Climbing Cliffs and Breaking Ceilings

by Angelina Scarlotta | 1/8/20 2:05am

by Lauren Kim / The Dartmouth

Traditionally, the outdoors have been a male-controlled space. History remembers men as the explorers, the athletes, the scientists and women as the teachers, the nurses, the wives. However, the lines between men and the outdoors and women and the indoors have been blurred and bent in recent years — empowering women to take on roles in spaces where society had not commonly accepted them.  The Dartmouth Mountaineering Club has contributed to this movement in its own small way, the best way it knows how: by climbing cliffs and breaking ceilings.  

The DMC is a sub-club of the Dartmouth Outing Club focused on rock climbing in New Hampshire, as well as running trips to places like Thailand and Red Rock in southern Nevada. It was founded in 1936 by Jack Durrance ’39, 36 years before Dartmouth became coeducational in 1972. Though it took several terms for women to be elected to leadership roles within the Dartmouth Outing Club, Elise Erler ’76 was chosen as vice president and subsequently became the first woman on the directorate in the 1974-1975 year.

 Rachel Rubin ’20, DMC chair during the winter and spring terms of the 2018-2019 year, said that climbing at Dartmouth today has made her feel more comfortable and accepted due to the distinct female presence in the outdoor clubs on campus. 

“I think what’s been so amazing about becoming involved in the DOC and the DMC in particular is that I’d say there’s a pretty even gender split. A lot of the strongest climbers in our club for the past few years have been women,” Rubin said. 

Rubin spoke on the challenges of being a woman in the outdoors compared to her experiences at Dartmouth.

“I think the outdoor community on a broader scale, in the U.S. or even a further field than that, tends to be a little notorious for being male-dominated. And I’ve definitely experienced that outside of Dartmouth, and it was a little bit intimidating when I was first getting into outdoor sports,” Rubin said. 

Rubin began climbing during high school back home in Washington. D.C., though she said those climbing experiences were far different from the ones at Dartmouth. She explained that on the cliffs of the Potomac River, climbers top rope (a method where you are belayed and do not fall if you lose your grip), but on the crags of the Upper Valley — and in most of the world — climbers lead climb (a more technically advanced method where one person leads with the rope and you may fall a few meters).

Rubin said she found the change to be challenging but rewarding. 

“It was definitely a little scary, I would say. I think I’ve always struggled a little bit with fear in terms of climbing, but one of the more satisfying and motivating things for me has been learning how to control that fear to be able to do what I want to do and getting over those fears. Like I used to be scared of heights, and I’m not really anymore,” Rubin said. 

The Dartmouth Climbing Team is a subgroup of the DMC founded in 2016; the team practices at the Daniels Climbing Gym and competes in the USA Climbing: Collegiate Series, in which they received fourth place overall last season. 

Member Shaalin Sehra ’23 described the team’s first competition in October 2019 in Everett, MA. There were 12 climbs set for women; making it to certain markers on the climb would earn a certain number of points, and finishing the climb would earn 25 points. She finished all 12, leading her to clinch first place. 

Sehra is no stranger to competitive climbing, as she competed all through middle and high school. Sehra said that Dartmouth’s climbing team has been impressive to her particularly because of its strong female membership. 

 “Our team has a lot of strong female climbers. Especially right now, our interim team captain leads most of the stuff. So that’s been helping with making it a lot more friendly to women,” Sehra said. 

The aforementioned interim captain is Sophie Kwon ’22, who co-captained with Alex Quill ’21 this past fall; they were filling in for Roxie Holden ’21 and Marlee Montella ’21 who have returned to captain for the winter and spring. Kwon, a former USA Climbing National Team member who took second in her first competition, said she believes that women hold important leadership roles on the team, but that this is not evenly distributed amongst all levels. 

“I think that one thing I was really trying to work on is that we have really cool female leadership at the top of the climbing team, but not so much when you look at the entire ratio of males to females on the team. And that’s something I’m trying to work on ... I’m trying to, over the course of the year, get more women involved,” Kwon said. “Because I think that that would foster the culture that is needed for female leadership for years to come.” 

Sehra echoed these sentiments, noting that the newness of the team leaves room for improvement. 

“Here, I think it is supportive, but I think it’s more collegiate. And the climbing team is new so they’re still trying to figure out what’s the role of everybody, too,” Sehra said. 

As the DMC passes into its 84th year and the climbing team begins its next season, members will move forward with the goals of sustained progress and equal opportunity for women’s endeavors in the outdoors.