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From August 6-8, the gritstone outcrops of the English Peak District once again became the spiritual home of the Women’s Trad Festival. Now in its sixth year, the festival welcomed all marginalized and non-binary genders, ages, and levels of ability, creating a safe space for climbers to improve their skills and knowledge on the rock.
From its humble beginnings in 2016 when just 67 attendees gathered under a borrowed marquee, the festival has gathered momentum year by year and now hosts almost 350 trad enthusiasts. As climbing booms in popularity, the festival strives to create an inclusive learning environment and diversify the face of climbing.
The festival is run by Ellie Fuller, Charlie Low, Hetty Key, and Gilly McArthur, who focus on upholding three core values throughout the weekend: Mental Wellbeing, Sustainability, and Accessibility. As an off-grid festival, attendees are encouraged to enjoy a “digital detox” over the weekend, to switch off their phones, find focus, and embrace the positive effects of outdoor activity on their mental health.
Its infrastructure is environmentally friendly: from the composting toilets and extensive recycling facilities, to a bring-your-own cups and cutlery policy. And the availability of subsidized tickets and free gear rentals ensures that the festival is accessible to all. For climbers with kids in tow, a “Parent and Child” ticket provides instruction for the whole family—and alleviates any need for a babysitter.
“Learners” and “leaders” are thoughtfully matched on a 2:1 ratio based on their experience and future climbing goals. This year, 20 members of the Association of Mountaineering Instructors were on hand to support each leader in their professional development. Whilst the festival is female-led and focused at its core, men are welcome, too, and the festival enlists about 60 volunteer instructors of all genders.
Learner tickets cater to beginners putting on rock shoes for the first time, those making the transition from indoor to outdoor climbing, and sport climbers tentatively placing their first pieces of protection. Four types of workshop tickets were also available this year: Crack Climbing and Self Rescue clinics for the trad-aficionados, Learn to Lead sessions for the seasoned second, and Breaking Barriers workshops for those facing specific stumbling blocks in their trad climbing careers.
Morning yoga sessions loosened up learners and leaders alike for a big day on the rock, and dinner was enjoyed around the fire pits with “haybale sessions”: ice-breaker activities and sustainability discussions from the festival’s sponsors. After a fallow year in 2020 owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, the festival’s themes of Connection and Unity seemed especially important. Indeed, despite the “typical English weather”, friends new and old swapped stories of their days upon their return to basecamp.
As an organization, the Women’s Trad Festival continues their work towards a more diverse and accessible climbing community through their “Climbers Like Me” project; a series of photographs and interviews with everyday climbers to inspire and empower the role models of the future.
With thanks to our sponsors and supporters: AMI, Rab, Lowe Alpine, Pertex, DMM, Dometic, Tenaya, La Sportiva, Mountain Training, BAM Bamboo Clothing, BMC, Dirtbags Climbing, Outside Hathersage, Jackery UK and UKClimbing.
Visit the @womenstradfestival on Instagram and follow the hashtag #WomensTradFestival to see more from the weekend.
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