
Heather hails from Las Vegas, Nevada whose passion did not start with climbing, rather veterinary medicine. Her passion for climbing was realized as an undergrad in college and only grew throughout her eventual career as a veterinarian. Eventually, her love for climbing outweighed her day job and she left it to pursue climbing full time, which has proved to be a successful career choice. Now, she is climbing some of the most technical routes and is progressing the sport, not only for women, but for the sport itself.
SBM: You have some pretty ambitious goals, obviously the physical preparation is tough and lengthy, as well as the mental preparation. What has your training been and looked like?
HW: I started climbing on my project, China Doll, last spring (just over a year ago) and the season ended in November. Since I’d been climbing on the route for months I knew exactly what my weaknesses were, so over the winter I worked really hard to build up power. I did a lot of bouldering, campusing, and lock-off training, as there is a lot of this type of movement on China Doll. Note to reader: China Doll is located in the Boulder Canyon of Colorado.
SBM: You reached a huge goal this year! Tell us about that and what’s next for you?
HW: On June 15th, I did the first female ascent of the full China Doll, 5.14a on gear. Woohoo! I placed all my own protection making this the fourth woman to climb a traditional climb of the grade. In two days, I’m headed to Tensleep, WY, to meet one of my best girlfriends and go sport climbing for two weeks. My only goal is to have fun! It takes a lot of mental strength to keep with a long-term project, so it’s nice to take a break from working on really hard climbs and just go enjoy the sport.
SBM: That is so incredible! Congratulations! For those of you readers who may not know, rock climbing routes are rated from a 5.0 to a 5.15 (5.0 being the beginning of technical routes and 5.15 being extremely technical). What has been the most difficult part about your climbing journey? Has there ever been a moment you’ve reconsidered your career choice?
HW: There’s never been a moment I’ve reconsidered my career choice as a professional climber, however, I know that I won’t always be able to push my limits in climbing like I’ve been able to currently. At the end of the day, remembering why you love the sport, enjoying the outdoors, the people, and the movement is key to success in climbing. You can’t get too caught up in the grades or media or competition or it can ruin what you love the most about the sport. Finding the balance of pushing yourself, keeping the ego in check, and maintaining a true love for climbing is the most difficult part of my journey as a full-time climber. It’s easy for me to be really hard on myself and think I should be performing better or something, but this is the ego talking. So it’s a constant mental battle to just stay focused, try your best, and not let all the negative thoughts take over.
SBM: You mentioned in our correspondence back and forth that there will be a film released once you send, where can we keep an eye out for that?
HW: Jon Glassberg of “Louder Than 11” has been filming me since last year on China Doll. He wants to make a feature film and possibly submit to a number of film festivals. We’ll see! It’s still in the works but I’ll let you know.
SBM: How has climbing shaped you as a woman?
HW: Climbing has really given me confidence, strength (mental and physical), a sense of community, and even my family (my husband Chris and I met through this sport). It’s also really empowering to be able to travel and meet up with people you’ve met from all over the world. For the first time in my life, I truly feel like I belong.
SBM: Why do you think it’s important for women to keep pushing the barriers and breaking glass ceilings?
HW: Personally, I’ve always been more motivated by other women climbers pushing themselves and achieving great things. It really makes me think maybe I could do something like that one day! When I see a bunch of boys climbing it’s just harder to relate – their body position and types are so different and I always think they’re just so much stronger than I’ll ever be or something. But a woman pushing the barriers is like, whoa. If she can do it, maybe I can as well.
SBM: That’s so true! There’s a different sense of confidence that unfolds when you see a fellow female go for it. For someone, such as myself, who is new to climbing, what are some things you recommend for beginners such as training, techniques, etc.?
HW: I remember when I first started climbing I would go into the gym and traverse, using whatever holds I could, and try to stay on the wall as long as possible. This really helped me establish techniques naturally from just getting a lot of climbing in and experimenting with movement. It also taught me how to rest and recover while climbing which is a huge part of the sport (at least with sport and traditional climbing). I’d also recommend finding motivated, safe partners. This helps so much with progress and the learning process.
SBM: Another important question for us newbie climbers, what are some climbing taboos? As in, what are some things to avoid doing or wearing that would make us look like a total kook?
HW: Hahaha! I’d honestly say that safety is always in style in my book. The other day I walked up to a crag and these two guys asked how they clip the rope in to the anchor without biners. They had never clipped in direct and re-threaded an anchor (this is very basic and standard practice outside). I think the gym culture is great in a lot of ways, people are getting so much stronger and the love of our sport is growing, but knowledge of basic outside climbing techniques need to be emphasized and general etiquette outdoors, like don’t leave trash or go off-trail. People will say things like, those climbers are “gumbies,” meaning they don’t know what they’re doing. I actually hate that term. It’s derogatory and we all need to start somewhere. I remember my first day outdoor climbing – I didn’t know a thing! I was that “gumby,” but I was lucky enough to have a good mentor and not get hurt.
SBM: Speaking of safety, you had a pretty crazy fall in Utah, was that the scariest experience you’ve had climbing? How can those less than subtle reminders help progress your climbing?
HW: I did take the scariest fall I’ve ever taken over 14 years of climbing. I ripped a piece of gear and fell backwards, slamming my head (I had a helmet on) and back really hard. I’ve always been a bold climber, and I think some of that boldness comes from naivety. It’s good to have a reality check and realize that climbing is actually dangerous. We do it so much day-to-day that it’s easy to forget.
SBM: Good point, safety always looks good at the end of the day. Where is a place that you could climb over and over again?
HW: Rifle, Colorado! That place is the Disneyland of climbing (even though I don’t love Disneyland). It’s about a 3.5-hour drive from Boulder and it’s like a big outdoor gym. The canyon is lined with routes, often very physical, cryptic, and total body climbing which I love. There’s no approach, the camping is beautiful, and so many of my friends climb there – it’s a special place.
SBM: When you’re not climbing, you can be found doing…
HW: I love yoga, hanging with my puppy Charley, hiking, and cooking vegetarian food.
SBM: Any hidden and obscure talents, other than being a baller rock climber?
HW: I can tap dance, which is a nice party trick. I also took ballet and rode horses competitively for over 10 years before I became obsessed with climbing.
Thank you so much for meeting with us, Heather! It’s always such a pleasure networking with people who are breaking barriers and pushing what’s considered possible. You can track Heather’s journey on her website at https://heatherclimbs.com/.
All photos by Chris Weidner.