A group of women will band together to hit the Orono rock climbing gym this winter for “Girls Rock,” a program led by Kim Robichaud, one of the most accomplished female climbers to come out of the state of Maine. To join them, participants must register with the Bangor Y by Jan. 1.
This six-week program — $100 for Bangor Y members and $135 for nonmembers — is designed for women of all abilities, ages 14 and older, and will take place on Tuesday afternoons from Jan. 15 to Feb. 19.
Participants will meet at 3:30 p.m. at the Bangor Y and be transported to the Maine Bound climbing gym on the University of Maine campus in Orono. All climbing equipment — harnesses, shoes, ropes and other gear — will be provided. The group will return to Bangor by 6:30 p.m.
At Maine Bound, Tuesday evenings are for female climbers only, so the class will truly be an experience for women.
About the climbing instructor
Kim Robichaud, 32, grew up in Millinocket and Old Town. She currently lives in Orrington with her husband, Jeremy, and twin 6-year-old sons, and teaches at the Bangor Hayworth Academic Center.
She began climbing in 1997 and quickly progressed to be ranked as one of the top 10 female climbers in North America by the American Bouldering Series from 2000 to 2002 (reaching second place on that list in 2001). Internationally, in 2001, she placed seventh in Super Bloc, a competition in Florence, Italy, against some of the best climbers in the world.
Her passion for climbing has led her to the world’s top climbing destinations, including Smugglers’ Notch (Vermont), Joshua Tree National Park (California), Rifle Mountain Park (Colorado), Hueco Tanks State Historical Park (Texas), The Gunks (New York), Rumney (New Hampshire), Yosemite (California) and Flagstaff Mountain (Arizona).
But the climbing destinations she’s most familiar with are in Maine.
Locally, Robichaud is best known for dozens of first ascents in the boulder fields of Clifton and Dedham, and for winning the Boulder Bash, the University of Maine’s annual climbing competition, for eight consecutive years.
And as a licensed climbing guide by the Professional Climbing Instructors Association, she is able to share the sport with others.
Q & A with Robichaud
BDN: Why did you choose for it to be a female-only course?
Robichaud: Well, some women are just intimidated to go into the climbing gym when they don’t know anyone, so this is just to open the door and make people feel really comfortable. And also, I really like teaching rock climbing to women specifically because women share a lot of the same abilities. Often, they have better balance and a different approach to movement than men.
BDN: How did you get into climbing?
Robichaud: As a kid growing up in Millinocket, I was really passionate about the outdoors — hiking, kayaking and whitewater rafting. And when I moved to Bangor, I started going to the climbing gym for the first time. It was a different kind of sport but very gymnastic-like, and I had studied gymnastics as well. When I went to college, it became a competitive sport to me, which fit my competitive personality. But at this time in my life, I don’t do it competitively. I just do it for fun, and this is perfect location for it. There are so many beautiful places to climb in Acadia and in the Bangor area.
BDN: Do you have a favorite climbing experience outside of the U.S.?
Robichaud: Definitely my favorite international experience was in Chresciano and Chironico, Switzerland, and oddly enough, if I were to describe those places, they would sound pretty much like Maine — a lot of boreal forest and granite boulders and crystally rock. I definitely have a soft spot for Maine climbing.
BDN: What are your overall goals for the “Girls Rock” program?
Robichaud: My first goal is to cover belay basics and make sure everybody is safely, competently belaying and comfortable belaying. The next goal is to go over the principles of anchor building if people want to take it to the next level and climb outside. We’ll go over some principles of lead climbing for people who are really serious about it. And then some movement techniques — to understand how to get your body to do what it needs to do to rock climb.
BDN: From your perspective, what’s the climbing community like in Maine and more specifically, the women climbing community?
Robichaud: It’s not huge, but it’s a very cohesive group in Maine, and there’s a great flow of information about climbing areas. It does include both men and women, but I would definitely say that more men are visible in the rock climbing community. But there are definitely some strong women rock climbers in Maine, and they’re dedicated.
I’d say, at this point, [the Maine climbing community] is an older group, in the sense that it’s mostly college-age and older. So I’m kind of hoping that this program will reinforce climbing in college age and up and introduce it to younger people as well — make it more accessible to all ages — as high school is a great time to start climbing.
BDN: What motivates you to pass this sport on to other women in Maine?
Robichaud: First, there’s the selfish reason. Personally, I’d love to have more female climbing partners, for the companionship. I think that it’s partially a male-dominated sport right now — although that’s changing — just because women haven’t had the opportunity or have been intimidated or for whatever reason haven’t been introduced to climbing. I’d love to see those numbers go up. It’s just an awesome sport, and I want to share it with everyone. So many people are doing yoga, and that’s one of the things that helps your climbing and balance. I’m sure there are a lot of people who would be really good at climbing but never tried it.
BDN: What do you enjoy most about climbing?
Robichaud: I like the being outdoors part. I like the movement. For the same reason a lot of people enjoy yoga and running, they’ll enjoy climbing because it can be physically challenging, but it can also be mentally challenging. On some routes, it’s not that your body won’t do it, it’s that your mind won’t do it because you’re scared or nervous or can’t figure out the movement.
BDN: Have you ever heard any assumptions about rock climbing that are just way off the mark?
Robichaud: I hear from a lot of people how dangerous it is, and usually, those comments are coming from people who have never rock climbed and their only exposure to rock climbing is in the movies where people don’t have ropes or harnesses. It can be really safe. And really, all ages and abilities can do rock climbing. It’s not just for the super athletes or the super young. I meet climbers of all ages and abilities, and it can be fun no matter what your skill level.
BDN: Can you sign up for this course if you have no prior experience climbing?
Robichaud: Definitely. We expect at least some people will come as complete beginners. You really don’t need any prior experience whatsoever. January is a great time for this program because people will learn to climb indoors in January and February and that will hopefully motivate people for spring climbing outdoors.
To sign up for “Girls Rock,” call the Bangor Y at 941-2808 or register online at www.bangory.org/content/5014/girls-rock before Jan. 1.