We are conducting a survey which focuses on cultural beliefs, social norms and practices with regards to racism and other forms of discrimination and inequality within climbing. By sharing and completing it, you will be help us to;
• Better understand our community
• Learn how to better serve those who are currently underrepresented in climbing
• Make progress towards our ultimate goal of putting equity at the heart of our industry and community.
This survey for climbers within the United Kingdom. It should take approximately 8 minutes.
No personal data is collected.
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When Maya Patel (@maya_climbs) did an Instagram takeover of @captaincutloose account, it was clear she was one very impressive 15 year old. Her posts proved that she was not only an amazing climber, but also an incredibly talented writer, addressing some tough personal experiences.
We caught up with Maya to find out a bit more about these experiences, what she is passionate about and her involvement in climbing.
It is clear you are a very passionate and talented climber. Would you mind telling us a bit about yourself? About how and why you got into climbing and what it is that motivates you most?
I first tried climbing at my 7th birthday party at a small centre in Amersham. I remember being so proud to have struggled my way to the top of the wall and I immediately wanted to climb more. However, although I started climbing at this age, they were quite irregular sessions and it was only when I tried out for the Westway Squad, 4 years later that I began to train on a regular basis.
I find climbing so motivating because of the sense of control I feel over my body and mind when I climb. As my life has gotten busier especially as I have gotten older, I’ve found climbing not a distraction but a way to refocus my mind on my ambitions inside and outside of the sport. I love the fight, the grit and power you have to force into every route because without it the sense of accomplishment wouldn’t be there. The way I can use climbing to channel my emotions makes it, what some may consider a coping mechanism for stress and one of the predominant ways I express myself. But overall, I haven’t found anything that is nearly as genuinely exhilarating as toping a route or boulder which seemed impossible at first. The feeling that you are breaking down walls and pushing boundaries which you never believed you could, is what makes it motivating – it proves that anything is possible. It gives me more faith than anything, that with focus and determination I can achieve things beyond those that ever seemed within my reach.
You recently touched on some of your experiences (in climbing) …. on the takeover of the Captain Cutloose Instagram account. If you feel comfortable doing so, might you share any of these with us?
One thing to make sure I say is that the climbing community as a whole is generally amazing, it is packed with supportive, welcoming and friendly people who I practically consider a second family. It may not be perfect, but especially compared to other sporting community’s I have been in, I have always felt welcomed and accepted in the climbing community. I feel blessed to witness so many of people, with entirely different jobs, lives and backgrounds all come together to enjoy such unique sport.
However, climbing is undeniably a sport where centres are predominately dominated by white people. Personally, I have been surrounded by this sort of environment since a young age and so therefore I remained oblivious to it until a couple of years ago as I began to mature. It is key to acknowledge there are differences in the way people are treated due to their ethnicity within the climbing community, it is vital that we notice this because only then can we progress and make improvements. What people don’t realise is that it only takes a small act of hostility, that might feel entirely insignificant to them, to really affect how someone feels at a climbing centre. This is because for them, this is just one look but unfortunately the likelihood is this is not the person on the receiving end’s first stare, smirk or whisper and it most probably won’t be their last. These little things can really grow on people making them feel embarrassed or distressed within the climbing community, a community where everyone should be welcomed.
I wanted to share one of my most memorable experiences that has really stuck with me despite the fact it was a couple of years ago. I was 13 and it was the hottest day of the year and so like many others, I was climbing in my sports bra and some shorts. I was spending the day with a friend who had just gone to get some water, when a man came up to me and said, “You need to cover up because nobody wants to look at your coloured skin”. Initially, I was quite taken aback, I was only just really becoming aware of the slight differentiation in the way I was treated, and his comment left me devastated and completely humiliated. For me, I climb for this pure sense of achievement and satisfaction I gain from the sport, so when this experience was ruined, climbing felt pointless. I climb because I love it so being in an environment where I was made to feel uncomfortable meant I no longer wanted to stay. Something which I found normally so positive was destroyed in one sentence.
If you take anything away from this, let it be the effects these comments, stares and whispers can have on people. For a few months after the experience, I felt constantly self-conscious no matter what I was wearing, and I remember just entirely despising the colour of my skin because of the way it made me feel and the way it meant I was viewed. I never before that, saw myself as different. I had always thought of myself like everyone else at my school and in the climbing gym; as human. I’m now proud of my heritage and my family history and know that no matter what someone says nobody deserves to be alienated like that. I want people to see me for my personality, my achievements and my morals before the colour of my skin and I hope with a lot of work, we as a community can get closer to achieving this and making a climbing centre a safe environment for everyone.
Matt Beck, aka The Peg Leg Dad describes himself as “Father, Husband, Cancer Survivor, Hemipelvectomy Amputee and Author”. He was kind enough to tell us a little about his story and his new climbing experience since discovering the sport relatively recently.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I live in South Dakota with my wife, 4-year-old daughter, black lab, and 2 cats. We also have a second child on the way, due in March. I lost my leg and left half of my pelvis due to a rare form of cancer in February 2019 after 3 rounds of chemo and a limb salvage surgery in October 2018. Before my amputation, outside of spending time with my family, my time was spent homebrewing beer, playing softball, golfing, and multiple things outdoors like hunting and fishing. Now, I’m focused on what I can do to still be involved in those but also looking for new experiences and ways to show my daughter (and anyone else really) that anything is truly possible if you’re willing to adapt and have a great support system.
What lead you to try climbing and what was the experience was like?
It was putting myself out there for something I never expected to be chosen for but was a step outside of my comfort zone. I had never tried climbing prior and having a fear of heights; it was something I was always too afraid to try. As it turns out, I was selected as one of the 5 people fortunate enough to travel to Colorado and participate in the clinic. It was nothing at all like I expected. Over three days, I went through a range of emotions from excitement on day one to disappointment in myself on day 2 and, finally, a great sense of accomplishment on day 3. The way that I had to climb was totally different, but I think that is one thing that is great with climbing, there is no one way to do it. Even on the same climb, there are different holds that everyone will utilize. It was also a fantastic opportunity to bond with the others who were there as you rely on everyone, whether for a belay or pointing out possible holds that you may not see. To my surprise, I never once had a fear of heights creep in. I was so focused on what my next move was that nothing else mattered.
Finally, would you have any recommendations to anyone thinking about trying climbing? And will you be doing it again?
I will absolutely be climbing again. We have a couple of gyms locally that offer both bouldering and top roping and an outdoor area with multiple routes very close to home. The most significant recommendation that I could offer is to just get out and do it! Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or compare how you’re doing to anyone else. If you need to use an ascender, use one! If you make it halfway up the wall and you’re too tired to continue, that’s great! Most people never even make it off the ground! Just don’t limit yourself mentally, and you can do way more than you realize.
Interview with Rachel Briggs, from United We Climb.
Standing up for yourself: Breaking barriers and climbing in India
By Rachel Briggs and Nutan Shinde-Pawar
For United We Climb
“Myself and Nutan, a climber, mountaineer and published writerfrom South India, first connected via social media. I had seen one of her Instagram posts that captured a special moment, where a mother and daughter became Climber and Coach.
The video clip was not about hard moves or amazing cinematography, yet it still reflected one of the most treasured elements of climbing, that we can all relate to. That incredible sense of pride, when we, or someone we care about, pushes outside of their comfort zone and discovers they can achieve something they did not believe was possible.
After chatting with Nutan, she kindly agreed to share her fascinating journey into climbing.” Rachel Briggs
Would you mind telling us a little about yourself and how you got into climbing?
I was born and brought up in Pune, the IT hub of India. I always wanted to be a Software Engineer and work for Google someday. I was the most studious, obedient kid of my family. I graduated in 2014 and started working immediately after that.
A year into my job, I discovered trekking and rock climbing. My husband, Deepak, was the head coach at the climbing gym I used to practice. That is how we met. Once I got to know more about Deepak, I grew fond of climbing. I have attempted multi-pitch routes with my husband. After our marriage in July 2018, we go for climbing trips frequently.
What is the climbing scene like where you live?
Climbing in India is not as big as in other Asian countries like China, Japan, Korea or Singapore. There are hardly any big climbing gyms here. Gyms are either Bouldering or Lead, but not both. The culture here is based on competition and outdoor climbing.
Unlike Mountaineering we don’t have climbing courses as such. This is also a reason why mountaineering continues to be more popular than rock climbing. Climbing Competitions are all organised by a subdivision of the Indian Mountaineering Federation (IMF). There are fewer funds for organising competitions or setting up good training facilities. This deprives Route Setters of setting excellent quality routes that would train the climbers. There has definitely been some progress in Competition Climbing over the last 20 years, but we are lagging.
One thing I feel is that the young competition climbers are climbing primarily to get medals and the benefit of the Sports Quota for their Education. They have no ambitions to pursue a climbing career or get to a level where they could compete internationally.
There are really strong climbers projecting hard routes. Of course, there are men climbing harder grades than women. Men in India have climbed 8b+ lead and 8a boulder grades. There is more motivation for outdoor climbing than for competitions. In 2018, we got the first female send of an 8a route.
There are many new climbers getting into climbing. There are Bouldering Festivals being organised and new areas are being discovered.
New Age of climbing
Climbing is still considered as an adventure or leisure activity. But participation is definitely increasing in India as people are becoming aware and they have disposable income. These days parents want their kids to excel beyond the boundaries of academia. I am sure, with the Olympics, there will be even more interest.
Being a climber or outdoor traveller in India, you mentioned some barriers you have experienced getting into the sport. Could you tell us about this?
I have never really spoken about it. My heart breaks when I think of it. Also, I feel my achievements must speak for me and my journey has just started. I have a long way to go. But I am glad to share my experience if it could help others.
My struggle is the same as the struggle of every girl in India who graduates. Suddenly their parents want her to get married. So, immediately after graduation, my parents started setting me up with potential boys (without asking me). Boys wouldn’t consider me because I was earning more than them working in IT. There is an ego clash I guess, if a wife is earning more than her husband.
Once I started trekking I knew that I wanted to marry someone who would “allow me” to continue outdoor activities. The boys would just say ‘no’. There was this one guy whose statement was, “What kind of wife travels without a husband?”
I have many such interesting stories that will reveal more about what Indian girls have to go through.
Once my relatives invited a rich family boy (whose salary was more than mine). This new guy was a cyclist and hiker. Both his parents were senior government officials. After the initial meetings, our wavelengths matched. I thought I found my husband.
Until the last minute when his parents asked for dowry. “Lots of gold and extravagant wedding, it is all for your daughter,” they said. The guy was acting oblivious. My family and I were heartbroken. Shall I be selfish, marry the guy and let my father go through the financial burden? What if their demands don’t stop? Do I really want to spend my life with a man who cannot speak up? I thought. The answer was never ever! Not only for my parents who would do anything for me. But also for other girls who are victims of dowry. I took a strong stand.
This is a secret. I had updated my online marriage profile after this incident. In the field of expectations, I added: “Strictly no dowry demands!” Of course, my parents wouldn’t allow this, so I hid it from them. Shockingly, we didn’t get any interest after that. I was disturbed to find out there are no “literate” men. My hope of marriage was dying away.
My parents were worried that no sane guy would marry a girl who travels and climbs. Whenever my parents would deny me from climbing, I would purposefully go for a long trip. I grew rebellious. There was a new level of confidence (or anger) rising in me.
It sounds like you have found a great match. Can you tell us how life has changed now you are married?
Deepak entered my life in such chaos. After four years of constant disgrace, I found it extremely difficult to trust him. I couldn’t believe that the MAN I wanted really existed. He was ideal for me who was not a fit as per the society. He was not well educated, nor financially stable. He was a Karate Champion in school so never studied. Later, he started working as a climbing coach which doesn’t pay much.
I have to narrate this for girls looking for a life partner. I was planning to interview a veteran female mountaineer, Chandraprabha Aitwal and Deepak offered to join me. When we were at her house, we were reading her trophies and awards. Pointing at one, Deepak said, “Someday your name will be written on these awards and somebody else will come to interview you!” It was the most amazing thing anyone had ever said to me. I knew at that moment I was marrying this person!
My parents were initially not happy with his education and less salary. Within a month he won their heart. My life after the marriage took a 360-degree turn. I switched to travelling full-time by taking a job with a hiking company. I am constantly travelling to the Himalayas. My in-laws are super supportive. My mother-in-law is a wonderful person like my husband.
In the lockdown, I rediscovered my love for writing. I am now doing freelance writing also. I have written for UKClimbing, ExplorersWeb, MojaGear etc which has built my confidence. I am talking and meeting adventurers like you from around the world. I am happy I am able to create my place in this new world – with my husband by my side.
That is the thing, people don’t realize women don’t need men to rescue them. We are capable of creating our own paths and have the guts of facing problems coming our way. We just want their love and belief. This is exactly what Deepak understands and that makes him a good husband.
What would you suggest to other women in a similar position?
I am not being arrogant, but I believe my life is not a result of luck. I created it. I earned it by grappling for 4-5 years with my family and society. Of course, there is destiny but I made my choices. And I am ready to face the consequences of those choices. Most of the girls cave in sooner and then complain they don’t get what they want. Had I given up and married some mindless guy I would never have been happy. So yes we must stand up!
Whatever is the reason people give for not supporting women; women must take a stand for themselves. There is a constant struggle, accept that and don’t give up.