“You climb like a boy.” At first, Sara Hansen took the words spoken to her by a talented male climber at the Angkor Climbing Wall in Siem Reap, Cambodia, as a compliment. “I was flattered, for a while,” she says. But, something about the statement didn’t sit right with her. “The gendered nature of the praise,” she would say later, “opened my eyes to the absence of female climbers in this part of the world.” Now this CS7 alum is setting out to do something about it.
With funding from Reed College, Sara will attend a climbing competition at the first climbing gym in Cambodia’s Phnom Penh and the first outdoor climbing startup in Kampot. Then, she will spend a week exploring the growing climbing culture in Krabi, Thailand which is quickly becoming a top climbing destination for its rich limestone formations along its ocean shores. Along the way, she says, she will explore what it means to “climb like a girl.” She will observe the gendered and demographic dynamics of the sport through personal participation, conversation, observation, and informal interviews. Her findings will be documented by creating a “zine” highlighting women climbers and their experiences. “I’m excited to create this because only around 4.5 percent of climbing guides around the world are written by women,” she says. The work will then be translated into Khmer, the official language of Cambodia, so that she can give copies of it away in each place that she climbs.” One climb at a time, Sara Hansen is building awareness of the role of gender in outdoor activities and helping all of us climb higher.