Women’s International Climbing Meets – 1984-2016

20th February, 2016

The BMC and the Pinnacle Club are joining forces this year to run a Women’s International Climbing Meet in North Wales, celebrating women’s trad climbing and hopefully inspiring more women to get involved and push themselves in the sport.

1984 Meet at Cwm DyliIt’s not the first time an event like this has happened – 32 years ago, in 1984, the Pinnacle Club ran a ‘climbing meet with an international flavour’ that saw some of the best and most enthusiastic women climbers of the day come to test themselves on North Wales trad.

Jill Lawrence, Angela Soper and Gill Price from the UK (all three Pinnacle Club members); Catherine Destivelle and Christine Jambert from France; Rosie Andrews from the USA; along with climbers from Switzerland, Ireland and Belgium. The meet included the full spectrum – beginners to extreme leaders, rock climbers and mountaineers.

May 29 was the highlight – as Angela, then Vice-President of the Pinnacle Club, wrote at the time:

The place: Dinas Cromlech. All stances and ledges occupied. Leaders on Left Wall, Resurrection, Cenotaph Corner and Right Wall. All women, with women waiting to climb. Madeleine had settled for a damp Corner and Christine for a dry Resurrection. Janet queued for Left Wall while Alison moved round to The Thing. Jill and Rosie, who have climbed together extensively since the last Women’s International, tossed a coin about Right Wall. Jill won and chose to go for it.

How did it feel to be the first woman to lead Right Wall and break into the E5 grade? Was Jill aware of Christine cruising up Resurrection, of Judy seconding it beautifully, of Catherine leading the next rope? Did she envy the climbers on the warm left wall and feel for Janet on her first E3? Was she bothered by the photographers, the abseilers, the jokers on the ledge? Could she feel good vibrations from everybody willing it to go well?

Jill could tell us now. As the sun warmed the Right Wall, she won the battle Catherine Destivelle on Right Wallin her head, committed herself to the unprotected moves of the first crux and made them safely. A rest, the second crux, and twenty voices shouting ‘Well done, Jill’. Rosie then led Right Wall confidently while we others dispersed to Grond, Curfew and Crucifix. Next day both French girls led Right Wall (Catherine Destivelle pictured right) Would these ascents have been made but for the meet? Probably not yet. In Rosie’s words ‘If it hadn’t been for the others wanting to do it, I’d have waited till I was ready’.

On a meet we encourage each other, in words and by example, and this is how psychological barriers get broken. Jill on Right Wall, Janet on Left Wall, Sheila on Meshach, each pushing into a new grade, could all sense the communal spirit of ‘go for it’. We understand that everyone gets the same reward from climbing, whatever her personal limit. If climbs were graded by women, many would be in a different category, and it helps a lot to discuss a route with a woman who has already done it.

Women climb with imaginative footwork, balance, exact positioning of the body. They become stronger from climbing, but depend mainly on technique. During this meet well over a hundred Extreme leads were made, at least thirty E3 or harder, on all types of rock, and there were very few falls or lapses from good style. But the meet was not entirely about hard routes. Many less experienced climbers enjoyed the classics and had their first taste of more challenging climbs.

Who knows if new barriers will be broken on the 2016 Women’s International Climbing Meet – but we can be sure that the sense of community, encouragement, challenge and reward will be there in spades.

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Honours for Gwen Moffat and Angela Soper

19th December, 2015

Gwen Moffat. Photo: Jen Randall

Angela Soper at Leeds Wall

Congratulations to club members, Gwen Moffat and Angela Soper, who are the first women to be made honorary members of the BMC. They joined the Pinnacle Club in 1949 and 1967 respectively and were both made honorary members in recognition of their contribution to the Club and for inspiring women climbers for many years. Alongside a fruitful mountain writing career, in 1956 Gwen became the first female British mountain guide and in 1961 wrote her renowned climbing autobiography Space Below My Feet. It has been great to follow the recent successes of the “Operation Moffat” film. Angela was Pinnacle President between 1981-83 and organised the successful Women’s International Meet in 1984, which saw Jill Lawrence become the first British woman to climb E5 with her ascent of Right Wall – a route which Angela also led some years later. Angela is still a regular on meets – last seen a week ago making light work of the steepest overhanging section of Leeds Wall.


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University Invitation Meet

22nd March, 2015

MTN: Aoife's first lead

MTN: Aoife’s first lead

As an experiment we contacted a few university climbing clubs and invited them to send along 2-3 young women to join members for a weekend at Cwm Dyli. The aims were two-fold: to encourage young women in their climbing and (hopefully) to sow a seed for future interest in the club. The response from the young women we contacted was very enthusiastic and the women’s bouldering group at Lancaster actually saw a surge in popularity as a result.

It felt a bit of a risk holding the meet at the end of March, which was the start of the Easter holidays for the students. As it turned out we had superb weather and climbed on both days in perfect conditions. The students were markedly different in their abilities: the Bangor Duo, from climbing families, already confident Extreme leaders; the Lancaster Lasses very much at the beginning of their climbing careers, with only a little outdoor experience.

Gwen nears the crux on Toreador

Gwen nears the crux on Toreador

We teamed students with members and headed off to various parts of Tremadoc on Saturday. Team Bangor clocked up an impressive list at Craig y Castell with Pryderi, Pwyll, Lonely Edge, Gestiana, One Step in the Crowds, and Creagh Dhu Wall Direct. Team Lancaster went to the delightful Upper Tier of Craig Pant Ifan where they climbed Madog, Falling Block Crack, Mistook, MTN (a confident first outdoor lead by one of the students), Central Staircase, Bulging Wall and Quatre Fois Direct.

Swapping partners round for Sunday, the re-formed Team Lancaster headed for the excitement of multi-pitch climbs on Carreg Wastad in the Pass: Ribstone Crack, Skylon, Crackstone Rib and Overhanging Chimney. Team Bangor stayed closer to the hut and did battle with Bovine, Ferdinand and Toreador on Clogwyn y Wennallt.

We came home buzzing and wondering when we could do it again. It was great both to be taken out of our early-season comfort zones by the more experienced pair and to be able to share our experience with the beginners and watch their progress, even over a couple of days.

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Pinnacle President on the One Show

28th February, 2015

Eileen-HealeyIn August 1959, Eileen Healey, then President of the Pinnacle club, was part of the first all-women expedition to an 8000m peak in the Himalaya. Led by French Alpinist Claude Kogan, the party aimed to climb Cho Oyu and as the expedition’s official camerawoman, Eileen also caught this historic moment on film. Although a major step for women’s mountaineering at the time, the expedition did not end well. Four climbers lost their lives on the mountain due to bad weather and avalanche, including the expedition leader Claude, and the party did not reach the summit.

The expedition was recently featured on the One Show, including original footage and interviews with Eileen’s husband and son: watch it here (about 20 minutes in) until March 20.

The film Eileen made was rejected at the time by the BBC, shown to a number of climbing clubs then left languishing for many years in Eileen’s attic. But over thirty years later, it was discovered by one of Eileen’s children, who renovated and digitised it and the film was included as a special feature at the 2009 Kendal Mountain Festival.

Eileen was born in 1920, joined the Pinnacle Club in 1946 and from 1932 to 1958 she kept meticulously detailed climbing diaries. Following her death in 2010, her husband Tim has been digitising these diaries and they will be eventually be accessible online.

An excerpt from Eileen’s diaries, covering a Pinnacle Club meet over the Easter holidays in 1957, was reprinted in the latest volume of the Pinnacle Club journal, available now on Ebay.

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