Sarah Hueniken is one of the strongest ice- and mixed-climbers in the world (regardless of gender) and while she does spend time competing, the majority of her year is dedicated to guiding and teaching the sport. She leads private trips for ice-, rock- and alpine-climbing for beginners and experts alike, from Mount Indefatigable to the Bugaboos and back again. We were most interested, however, in Hueniken’s annual all-women ice-climbing camp. On the first day of the camp, we met at Marble Canyon crag in British Columbia—a perfect playground for ice-climbers with its many spectacular frozen falls.
“I’ve been running ice camps for eight years now,” Hueniken tells us. “I took an Outward Bound course when I was 15 and ended up in an all-girl group. I thought it would suck, but it ended up being very confidence-building!” While she doesn’t believe climbing needs to be gendered, the all-women dynamic offers a different experience—one that oftentimes beginners especially appreciate. “It’s not better, not worse—just different and the women seem to really enjoy it,” she tells us, adding that over the years she’s watched the sport grow with women joining in more and more.
For this year’s camp, there are 10 women—all return participants except one—whose backgrounds and ages vary. There is a 56-year-old mother (who first climbed at 50), a former professional soccer player, a former logistics officer for the military, a 69-yea-old with a PhD in marriage and family therapy, an aspiring alpine guide and more. The one thing they have in common, of course, is a sense of adventure.
Crag climbing the first day, the group returns to Field, BC where they spend their nights at the Fireweed Hostel, which has lots of shared spaces for kicking back after a big day. Camp manager Sonja Johnson Findlater prepares family-style meals each night for the hungry climbers. “The evenings are always a fun time,” Hueniken says, “Listening to the stories from everyone’s day is the best part.” For the rest of the camp, the women set out in the picturesque Yoho National Park doing various multi-pitch routes with a two-to-one climber-to-guide ratio, meaning everybody receives more advanced training.
The small numbers and all-women dynamic means participants seem more likely to take on bigger adventures. Hueniken tells us, “They seem to step up a bit more to challenges and enjoy letting loose in the evenings. There’s some confidence through osmosis. When someone is able to climb something, it often has a domino effect and the others also want to try.”
Camps and courses with Sarah Hueniken run throughout the year, of course the season dictates which kind of climbing is undertaken.
Images by Kate Erwin