Story with mountains. Part Three

Sasha DiGiulian, Pedra Riscada, São José do Divin. Photo: Marcelo Maragni / Red Bull Content Pull

Previously we told about women, who asserted their right to mountaineer during centuries. Now we would like to tell about modern newsmakers, and their achievements.

Women and Mountains in the 21st Century

By Hanna Aleksandronets

Our modern world is quite open, innovative, it has changed rapidly. No one will be surprised to learn, that today women are able to compete almost on the same level with men. And it is necessary to admit, that it is impossible to mention all the outstanding female alpinists. That’s why we are going to tell about the most famous ones in XXI century.

Josune Bereziartu, Yeah Man, 8b+, Hastlossen, Switzerland. Photo: Josune Bereziartu /RISK onsight

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Josune Bereziartu became the world’s best female sport climber. Bereziartu’s ascents dramatically narrowed the gap between men and women. By the late 2000s women were climbing category 5.14 – never seen before. Josune was first inspired to climb after watching a Spanish TV show documenting two girls climbing in the Verdon Gorge. Who would have thought, that she would became known for being the first woman to climb 8c routes. In one of her interviews, she admits that the psychological training also plays a significant role, as well as the physical training.

Bereziartu began working on Honky Tonky in 1997, she became obsessed with the idea to be the first woman completed the route 8c. Her obsession stood in light. However, after she had succeeded in 1998, she mellowed out. She felt like she emerged from jail.

In 2004, Beth Rodden established “The Optimist” (5.14b) in Smith Rock. Then, in 2008, she redpointed her 40-day project “Meltdown”, a 5.14c trad climb that became the hardest pitch in Yosemite at the time. After that, she had a lot of health concerns, for a long time she could not initiate any complicated climbing projects. She believes, that she has reconsidered her passion for climbing regardless of difficulty levels.

With “Lurking Fear” and her ascent of “The Nose” in 2005, Beth Rodden became the second woman after Lynn Hill to free climb the route on El Capitan, although, female athletes had made plenty of unsuccessful efforts before.

Beth grew up in plain California. One day, as luck would have it, she started climbing at a local climbing gym. She was extremely interested in climbing, so she dropped out of the college and went on her first Madagascar expedition. Rodden believes, that it has been her best school. She greatly appreciates first-hand knowledge about mountains, and climbing. She thinks, she has never gained such knowledge from reading and studying.

We would like to tell you that Beth is a lot of things, she is a successful climber, she also has given a birth to her son. She does her best to promote a love of nature, and outdoors, for her child. She was mountaineering and keeping her blog, when she was pregnant. At present, she is sometimes criticized by fat phobic people, because of “wrinkles” at her waists. She talk a lot about it on her social networks, and supports female athletes, who have just given a birth.

We often discuss male solo climbs. Nevertheless, women are also interested in one of the daring and death-defying feats in the world, in free soloing, in climbing treacherous cliff faces with nothing but hands and feet to prevent a potentially fatal fall. In 2008, Steph Davis free soloed “The North Face” (5.11+) of the Castleton Tower, making her perhaps the first woman to have free-soloed at the 5.11+ grade.

Steph’s achievements are really impressive. She is the first woman to summit all the peaks of the Fitzroy massif in Patagonia, the second woman to free climb El Capitan in a day, the first woman to free climb the Salathė Wall on El Capitan, and the first woman to summit Torre Egger. In addition, she is a base-jumper!

Steph says, “Climbing is my anchor and my passion”. The mountaineering is her philosophy. “You have to do what force you to feel good, what lights you up. Do your best always. Conserve. Never waste energy for nothing. You can only have what you can carry: choose it carefully, make it last, take care of it. Appreciate what you have for as long as you have it. Be ready to continue without it. No matter what happens, deal with it. Adapt, instantly when necessary. Take care of yourself. Try to help. A lot of times you fail, sometimes you succeed.”

Nina Williams is an American professional rock climber, best known for the first female ascent of “Ambrosia” (V11, 15 m, only with crashpads) in 2017. Williams is especially noted for her accomplishments in highball bouldering, in which the climber attempts a very tall boulder problem without rope protection, combining the physicality of bouldering with the mental discipline of free soloing. It is a hobby for definitely stout-hearted people. In 2019, she made the ascent of “Too Big to Flail” (V10), besides, she improved her traditional climbing skills. However, her main passion is highballs. One of the Reel Rock 14 episodes tells about Nina. At present, you are able to watch the movie during different outdoor festivals. The film is worth seeing.

Ines Papert like a real genius grew up far from mountains, and, perhaps, that’s why she became one of the most motivated alpinists and ice climbers! In 2013, she made the first ascent of Likhu Chuli I (6719 m) in Nepal and reached the summit by herself. Her partner, Thomas Senf, stayed in their upper camp not to get serious frostbites of his toes. Also, in 2011, Ines Papert and Wolfgang Russegger established “Quantum of Solace” (ABO, WI 7+, M7, 600 m) up the Great Wall of China in Kyrgyzstan. Together with her partner, Luka Lindič, Ines achieved her dream and opened the new route “Lost in China on Kyzyl Asker” (5842 m) in 2016.

Ines undertakes a lot of interviews, and it seems, that she is a responsible, and determined person, who promotes a love of mountaineering for her son. For her personally, ice climbing competitions, and alpinism, all these are not only about self-esteem, and leisure pursuits, but also about meetings associates, and about inspiration. Talking about her motherhood, and her extreme hobbies, Ines says, “I believe that one risks more if they face our daily routine, become dull, and depressed. It’s much more dangerous than conscious, and calculated mountaineering risks.”

In summer, in 2006, Ines made an impressive female ascent of “Camillotto Pellesier” (8b) on the North Face of Cima Grande, Italian Dolomites. She became the first woman to complete the route, that had been freed in 2003 by Mauro “Bubu” Bole. After that, she said, “My dream comes true, even if it sounds very bombastic”. <…> “It was my most complicated project. I had started making preparations for the project before the accident on the south face of Marmolada, but after that I had to postpone the idea for a year. Through thick and thin, that route became my light at the end of the tunnel. I did my best to get on my hind legs. Different awards doesn’t make me as happy, as the fact that I have redpointed that project.” (Read the interview with Ines Papert on very soon! – Ed. note)

Jacinda Hunter’s achievements are also fascinating. In 2010, she nabbed the first ascent of her project “Fantasy Island” (5.14b) in Utah’s American Fork Canyon. This is an impressive feat, considering that Hunter manages to find time for climbing along with a registered nurse career and four children. When we talk about female athletes and climbers, we have to remember, that some of them could be moms, they should manage to find time for their interests.

Once, Ines Papert shared her opinion about discrimination, “Even today sometimes I have to dismiss the criticism, that I am a woman. Well, alpinists don’t criticize… Only illiberal people. In particular, I have to make excuses, if I admit, that I’m a mother. They tell me that the mountaineering is dangerous. I try to explain, that driving is also dangerous. I guess, risks in high mountains depends on climbers’ experience. You have to be prepared to climb down a mountain, if it is necessary. I am responsible for two people now.”

In the late 2000s to present day, the gap between men and women has narrowed to a sliver. In 2011, Sasha DiGiulian became the first American woman to climb 5.14d with her ascent of “Pure Imagination” (later downgraded to 5.14c). However, Sasha wasn’t disappointed. It seems, that she is interested not only in climbing. Last year, Sasha DiGiulian climbed the three hardest big walls in the Canadian Rockies. Together with Tommy Joyce, she produced a film “Trilogy” about her epic climb. The film was awarded with the People’s Choice Award of Banff Film and Book Festival. Sasha DiGiulian is a delicate fashion icon, a strong climber, and a feminist, who advocates nature.

View this post on Instagram

I joined the @accessfund and @americanalpineclub in lobbying on Capitol Hill. – It has been an inspiring movement to be a part of. I feel grateful for the opportunity to use our voices and to advocate on behalf of our public lands with fellow athletes including @alexhonnold @tommycaldwell . Having a platform, to me, means vocalizing and standing up for what I believe in, and attempting to affect change. – During “Climb the Hill,” our objective was to share the importance of public lands, outdoor recreation, and improved climbing management with legislators, policy makers, and land management administrators. This was the fourth annual event in Washington DC and my fourth time out. – Collectively, we represent 12.5 Billion Dollars to the U.S. GDP, 7.7 million climbers, 7.6 million U.S. jobs created by the outdoor recreation economy, and 44,000 members committed to protecting public lands. – Key items on our agenda included: •Energy Development and Leasing Reform •Recreation Access and Enhancement •Public Land Management Agency Funding (including LWCF) •Recreation and Conservation Land Designations •Climate Change – I produced a video from this event (LINK in profile) for more information and insight into our days in Washington. 10am on a Tuesday ♥️ – Special thanks to @chuckschumer who we spoke about climate change with on the most epic balcony I’ve ever been on in DC, as well as the gracious Senators and Congressmen that met with us to discuss important policies. – Filmed by Adam Morrell @adamjmorrell Edited by @tjtriage Produced by Female Focused Adventures and @kati_hetrick

A post shared by S A S H A • D I G I U L I A N (@sashadigiulian) on

Photo: Elena Dmitrenko

In 2016, Ashima Shiraishi became the first woman, and youngest person (then 14), to top out the 8c boulder problem. She started bouldering when she was six years old. A few climbing routes have been marked, “Ashima is the youngest person to complete the route.” In April, she will celebrate her nineteenth birthday. She is going to continue climbing. We are able to keep watch over her.

In 2017, Margo Hayes made sport-climbing history when she clipped the chains on La Rambla (5.15a), becoming the first female to climb the grade. The grade 5.15a became the new female record. Nine months later, Angela Eiter climbed 5.15b “La Planta de Shiva” in Villanueva del Rosario (Spain). Only two athletes, Adam Ondra and Chris Sharma coped with 5.15c. The gap between men and women has become tiny. Furthermore, it is incredibly difficult to estimate the gap. We would like to say, that among men there aren’t many applicants to set new records.

Angela Eiter said, “It’s amazing, when women overcome barriers and push the boundaries. Many female athletes inspire other women. New climbers nab revolutionary ascents.”

And what about Russians speaking athletes? Aleksey Sergunin has already told about female climbers from the USSR. Let’s turn to the mountaineerers.

Katya Matyushevskaya the RMF (Russian Mountaineering Federation) gala evening, after the first “Steel Angel”. Photo: Olga Ivanitskaya

In 2008, Russian Mountaineering Federation organized the Mountaineering Championships in Caucasus, Uzunkol gorge. The Women’s Cup was the part of the program. Irina Morozova and Liana Darenskaya offered to hand out “Steel Angel” awards to female teams. Routes of different difficulty grades were estimated according to their complexity, and remoteness, the climbing style, and the media outcome, on social networks, in particular. The “Steel Angel” award is about the female mountaineering.

Irina Morozova. Photo: RMF archive

Irina Morozova was encouraged by Elena Nagovitsyna. She supported the women’s mountaineering, and fought gender stereotypes. Elena Nagovitsyna was an amazing person. She conquered peaks, she was keen on different kinds of sport, she graduated from two universities. Elena has made the new route on Zapadnyy Shatyor, the ascents of Aksu, Zamin-Karor, Erydag (Efimova, and Shchedrin routes), of Chapdara, Bodhona, Maria, Castle (Zamoc), Rudaki, Svbodnaya Korea, Hodja-Lokan, Tyutyu-Bashi (Herghiani route), the first ascent of Semyonova-Tyan-Shansky. Unfortunately, Elena died, climbing Bodhona in the Fann Mountains, in 2007.

There is a lot of talented female climbers in the USSR. For instance, the Ukrainian athlete, Marina Kopteva is a real star. She became the champion of Ukraine four times, won plenty of prizes and awards during different climbing competitions, got the “Steel Angel” award three times. She isn’t looking for easy routes! Galina Chibitok and Anna Yasinskaya together with Marina Kopteva got the “Golden Ice Axe of Russia” award in 2011. They climbed the Great Trango Tower wall. Eight years later, in 2019, Denis Prokofiev, Nikolai Matyushin and Marina Popova won the above mentioned award, because they nabbed the first ascent of the Tangra Tower in Pakistan.

Besides, in 2015, Marina Popova participated in the female expedition. They climbed the Block Peak. Also, she nabbed the first ascent of the Great Wall of China Peak a year later on a mixed sports team. She won the Russian Championships several times. Marina is happy to share her knowledge, and experience. She is the instructor, and one of the founders of the course “Aid Climbing School at Stolby”.

Irina Bakaleynikova. Photo: Elena Dmitrenko

Irina Bakaleynikova is a unique climber, her career started in XX, and her passionate interest in mountains and sports is extremely strong. Her experience is really magnificent, she started climbing, when she was eleven. Soon she became the Master of Sports in climbing. In 2012, together with Polina Galatsevich she won the Russian Championship in technical class among female teams, and got the Master of Sports in mountaineering. Irina Bakaleinikova continues to climb. She also teaches climbing at the Siberian Federal University.

Photo: Nadezhda Oleneva

Last year, Nadezhda Olenyova became one of the most productive climbers of the season. She participated in a complicated expedition to the South Muya Ridge, together with Evgeny Glazunov and Pavel Tkachenko, she nabbed the first ascent of the Kart Peak (700 m, 5Б), and the first ascent of the Dream (Mechta) Peak (800 m, 6A) of the South Muya Ridge. The team passed 120 km over 20 days. They crossed passes 10 times. Nadezhda won the “Steel Angel 2018” award. In 2018 and in 2019, she was nominated for two of her ascents. She climbed Morcheka together with Ksenia Mosina, and soloed Maliy Kilse-Burun, “Three Cornices”, 5Б (VI, A2, 235 m).

Besides, Nadezhda is engaged in important educational work. Together with Mikhail Kopylov she founded a mountaineering school in Perm.


If we tell about international prizes, women do not often win the awards. For instance, only two female athletes got Piolets d’Or. In 2016, Lise Billon won the coveted Piolet d’Or for her first ascent of ‘Hasta las webas’ (1000 m) on Cerro Riso Patron, Patagonia. It wasn’t only about the new route in an isolated area, all participants had tons of work to do, they had to think about everything, to do logistics, to organize overnight stops. Lise emphasized, that to participate in the mixed expedition was not about her gender, it was about her personal features.

Photo: Elena Dmitrenko

Chantel Astorga and Anne Gilbert Chase are amongst the top alpinists in the world. Over four days they made the first female ascent of the Slovak Direct (‎6135 m) on Denali. They spent three sleepless nights in the mountains, because of a chilly wind, and it was difficult to get warm. A year before, together with Jason Thompson, they climbed Nilkanta (6596 m), and completed the new route “Obscured Perception”. They received a special mention at the first Piolets d’Or in Poland for their innovative climb (within the framework of Ladek Mountain Festival).

Photo: Elena Dmitrenko

We would like to mention Maria Gordon again, and the GRIT&ROCK FIRST ASCENT EXPEDITION AWARD. Due to the grant, several female athletes have been already encouraged to participate in pioneering alpine ascents and to further the understanding and exploration of the unclimbed peaks. We had an opportunity to speak with Masha in December within the framework of the project WomenGoHigh. We are looking forward to the announcement of the list of recipients of grant 2020.

It is complicated to collect information about female climbers, it is absolutely impossible to mention all athletes. We would like to encourage you to make your own research. We hope, you would be excited to discover interesting facts, and to keep watch over female athletes!

To read previous parts
Part One

Part Two