I answer questions about female mountaineering in Russia and in the world and tell why our project is so important to me.
You can listen it in Russian here or read there. And we translated it into English to speak more widely about questions we care about!
Hello, everybody, my name is Margarita Spasskaya, we are in St. Petersburg and today I have a guest…
I’m Elena Dmitrenko. I represent WomenGoHigh Project and the RISK onsight magazine.
Lena and I met in a restaurant, and almost immediately she started showing me her prints for WomenGoHigh merches. They are beautiful, but I understood nothing, so I asked: “What’s on the pictures?” I think it’s interesting, can you tell me about them?
Our project, though about sports and mountains, is inseparable from creativity, because many girls who go to the mountains are talented not only in sports. Many of them draw, illustrate, work as designers. And, in fact, we had the idea to make a series of T-shirts and cups with drawings made by our authors. And we started this series with a T-shirt with Irina Morozova’s print. Irina is an iconic figure in Russian female mountaineering. I’ll tell you more about her later. Creating this T-shirt we were inspired by Pamela Shanti Pack – an American trad climber that climbs big cracks… off-width. The most uncomfortable size to climb. Look to the Internet, you will find a lot of videos in which she climbs absolutely crazy overhanging cracks, using special gear, for example, camalots with “cheeks” the size of a watermelon for protection. It all looks completely unimaginable, so we chose Pamela as our role model. Because this woman does something that very few people on the planet can do so great.
Do you mean impossible?
As a matter of fact, yes.
My claustrophobia just got my head up the moment you started talking about the cracks. Okay. The question is, what do you need these merches for?
We want to form a community, you know? And this is one way. We have more ideas. For example I really hope that Anna Khankevich will draw us something. Anya is a freerider who lives in Krasnaya Polyana. She has a great freeride program for kids. And more than that. Anyway, Anna does everything she can to make the skiing of future generations safe and fun. And besides, she’s a passionated artist.
And freeride is…?
Freeride is skiing off piste.
Yeah, I get it.
Wrapping up the conversation about the merches… First we want to make T-shirts for our authors. Then we’ll present them to our guests, our influencers. In general, if any girl wants to join our project and say “I want your shirt” – it’s great.
And returning to Irina Morozova, she is famous in Russia for developing female mountaineering festivals culture. In 2008 we were in the Uzunkol region, in Karachay-Cherkessia. This is the place where the Women Mountaineering Cup was held at that time. In general, we should say that the official system has quite complicated relations with female mountaineering. After Elvira Shatayeva’s team death at Lenin Peak in ’74, all female mountaineering was banned. Because women are a valuable… commodity, I mean. Women are in price.
And so the general theme: “Lena, why do you move female mountaineering? Women have to give birth, why don’t you take care of yourself?” It’s been a long time before women have regained their place in the sun again and we still explain to others that we want to go to the mountains with other women.
A place on the mountain.
Let it be on the mountain. And it’s nice to have it in the sun. It doesn’t always happen, the weather in the mountains is fickle. That’s when, in fact, Liana Darenskaya, the publisher of RISK onsight magazine back then and Irina Morozova had a concept… I remember them, sitting in a campsite, and discussing what the prize for women’s mountaineering teams should be. And they came up with “Steel Angel”. Actually, the prize itself is a figure of an angel, whose head is made of ice tool hammer, and the wings – from peaks for it.
For us this award is an opportunity to unite women and tell the rest of the mountaineering world that we have women who make ascents by female teams. Here in our community there is a slight mismatch in the idea of what women’s mountaineering should be like, because some people think that any mountaineering begins with the hard routes, and all the rest is trekking. Correspondingly, if we have little bit easy routes nominated, then it means that the prize is silly and nominees are silly. We – the award organizing committee – traditionally don’t think so, because, well, it’s our female mountaineering as it is, and if we were told there for n-that number of years not to gather more than two, and the group, which consisted more than half of the women, was considered female, and therefore not taken to interesting routes and not allowed to go to the difficult, then … We need to start with something. It’s like asking why we don’t have many female artists, right? It’s the same as the answer to the question why we don’t have enough high-level female climbers. Because a woman has to have children and wait for a man from the mountain. When everybody realized that girls want to go to the mountains themselves, they want to walk difficult routes, it became clear that all this time most of them were taught to “push the handle” with ascender.
To move along the fixed rope by help of special device. So you’re tied to the rope and you “push the handle”. You’re not going to lead…
…so you won’t be the first?
Yeah, you don’t go first. Let’s drop the specific vocabulary. A few girls in later generations of Russian mountaineerers were taught to lead until recently. Especially outside of major mountaineering centers such as Rostov, Krasnoyarsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Moscow, St. Petersburg… In general, if you don’t insist, you’ll be “dragged in a locomotive”. And we understand that it takes time for something in people’s heads to change fundamentally. Accordingly that, the second rebuke we get: “You want to get the girls to lead, and they’ll all kill themselves.”
But wait! Our main postulate is that they can do whatever they want. If they want to lead, they do it. If they don’t want to lead, they don’t.
In fact, a lot of people still miss the Soviet system with mountain camps and the opportunity to take a vacation to it from your employer. This is what we lost with the Soviet Union. And nothing fundamentally new has been offered so far. So we have one, two mountaineering bases, and that’s it. And that’s the problem of mountaineering in general, not just women’s.
But it affects girls, of course, too. Because neither good rental points (and the equipment is expensive), nor instructors in the camps (and sometimes you can’t find an instructor for your team and bring it with you). And the official system pushes you to be attributed to some kind of training camps (at times formally, unfortunately). And I know situations when it ended with accidents, when you were supposedly at a training camp, and then… It’s good to have everything under control, yes, it gives more safety. It’s good to be able to get as much knowledge as you need in the city and practice on the climbing walls so you’d be prepared.
We have strong female climbers. Women who go to European festivals represent their ascents there. For example, Galina Chibitok, who now lives in St. Petersburg, Marina Kopteva, her partner from Kiev, now lives in Europe. And some new names, that won not only Steel Angel award, but also Russian Golden Axe. Although, once women are among the nominees for this national award, we hear that if there is a “Steel Angel”, why should women be included in the list of nominees for the Russian Golden Axe at all? Let’s look at another example. There’s mountaineer Silvia Vidal in Catalonia. Silvia is known for going on an expedition, not taking a satellite phone, climbing for 50 days in some, I don’t know, jungle or going to the bears in Alaska. She carry along all the gear and the bivouac and the food by herself. I met her in Pakistan, she was climbing the wall of Haina Brakk (or Shipton), it’s a peak almost 6000 meters high. And we only had a flashlight on the wall for two weeks. The flashlight is glowing, so she’s alive, good. Because she didn’t take the satellite on principle. It is her idea. But when she comes down from the mountain, she should take all the ropes with her. She weighs about 48–50 kilos, she’s small and tiny. She climbs very hard routes, A4 category (it’s about artificial protection), on clean big walls, without any significant cracks or pockets for feet and arms. At the same time, she doesn’t drill holes in granite except necessity. She searches for microscopic reliefs and puts special gear there. So Silvia climbs very complicated lines. Then she comes down, trying to leave no trace. That’s her way of taking care of the planet. And then you (me) write the news that Silvia made a nice line on the wall, and men commenting: “For what?”, “Men would climb twice as fast”, “She looks like a man”, “She’s ugly.” It’s impossible to read. Horrible. I mean, it’s funny on one hand and definitely not on other…
It causes anger.
It makes me angry, honestly.
Did I get it right that she does everything to climb the route and leave no traces?
There’s an ethics in the mountains. And you take away as much of your equipment as possible to leave minimal impact on the wall. This is necessary both in terms of ecology on the one hand, and on the other hand it’s saving the wall for your followers. So that people can go in your footsteps and also have fun. And pleasure in this case is to move yourself along an almost clean wall. Yeah, people get a certain amount of pleasure from that.
I welcome different styles of climbing in the mountains, if it’s, well, not to break a mountain and tear it apart.
Why did I decide to do a women’s project at some point?
I have a friend, yes, a beautiful woman. Actually, I think all women are beautiful, I don’t know ugly women, and you know? So, she wrote a book and wrote on Facebook: “Look! My book is out!” And what we read in the comments? “Honey, you look beautiful!”
Another woman writes that she took a great route or drove around the country on a bike. And people write to her: “Darling, great style!”
So we’re looking at Silvia climbing great route reading: “Oh, she’s not pretty.” Whatever a woman does, she’ll end up being appreciated for what she looks like.
In mountaineering it’s terrible. A woman should climb difficult routes to have the status of a climber, to be a member of female team, to receive awards, to participate in competitions, but she should look like a conventionally beautiful woman.
And, I started this project in order to highlight what girls do in the mountains. Great journeys they do, those ascents that inspire me, and I’m sure they will inspire the readers. And I want to gather a community (small at first, but sooner or later it will be wider), where different women can get advice from each other, feel a strong shoulder nearby. Because I know a lot of girls who did freeride yesterday, and today they want to do mountaineering, the day after tomorrow they will want some kind of cross-project with different sports. And it’s good when they know who to ask for a reference, who to consult with, who to learn from, who to cooperate with.
We’re just getting started. So we need time. But I hope we can bring this female community together. At the same time, I don’t think that our website is for women. If only because I know families with equal relationships and with a perfectly adequate perception of the world and woman’s desires in the mountains. And I want to support them so that they can see that they are not alone. Then maybe there will be more of them in time.
I think that’s great. I’m not in sports, but I understand how important it is, and it’s great that you agreed to meet and talk to me. There’s also the question of numbers. I understand there are statistics, but it’s very difficult to see the big picture if you’re not inside.
It’s hard to see it from the inside as well, honestly. But we try.
Well, yes, increasing visibility is one way and it’s actually quite a big project.
Thank you. There is an opinion in Russian society that climbers are crazy people with low social responsibility. But in fact, often they are just people who have been bitten by mountains and they can’t do anything about it. Often they are people who have found themselves in the mountains and can’t do anything about it either.
Wise people often say: if you can not go to the mountains, do not go. Those who do, they can’t help but do it. So most of them understand the risks and the responsibility, and always look for good insurance policy. And in the end they still deal with the insurance companies, because they don’t like to pay the bills.
I hope we would talk about the mountains and women in the mountains more.
Сan we finish with numbers?
For example, German Alpine Club (DAV). It has about a million members. Not all of them are climbers, but all are people, one way or another, engaged in active sports in nature, in the mountains. There are many mountains in Germany. Here in Russia an outdoor resort, mountains, official mountaineering covers maybe ⅛ percent of the population. It will be very bold to say that ¼ percent. And maybe 1% deals directly with all-all-all-all-all trekking. But we would like the number of people carried away by the mountains to grow, because this will make it possible, oddly enough, to make mountain climbing safe.
In general, the idea of our project, in addition to highlighting the achievements of women in sports and outdoor sports, changing whole situation and making it clear to all that girls need more attention, more trust and less judgment. I would like, in addition to highlighting the achievements of women in sports related to extreme sports, to give them the choice to do what they want. So that they understand that, on the one hand, they can do everything, and on the other, they are absolutely not obliged to do this. And without pressure from society, they will surely be able to realize themselves in that degree and in that kind what they need in order to become happy. This is probably our goal.