After an hour’s drive northwest of downtown Madison, aspiring rock climbers don’t have to go anywhere but up.
Devil’s Lake State Park, just south of Baraboo, offers hundreds of climbing opportunities, to elevations up to 1,450 feet. And this weekend, the state park will be home to participants and instructors of Chicks Rock!, a three-day, women-only intensive rock-climbing clinic.
“We really want women to learn the skills that make them a self-sufficient, self-reliant climber,” says Head Chick Kim Reynolds, who started the program in 2009. “Any aspect of climbing initially can be a bit intimidating because of the anchor systems, the rope systems, all these things that might be unfamiliar. We really want to familiarize women with the gear, with the technical aspects of climbing so it’s approachable.”
The Devil’s Lake clinic, held once a year, features instruction for women of all levels from tying knots to climbing techniques with a wide variety of climbs, easy access to trails and quality rock.
Women who have never climbed before can focus on footwork and anchors, while more advanced climbers can work on self-rescuing and leading techniques, Reynolds said. Demo gear and personalized instruction is provided.
“We educate them, we don’t just put the rope up there and say ‘go,’” renowned climber and Girly Guide Dawn Glanc says.
But, unlike typical rock climbing instruction, time spent off the rock is just as valuable as time spent on it, according to past participants.
While climbing clinics typically take place solely during the day, women at Chicks Rock! spend an entire weekend together. At Devil’s Lake, the group -- 16 participants and four instructors at full capacity -- not only climbs together, but also eats, swims and camps together.
“We’re together in the evenings, and we get to hang out with the guides and do a lot of socializing together, it’s way more than a climbing clinic,” says long-time Chicks Rock! participant and local liaison Anne Hughes. “And the nature of the fact that this is an adventure sport tends to attract very interesting women.”
Born out of Chicks with Picks, a women’s ice climbing program based in Ouray, Colo., Chicks Rock! clinics are also hosted in Red Rocks, Nev.; New River Gorge, W. Va.; and Keene Valley, N.Y. Reynolds said the Devil’s Lake clinic has become the most popular installment.
The climbing techniques taught at the clinic focus on footwork, despite a climbing stereotype that places reliance on upper body strength.
“Chicks is really good at teaching women how to use their feet almost more than they’re using their upper body to climb,” participant and Marketing and Social Media Chick Maija Burkert says. “The more that you can rely on your feet, the better you are.”
Hughes, who works as a part-time climbing instructor at Madison’s Boulders Climbing Gym, agrees. She says climbers should use their hands to pull themselves into the rock, rather than try to use arm strength to pull themselves up. But, to move across rock, climbers get a full-body workout.
The weekend kicks off at 8 p.m. Thursday at Boulders, 3964 Commercial Ave., with a presentation by Glanc, who conquered a climb in Montenegro — known for its rough climbing terrain — in 2010. The presentation is open to the public.
Glanc, Hughes and Reynolds hope the days to follow will prove to be an empowering adventure.
“The nature of climbing, like other sports, can be a metaphor for how you face risks and challenges in life,” said Hughes. “You can learn from getting through a fearful experience climbing and then maybe face other things in life that aren’t physical with that kind of empowerment in mind. It’s like a practice situation for life.”