Bouldering. Trad. Sport. Indoor. Aid…The list of climbing types goes on. Each facet of the sport is characterized by its own unique set of challenges, physical (and sometimes mental) demands, and personalities.
For Vermont-based climber Anna Gutwin, the varied nature of climbing has been a major draw to the sport. It has provided her with the ability to evolve her skills and experiences and carry her love for climbing throughout many different phases of life.
In this, our last Breaking the Granite Ceiling Series spotlight, we followed Anna out to Smuggler’s Notch to catch her sending Little Cottonwood and spoke with her about her experiences in the climbing world.
When and how did you first get into climbing?
In high school I went climbing at Lower West in Bolton and it terrified me. I remember feeling surprised that I enjoyed the whole experience, including getting scared. I think the supportive and fun environment our coach had was key. Soon I was in Petra Cliffs a few days a week, struggling to make my way up the V0s and V1s. The community I found there helped to keep me coming back, and to this day the space feels like home.
The great thing about climbing is that there are so many different facets of the sport. When I started it was simply top roping and bouldering in the gym. Next for me came trad climbing, which was way scarier than anything I had done before. I learned my trad skills through my university’s outdoor program (Cornell Outdoor Education), and feel so thankful I had extremely competent and safe mentors. The consequences for unsafe trad climbing are so high and the blame is 100% in your hands if something goes wrong.
Eventually I wanted to push my physical limits and switched over to sport climbing. It was awesome having a solid foundation of movement skills – I found I just needed to add a bit more strength and I saw my grades increase dramatically. I found a climbing partner who was climbing at about the same level as me and we started training together and pushing each other. That made a huge difference and I actually cried clipping the chains of my first 5.12 (Orangahang in Rumney). I never thought I could break into that grade. I remind myself of that as I’m feeling frustrated pushing to 5.13.
As my life has gotten busier I’ve found that bouldering suits my schedule more. My partner and I are building a house close to Smugglers’ Notch and it’s easier to pop over there for a few hours and get some solid climbing in. I can throw my pads and the dogs in the truck and have a moment of peace in the woods. Or I can get a crew of friends together for a true pad pile and have a glorious time eating, drinking and crushing.
Who knows what the future will bring. I just learned how to aid climb, so maybe a big wall is the next project to tackle!
What would you like to see change about how women are represented/involved in the outdoor industry as a whole? How about in climbing specifically?
I would love to see women’s accomplishments celebrated as much as men’s and I would love to continue to see bad ass women slaying it out there. I am looking forward to the day that people don’t see my gender and assume that they know more and can climb harder than I can. I have countless stories of men asking my (male) partner about a climb that I just got lowered from, or having men tell me where the easy climbs are when I walk up to a crag. One thing that can help change the stereotype that we have in the outdoor world is to get out there and crush it! Even if you don’t climb super hard grades, getting after it and being psyched can help change the culture.
I think there are a lot of great resources for female climbers. Petra Cliffs has women-only clinics as well as a Women Crush Wednesday night and the website Crux Crush is by women and for women. I think that some magic happens when women get together and climb – we can push each other, celebrate our successes and ponder solutions for what we need to work on. That’s not to say that men can’t be great climbing partners too! But it’s definitely special to climb with a group of lady crushers.
What advice would you give to someone (of any gender!) looking to get into climbing?
Work on your technique first! It really doesn’t matter how hard you can climb, it matters much more if you can climb well. A good climber will gain confidence and be able to climb harder and suffer less injuries. Listen while you climb – if you can hear your feet on the wall you’re not being precise enough with your footwork. It’s also helpful to repeat climbs that you’ve already done to try and climb them better – with more flow and less energy wasted. In the beginning don’t focus on climbing harder, focus on climbing better.
Also, a good mentor is worth their weight in gold – find someone more experienced than you and learn how to do things safely.
Favorite piece of gear? Pro tip?
My climbing shoes, without a doubt are my favorite piece of gear. I have a few different pairs for different styles of climbing and they are such useful tools.
Pro Tip: Don’t put any limits on yourself. Stop the negative self-talk and replace it with the knowledge that you are in fact a pretty cool bad-ass. Instead of saying, “I can’t make that move!” start saying “I can’t make that move TODAY, but maybe tomorrow.” Don’t get frustrated when you don’t send – instead focus on what progress you made, even if it feels very minor.
Any other experiences you’ve had in the industry, positive or negative?
I used to coach an adult female climbing team at Metro Rock before they discontinued it. I still climb with a bunch of those ladies and the friendships we made have endured. It was so incredibly rewarding to see these women climb harder and have a ton of fun doing it. I remember a moment in the weight room when we had a dozen women all using the weights – a guy opened the door to come in, saw us all and turn around and left. We laughed so hard, it was a powerful sight!
This interview is part of our Breaking the Granite Ceiling series. We’re taking a look at the state of gender diversity in the outdoors through the lens of some of the raddest athletes we know; women within our community who continue to break the granite ceiling one climb, hike, ride, and paddle at a time.