Q&A with Molly Mitchell – A Female First Ascent!

We sat down with ENO athlete and inspirational female climber, Molly Mitchell, to hear her adventures filled with first ascents, redpoints, and how she deals with being so awesome! This is her story:

"The Spoiled Moose" by Kyle Berkompas + Spark Shop Films
“The Spoiled Moose” by Kyle Berkompas + Spark Shop Films

Q1: Tell us a little bit about who you are and your background:

 

I am 22 years old. I am a rock climber, currently based out of Boulder, CO. I have been climbing for almost 6 years. I started climbing in gyms, and I quickly became a boulderer and sport climber outside. In March 2015,  I began to focus all of my energy on Traditional Climbing, which involves placing my own gear and trusting it as I climb. Traditional Climbing, or Trad Climbing, is the culmination of everything I am passionate about in climbing. Trad climbing clicks with me – it allows me to test myself on hard routes that can also be very scary. I love to test myself on climbs that not many people (or no one at all) have done before.The fear factor in climbing is something that inspires me immensely. Whether it be fear of failure or fear of getting hurt – my favorite thing about climbing is learning how to deal with all the feelings and emotions that I experience during a climb.

Trad routes are commonly rated by their difficulty and safety level. Just like movies, they are given ratings from G to X. In July, I achieved the First Female Ascent of “Beethoven’s Fifth,” a 5.12+ PG-13 trad route in Boulder Canyon, CO. In September, I achieved the First Redpoint (placing all your own gear while leading) Ascent of “Stranded at Sea,” a 5.12+ R/X rated route in Vedauwoo, WY. And, in October, I achieved the First Ascent of a route I named, “The Spoiled Moose,” 5.13- R in Boulder Canyon. All of these routes have tested me physically, mentally, and emotionally. I have learned so much about climbing, others, and myself in the past few months trad climbing. And I can’t wait for what the future holds. Good thing I have my ENO Hammock for wherever I decide to go ;).

 

Q2: What/who got you into climbing?

 

I have always been very active throughout my life. I was an avid gymnast for many years, and I also ran track for a few years. I found out about rock climbing when I was about 11 years old. My dad took me on an adventure style trip to Yosemite. There I got to see people bivvying on the sides of cliffs, and I got to try top roping for my first time. Something clicked and I fell in love with the sport, lifestyle, and adventure of climbing. I tried to convince my parents over the years to allow me to climb, but there was not a climbing gym near enough to where we lived that my parents would want to drop me off after school at. Soon after I turned 16, I convinced my parents to allow me to go away to a summer climbing camp in North Carolina with Fox Mountain Guides. When I came back, I was hooked! I finally had my driver’s license, and so I signed up with a gym about 45 minutes from my house. What started with allowance to go to the climbing gym on the weekends shortly turned into going almost every day after school!

Q3: Tell us about your recent First Female Ascent!!!

 

Beethoven’s Fifth” is a notoriously hard, scary route at Bell Buttress in Boulder Canyon. It is rated 5.12d. I had been looking for a hard, somewhat dicey route to project this Summer. I practiced working the route on top-rope until I felt like I was ready to lead and go for the send. The route has extremely small and tricky gear placements in the beginning – making it a “no fall zone” because the fall would be really dangerous. After this bottom section, the climbing is more casual until the very top. I place two small pieces before the crux section, which is a bit run-out. When I lead the route the first time, I took a huge fall off the top. This definitely spooked me, but luckily all my gear held. I ended up sending the route the next day out. It was sort of a rush of emotions as I clipped the anchor at the top and lowered off. I had to fight really hard and ended up screaming through a few moves. It definitely took physical strength as well as serious mental commitment to climb this! From the research I have done, I believe this is the First Female Ascent of this route.

"Beethoven's Fifth" by Craig Hoffman
“Beethoven’s Fifth” by Craig Hoffman

Q4: Do you have a climber nickname?

 

I don’t necessarily have a climber nickname… but I really love moose, and I have earned a nickname for that. My friends and I have been practicing moose calls out in Vedauwoo, Wyoming recently! They gave me the nickname, “Mooselly.” It is sort of a running joke between us to rename everything with the word moose in it. I really like to goof around and keep things lighthearted whenever I can. It keeps everyone psyched and having a good time – no matter how or what we are climbing!

 

Q5: What is your main inspiration for climbing?

 

It is difficult to pinpoint one inspiration. I love that climbing pushes me both mentally and physically. I have always followed my heart and passions when it comes to climbing, which I believe is a huge factor in my recent success. I sort of had a revelation to where my passion stems from when I came down with a viral thyroid disease known as thyroiditis back at the end of 2013. With this disease, I was feeling tired, weak, and lightheaded all of the time. It was hard to deal with this as well as school and climbing. Good days became more and more rare, while bad days became more typical. Fighting through something like this taught me to always value the good days, and to find the good in the bad. I do not want to take anything for granted. There are opportunities everywhere! I love that climbing has taught me to stand up for myself. Just because no woman (or no one at all) has done a climb before… does not mean that I should not consider going for it.

Make goals, find a way to make them happen, but also know that things rarely work out exactly the way we plan for them to. My passion in climbing and in life is to experience everything that I can, push myself to be strong and be vulnerable, and hopefully inspire others to go for whatever they feel drawn to do.

Q6: What is your favorite funny, scary, or memorable climbing moment to share?

 

There are so many! Funny and scary pretty much describes a typical day out trad climbing with my friends and me! 🙂

As for most memorable, I believe that anytime I have had a breakthrough in climbing it has really stuck with me. The first time I ever trad climbed was back in March, and I lead a 5.11 in Eldorado Canyon and sent it. It was my first time climbing on my own gear placements, so I had to trust my own knowledge of what a good placement looked like. I didn’t really think too much of it, but when I came down, people below were shocked and congratulating me on the fact that my first trad lead was a 5.11. Promptly after, I got on a 5.12c and lead it as well. I fell on it in the crux section, and all my gear held. It was an exhilarating feeling to see the mental and physical aspects of the sport culminating into one. I immediately was hooked on trad climbing. To me, it is the ultimate form of climbing. This was a huge eye opening experience for me because I felt I had finally found my niche in the world of climbing. I fell in love that day and never looked back. The next day out, I sent that 5.12c, which is called “The Evictor.”

Q7: How would you describe the sport of climbing and its athletes?

 

I feel that climbing has grown so much over the past decade. The cool thing about climbing is there are so many facets to it. I know people who only competition gym climb, only boulder, only sport climb, only trad climb, etc. And then I know people who do it all. There are so many ways to find your passion and express yourself in climbing. It appeals to all personality types and all ages. I think what connects us all though is the common link of feeling “psyched.” When you see someone light up because they are so determined and focused to do a route or boulder problem, you can’t help but want them to succeed. Everyone feeds off each other’s psych levels. I am constantly inspired by everyone around me. They can be a pro climber or just starting out, a climbing legend or a kid. Some of my biggest inspirations are my closest friends – we all get psyched by similar things and love being outside having fun.

Q8: What is your next goal?

 

I want to climb 5.13 trad by the end of the year. I am currently working on a route that I feel could potentially complete that goal soon. 🙂

"Stranded at Sea" by John Evans
“Stranded at Sea” by John Evans

Q9: Any tips for beginners or skeptics?

 

One of my favorite quotes is by Dan Millman. He states, Awareness in sport, in relationships, in any learning, often entails a momentary drop in self-esteem, a dent in self-image. But this willingness to clearly see and acknowledge our many mistakes – to doggedly but temporarily make a fool of ourselves – opens the door to body mind mastery. When we feel like we’re “getting worse,” we are finally ready to get much better.”

Climbing is hard. It’s not going to come easy. Sometimes you really have to suffer to succeed. You have to learn to love the process – love the suffering, love the small victories, and (as cliché as it sounds) enjoy the journey! It is hard to balance pushing yourself to set goals and achieve things without also putting pressure on yourself. I think that going through all of these feelings are completely normal though. It is important to learn to defuse from thoughts and emotions. Someone once said to me, “anything worth doing is worth accepting that you may not be able to do it.” Go for it. Let yourself become completely vulnerable to failure. It has its place too.