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Words By
Heather Weidner

Heather Weidner recently made headlines when she climbed the route ‘China Doll’ (5.14a/8b+) on trad gear; making her only the fourth woman in history to climb a 5.14 route on trad gear. (You can read an account of Heather’s ascent here). Having originally trained as a veterinarian, Heather is now a full-time climber and firm member of the Rab family. As someone who’s shifted her entire life’s focus to climbing and who has rapidly closed the gender gap, there was no one more appropriate for us to catch up with during #WomenOutdoors Week. So, how did Heather get into the climbing and what advice does she have for those who are just starting out?

Q. What was your first experience with outdoor sport?

“My first experience with outdoor sport was through horseback riding. I rode and showed horses as a kid in Las Vegas and even though it was super hot in the summers I just loved being able to escape the city feel on horseback.”

Q. #WomenOutdoors Week is all about encouraging more women to get outside and try new sports, like climbing. How did you get your first experience of climbing?

“I was 22 as an undergraduate in college in Fort Collins, CO. My boyfriend at the time was a climber and he took me to Vedauwoo, Wyoming for my first outdoor climb. Even though the fat crack country felt unnatural to me, I loved feeling connected to my environment.”

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Q. More women than ever are now involved in climbing, but what was the gender ratio like when you first started out?

“Even 14 years ago when I first started climbing there were not that many women climbers pushing their limits in the sport. I’d sport climb outside Vegas at the steep over-hanging limestone areas and rarely see another woman climber at those crags. That being said, if I’d heard a woman had climbed one of the harder routes I was super inspired- like maybe I could do that one day.”

Q. Do you think women face unique challenges in accessing outdoor activities/sport or is that overstated?

“I think there has been a dramatic shift in climbing for women in the past 5 years or so. With women breaking ground like Ashima, the boom in climbing gyms, and social media connecting us all, I feel like there is not much of a gender gap anymore. That may not be so true in the Alpinist world but surely for trad, sport, and bouldering I don’t feel in a man’s world.”

Q. What advice would you give someone who’s just starting out in climbing today?

“For someone just starting climbing today, I’d recommend getting to know people in your local gym and finding a mentor is tough but really helpful. The most important thing is to learn from someone safe.”

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Q. How do you fit climbing into your life?

“It’s easy now because I’m a full-time climber-ha! When I worked as a veterinarian full-time it was often exhausting climbing on my days off but also just good (necessary) for the soul. There were a few days I’d go out after work and climb by headlamp. You have to be super motivated and make each day out or training count.”

Q. What’s the best thing that climbing’s given you?

“The best thing climbing has given me is my family and a sense of community. I’ve never really felt like I belonged until I found this lifestyle.”

If Heather’s story has inspired you or someone you know to think about climbing, you can find out more about how to access the sport and #WomenOutdoors week on the BMC website.

Heather Weidner is a full-time rock climber from Las Vegas, NV, whose current focus is pushing the boundaries of trad climbing.

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