Why Women Should Put up New Routes

Women can be feminine, strong and capable at the same time. Women may still be playing catch-up in a male-dominated sport, but there are now many examples of women climbing at the same standard as men…

By Mayan Smith-Gobat | January 20th, 2016

Smith-Gobat works a very hard route—one move took a week of effort—she bolted on the upper headwall of the Redstein, in Redstone, Colorado, late last year. She is one of the few female climbers who seek out and establish new routes.

This article was published in Rock and Ice issue 232 (February 2016).

Growing up in New Zealand, with very few strong women climbers around at the time, I spent nearly all my time climbing with guys and did everything I could to fit in. I didn’t want to be treated differently or be seen as less strong than they. I fought to carry equal loads, I handled power tools, and I never let anyone do anything for me for fear of being seen as incapable. At bouldering comps I occasionally even threw my scorecard in with the men’s.

As I expanded my horizons to other countries, I realized that women can be feminine, strong and capable at the same time. Women may still be playing catch-up in a male-dominated sport, but there are now many examples of women climbing at the same standard as men. Our strengths are just different, and this is something to be proud, not ashamed, of.

Still, women lag well behind men in one area: Only occasionally, compared to men, do we establish first ascents, and hence climbing history is largely written by men. This discrepancy might be because women focus on trying to prove ourselves on established routes. I believe, though, that the disparity is holding us back. First ascents let you explore your creativity and find a climb perfectly suited to your strengths. For example, I am more likely to bolt crimpy, technical faces than powerful, dynamic roofs. It is even possible that the relatively low number of routes established by women is part of the reason why climbing can seem more suited to men. If more women put up climbs, there would be more climbs that suit us.

I often wonder why more women don’t bolt routes and believe that part of the reason is societal: Women aren’t expected to handle power drills and do heavy work, and many still aren’t comfortable with either. Yet these perceptions are simply remnants of what society used to be. Women are just as capable. So throw caution to the wind and believe in yourselves.

First ascents are hugely rewarding. They are a great deal of work: You can drill and clean a route for days before even trying the moves. However, the result is worth every second of effort. I find new-routing to be more satisfying than any other form of climbing because each line is your creation and interpretation of the rock.




1. If the climb is not very overhung , put in a good anchor and maybe a couple of directional bolts, and then, before you put in all the bolts, toprope (or toprope self belay with a Mini Traxion) the line to get a feel for how it climbs. This helps to get bolts in the right places, especially when you are not used to bolting. Of course it is not always possible. If not, just place the bolts where there seem to be good positions to clip, and expect to move them if necessary to make the route flow.

2. Be prepared to place smaller directional bolts . This saves wasting a full-size bolt in a place where it will probably not be used for climbing. Directionals are also easily removed and the holes patched once the permanent bolts are placed.

3. Bolting is a personal thing, yet at an established crag you should respect the style of other routes. Some crags have a bolt every few feet, while others such as Céüse are often quite runout—spicy, yet safe. There are also “mixed” crags where bolts are only used when gear placements are impossible. My preferred style is to bolt so my routes are safe and the bolts are within reach for everyone, with no dangerous runouts, yet to space the bolts out when there is no danger of hitting anything. Air time is great as long as it is safe!

4. Establishing routes is the best way to show your vision. Even if the route doesn’t go at first, give it a chance and be creative with your sequences. Step outside the box. Figuring out the moves can be frustrating, so try every way you can think of, even if one seems illogical. Be patient and keep trying, understanding that the uncertainty can be one of the most challenging parts of new routing. Remember, too, that minuscule differences in sequence can make a huge difference in how a line climbs. It took me a week to figure out a single move on my current project in Redstone.

5. It can be useful to have a little rope tension while figuring a movement out. Once you have a rough idea, refine the movement and believe it will go. Chances are, if you’re given enough time, it will. And if you really think you can’t do the route, give it to someone who can… Projects are there to be climbed.


MAYAN SMITH-GOBAT, of New Zealand, has climbed 5.14b, free-climbed El Capitan, set the women’s Nose speed record and established many FA’s including a recent route on Mount Waddington.


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