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Jan 10, 2005 - 09:01pm PT
"Mari Gingery was an awsome climber and boulderer."
"I remember seing Mari float up sume stuff at J tree effortlessly 10 years ago or so."

I saw her at Rockreation in west L.A. cruising up and down the campus board and doing some hard boulding a only a couple years ago...very impressive, I'm sure she's still crankin hard these days too!

Big Wall climber
oakland, ca
Topic Author's Reply - Jan 10, 2005 - 09:02pm PT
Unfortunately, Kate, it wasn't that complete at all. I started that list a couple of years ago one weekend when I was rehabbing the knee and stuck in the city. I made a list from what I could find on the web, but I never even brought in my Reid Big Walls book to include the female FAist listed in the back. Not that there were a million female FAists, but it was a pretty greivous omission from the list. Then, as I asked around, it seemed that there were scores of women that I'd never even heard of who'd been doing walls, partnered with guys, gals, or solo, for a very long time. They never publicized their tick lists, so it's not data that gets entered into history. The other problem with the list was that it kind of pandered to 'all-women' climbs and FA's, particularly on big walls. Women that were climbing hard (free or aid), but with men, didn't turn up as much info, nor did women who were just sending, but not doing FA's.

I didn't feel good about declaring that one woman had done somethign 'first' when really what I meant was, "I couldn't google another example..." Also, giving a different distinction to a woman for doing a climb with a similarly skilled woman vs. a similarly skilled man seemed to me to imply that having the guy around was inherantly an advantage...and, of course, I don't think that it is.

Another issue that I had with "firsts" was that at some point, there were piles of undone female firsts that were at a level lower than the standard for the best women climbers of the day. There just weren't enough women playing the game to have had them all get ticked off in repeat ascents the way the boys had done. I wasn't sure how meaningful it was to say that someone did something first when the reality of it was that it was a goal that the more capable women just didn't care to persue. Doing a first ascent says that you went where no one had gone before. Bev Johnson and Sybille Hechtel went where no women had gone before. I'm not sure that if we found out that no all-women team had done Lurking Fear (Just as a bogus example...It's been soloed by at least one woman .) that doing one would be noteworthy...especially when it's been freed by a woman, and women have done other A4/A5 routes. I've got mixed feelings on this though...If firsts are motivating, then I think that it can be good to have the info available. Also, there's not much out there in the way of 'elite' female wall climber lore for us to get psyched seeing what Jill Everygirl is up to is still really appreciated (at least by me.)

Anyway, after I asked the question today, I went and looked at the list. I've never even looked at the visitor log. Whatdya know, but that site has gotten about 1000 hits in the last few months, mostly from people who hit it via google searching for the name of one of the people on it?! Embarassed, I was, that I'd left it up. Anyway, in that it was incomplete and potentially very inaccurate, I took it down today. It's a worthwhile project for someone who has the time to do it right though.

Somehow, though, the little story about Bev Johnson helping a brother OB camp whilst working the ranger desk is as interesting or more to me as anyone's ticklist. For me, already having a notion that nameless faceless women did hard things a long time ago, I'm even more interested in learning a story or two about them as people. Like, Russ' pictures of climbing at the height of 80's fashion creates this excellent sense of nostalgia for me for a time when I wasn't even around. It's a story that's told one way or another here almost every day, and part of the reason why I like this site the best. It's just that women are almost never part of that story.

Trad climber
Las Vegas, NV
Jan 10, 2005 - 09:13pm PT
although not in the Valley, Joanne Urioste was one of the foremost climbers developing Red Rocks during the late 70's and early 80's.
Joanne and Jorge put up a huge number of classic routes in the area, many of them still well travelled today.

Larry D'Angelo and Bill Thiry's book Red Rock Odyssey relates the tale of a couple of first ascents (Cat in the Hat and Lady Wilson's Cleavage) in which Joanne was the driving force of the route's development.

and of course, Joanne was the author of the original Red Rocks guide book- The Red Rocks of Southern Nevada.

although I have not had the pleasure of meeting Joanne, I understand that she is still known for dragging the boys out with her as she tackles whatever climb strikes her fancy....(in fact, more than once, my meeting of Jorge Urioste was delayed due to Joanne's snagging him for another day on the rock)

Trad climber
the south
Jan 10, 2005 - 09:59pm PT
THere's a woman who climbs in the red, (KY), she's up with the access fund and stuff like that, also climbs hard sport, not sure about the trad or bigwall, I can't think of her name, but I met her at an SCC meeting several years ago.

Anyway if you were trying to put something together about women climbers, she should be in it.

And Melissa, I agree with you that it is pathetic that all woman stuff is given precedence over mixed teams. Hell MAYBE the woman was the better climber and did all the hard putches.

I know I've seen boulder chicks do stuff I'll never do.

Trad climber
All over
Jan 10, 2005 - 10:10pm PT
Shannon Stuart-Smith

The founder and (until recently) the executive director of the Red River Gorge Climbing Coalition.

Definately an excellent woman.

I'd love to hear some stories from the big-wall dudes around here about walls where your female partner did an equal share...of the hauling, of the leading, of the cruxing. Who were they? Any of you boys climb with the super strong women?

mike hartley

Jan 10, 2005 - 10:22pm PT
Back in the late 70's or early 80's I remember a nice woman who climbed at Smith often. One day she asked about a particular climb and whether I'd recommend it. I told her it was a great climb but a 5.11 handcrack and really strenuous. Of course what I meant was "fancy footwork won't help you up there. It ain't no girl's climb". Later I watched her cruise it no sweat. Catherine Freer forever changed my perception of what was and wasn't a "girl's climb".

Sport climber
Venice, Ca
Jan 10, 2005 - 10:25pm PT
The only reason Mari Gingery is not a household name in the climbing world is that she always remained in the background and never spoke much if ever about her many accomplisments. In the old days at Suicide, she often climbed the hardest routes a lot easier than we did. And out at Josh, where she and Mike Lechlinski have a crib, she's been ripping it up for going on 30 years. She's the stuff, alright.


Jan 10, 2005 - 10:28pm PT

There was Sue McDevit who did numerous walls with her husband Dan. She and Nancy Fagen did the first all female one day ascent of El Cap [Nose]. She could really hold her own with the guys.

Trad climber
cayucos california
Jan 10, 2005 - 10:28pm PT
Hey kate you ever hear of Chelsea Griffie?

She completly kicked my ass in boulder everytime we went. She hung out in yosemite for a long time. She taught me many of the free techniques i know today.

girl climbers kick ass


Jan 10, 2005 - 10:36pm PT

One more although I feel reluctant to say because it feels like spray. My wife Merry she was the first woman to do El Cap in a Day [Nose]. We did several other routes together on the big stone.

Trad climber
All over
Jan 10, 2005 - 10:54pm PT
Werner - It ain't spray if its the truth! Thats excellent. I'd like to meet you guys someday, maybe when I am lurking around I will find you.

Nope Ty, but strong free climbing isn't something I follow. If a woman can lead 10b/c, thats more than enough to evoke hero status. Thats the hardest I've ever seen a woman trad lead.

And I don't go near boulders after what happened to Aaron Ralston. Sheesh. Boulders are dangerous.


Trad climber
Newark, DE
Jan 11, 2005 - 09:49am PT
The Conns are indeed well known in caving circles, mostly for their efforts in exploring and mapping Jewel Cave in South Dakota (one of the longer caves in the US).

The Jewel Cave Adventure chronicles their exploits up to the mid-or late 1970's. It's a pretty good read, actually.

I've never met them personally, but I have numerous friends who have known them. Nothing but kind words and fond memories about the Conns from all of them.

And to answer an earlier query: Yes, the Conns put up numerous routes at Seneca Rocks, WV in the 1940s.

Burt Bronson

Jan 11, 2005 - 10:15am PT



Trad climber
San Rafael, CA
Jan 11, 2005 - 10:47am PT
One name not mentioned so far is Liz Robbins (Royal's wife). I believe she had the first female ascent on a couple of HD and El Cap routes with Royal. I believe they also did some FA's together as well.

I remember seeing a slide show by Royal and he casually mentioned that Liz was probably one of the best female wall climbers of her time.

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Jan 11, 2005 - 12:50pm PT
I can add a few facts about the Conn's. They started out in the forties in Washington, DC, learned to climb at Carter Rocks on the Potomac. and climbed at various Eastern crags, most notably Seneca. However, their 1945 ascent of Cannon Mountain, the Conn Course, done with no information other than the fact the people had climbed the cliff somewhere (far from the central line they took, as it turned out), with borrowed gear, and a difficulty pushing 5.8, established them among the country's best, if least recognized, climbers. I think Herb was a civil engineer and Jan a musician.

They were the original "drop-outs," at least a decade before "alternative lifestyles" became fashionable for the educated middle class. In the Needles in South Dakota, they found a rock paradise barely explored by a few visits from Fritz Wiessner (who erroneously predicted it would become a major US climbing destination) and the aid bolting of a 5.7 face by a very young Fred Beckey.

They bought some land in moved into the "Conn Cave," an overhanging boulder they walled in. Eventually, they broke down and built a garage for their VW van, but as far as I know, they have always lived in the Conn Cave.

With Jan as the driving force and the primary leader, they climbed most of the spires in the Needles. Their gear consisted of tight sneakers, either a 50 or a 100 foot goldline rope, a few soft iron pitons, and quarter inch bolts drilled on the lead. Many of their leads were very run out, especially by the standards of the day. In modern terms they got up to 5.8+ (on the East Face of the East Gruesome in 1959) and 5.7 X, and they downclimbed everything they climbed up (with toprope protection on the harder routes rather than rapelling). That 5.8+, by the way, is fully the equivalent of 5.9 routes at Tahquitz, and this meant Jan was, in her day, one of the better climbers in the country, regardless of gender, and certainly deserves a position of honor in the pantheon of the country's women climbers.

Herb indulged his civil engineering abilities by surveying and mapping the Cathedral Spires, Needle's Eye area, and Outlet rocks. These incredible maps made it possible for visiting climbers to enjoy the area without spending the years exploring that the Conns had. Herb also worked as a seasonal Mount Rushmore repairman, rappelling down and patching cracks in George's nose.

Jann became the Custer town librarian and a prominent local musician.

In the fifties, the Conn's became a standard stop for climbers travelling from the East to the Tetons and beyond. Their hospitality was legendary, and visiting climbers were treated to some Needles classics, which, however, often proved to be at a higher standard in terms of difficulty and especially commitment than they were used to.

About 1959, at the peak of their climbing prowess, the Conn's turned their attention to the exploration of Jewel Cave. Herb had noticed that a wind blew into the cave for days and then out for days, and based on some rough standing wave engineering estimates, concluded that the cave might be among the biggest in the US, if not the world. As in the Needles, Herb took to surveying and mapping everything they explored.

The Conn's routes put Jan among the country's top climbers in the fifties, but it is impossible to view the Conn's climbing and lifestyle through the lens of the contemporary climbing scene, and they would have neither recognized nor understood accolades based solely on the difficulty of their leads. The Conn's were explorers, and in the Needles they found a small but intricate paradise. Difficulties were resolved when they presented obstacles to exploration, but I never knew the Conn's to pursue difficulty for its own sake. Indeed, they were proudest of their ability to find devious and cunning easy routes up forbidding spire complexes, and I don't think they ever attempted a second route on a spire once they had climbed it.

The Conn's lived their climbing and daily lives off the grid in a sense that eclipses modern proponents of the same approach. They climbed, and shared their knowledge, with a simple joy in being "out there" that can only be viewed as unique, even for the kinder and gentler times of their active days.
Roger Breedlove

Trad climber
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Jan 11, 2005 - 01:10pm PT
Hey Melissa:

In your opening comment, you say that there must have been more female climbers than just those mentioned. Ms Johnson and Ms Hawken were the two that stand out in my mind.

Ellie was with Bruce the whole time I knew them and I didn't form a picture of her that has withstood the time. She was tiny. I remember watching her climb something hard at Arch Rock that she was not built for. She did not give up until she figured it out.

Bev, was single, acted independently and was a regular in the Valley. She had a wonderful personality and was easy to be around and to be close to, whether in Squaw Valley for the winter or in the Valley. I think that the reason that she stands out amongst women climbers is that she cut her own path. It was not that she cruised up the hardest climbs, but she carried her own weight and took climbing skills seriously. She was very much part of the core climber's community.

Her nature was self reliance and self motivation. And she was tough as nails. But she could also turn on the Southern, debutante charm in an instant. One argument she won with me was about "Why should women get their own kudos when they do the first female ascent? If women are serious about equality, then they should compete directly with men." (These were still the early years of women's liberations. I was still learning the hard lessons of leading with my chin.) She instantly soften her pose, tilted her head, did a slow bat of her eyes, and drawled sweetly: "Ah, come on, Roger. Can't we have our own little category?"

I think the women climbers today are more likely to climb at relatively higher standards than the earlier generations. I think that Lynn Hill is the perfect example of what everyone should aspire to--male or female. But Bev is the first female climber that I knew who had that sense of independence. No one ever ‘took’ Bev climbing.

The last time I can remember seeing Bev was probably 30 years ago. But I have very fond memories and it is easy to miss her.

Best, Roger

Trad climber
the south
Jan 11, 2005 - 01:32pm PT
I can add to Rgold's excellent post that my pal who met the Conns did say that they climbed in tight keds back in the day. if you don't remember them, or have never seen them, Keds were a light canvas sneaker style shoe, with what appeared to be a medium soft gum rubber sole with a little bit of texture, and some sort of thin low white rubber 'rand'. They were flat shoes, having no heels. The canvas was very thin, and there were 3 or 4 pairs of holes for laces.

Interestingly, as I recall, I am describing the women's Keds, based on what my mom and sisters had in the late 50's early 60's. It sounds a little like a climbing shoe, doesn't it? I THINK the men's Keds were a heavier build, and might not have been as good for climbing, but that's just my speculation.

Jan 11, 2005 - 03:49pm PT
I've only seen pics of Liz Robbins and Joanne Urioste following pitches, rather than leading, and the text I've read never clarified whether they got on the sharp end 1/2 the time or at all. Anyone care to enlighten me?

Social climber
So Cal
Jan 11, 2005 - 07:56pm PT
I think Joanne Uroste is on the sharp end frequently. When we did Split last year she'd done one of the ugly loose 5.9 ridges the week before. (Summit register note)

The look on Liz Robins face in the guide book shot of her following The Open Book says it all. I've seen that look before!
As has any other man in a LTR. We know what it means!

Trad climber
Reno NV
Jan 11, 2005 - 09:09pm PT
Who did the second female solo ascent of El Cap? What year & what route?
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