Women climbers in Birmingham: how you can get involved

Kayla Lamb is one of the women climbers in Birmingham. Here she is at Sand Rock, in Alabama.
Kayla Lamb at Sand Rock. Photo by Ryan McCorvey

Women climbers in Birmingham are a big part of the surge in local popularity for the sport. With four local climbing gyms, several amazing outdoor climbing spots nearby, and a few specialized options, there are many ways you, too, can get in on the fun.

To give you a glimpse into the women’s climbing scene in Birmingham, I spoke with eight women climbers who train at local gyms: First Avenue Rocks, Birmingham Boulders, High Point Climbing and Fitness, and the UAB Climbing Club. We talked about their favorite things, where they climb, and making the sport more inclusive.

8 women climbers in Birmingham who train at 4 local climbing gyms

Ask women climbers in Birmingham what they love about the sport, and you start to see some themes: full-body movements, mental and physical challenges, constant opportunities for growth, love of the outdoors, and, above all, community.

Women climbers in Birmingham like to train at First Avenue Rocks and Birmingham Boulders.
First Avenue Rocks. Photo from Facebook

First Avenue Rocks and Birmingham Boulders are home to many women climbers in Birmingham

First Avenue Rocks, affectionately known as “First Ave,” has been home to many local climbers since 2009. Convenient to downtown, it’s located near the end of the Rotary Trail.

Over in West Homewood, Bouldering Authority, the group that owns First Ave, opened Birmingham Boulders, or “B2” in 2016 near Red Mountain Park.

Luckily, membership or a day pass gets you in to both locations. Also, kids are welcome in both spots, and B2 is a popular location for birthday parties.

1. Birmingham woman climber: Amanda Maze

I find climbing to be a beautiful sport, like dancing on a wall.

Amanda Maze
Amanda Maze is one of the women climbers in Birmingham. She's the head route-setter for First Avenue Rocks and Birmingham Boulders.
Amanda Maze setting at Birmingham Boulders. Photo by Joel Valencia

Amanda Maze is the head route-setter at First Ave and B2. An accomplished climber herself, she’s been involved in the sport for almost a decade. In the climbing industry, there’s only one female route setter for every ten males. This means with her small size and different abilities, she brings a fresh perspective and new problems to the wall.

Amanda Maze is one of the women climbers in Birmingham. Here she is forerunning a problem at First Ave.
Amanda Maze forerunning, or testing problems, at First Avenue Rocks. Photo by Joel Valencia

2. Birmingham woman climber: Jeanette Hightower

Jeanette Hightower is one of the women climbers in Birmingham. Here she is climbing at Horse Pens 40.
Jeanette Hightower climbing at Horse Pens 40. Photo by Tim Foote

Like Amanda, Jeanette Hightower has been climbing for almost a decade. Along the way, she’s had four breaks: once for an injury, and three times after the births of her children. Each time, she’s worked hard to get back into the sport, regaining her strength and ability.

While pregnant with her second and third children, she continued to climb. Now, she can be found at First Ave and B2 climbing with her whole family. When she’s not climbing, she’s a violinist and directs a local foundation that works to provide musical experiences to kids in under-served communities.

Jeanette Hightower is one of the women climbers in Birmingham. Here she is climbing at Horse Pens 40.
Jeanette Hightower climbing with a maternity harness. Photo by Will Hightower

3. Birmingham woman climber: Nancy Harrington

If you step into First Ave or B2, another regular you’ll quickly meet is Nancy Harrington. She manages both gyms, and comes with a wealth of outdoor adventure experience she brought to her previous gig as UAB’s Coordinator of Adventure Recreation. When she’s not at the gym, you may find her scaling a rock face like this one (below) in California. Nancy’s actually been climbing since she was six!

Nancy Harrington is one of the women climbers in Birmingham. Here she is climbing at Buttermilk in Bishop, California.
Nancy Harrington at Buttermilk, Bishop, CA. Photo by Lara Getz

High Point Climbing and Fitness is home to another whole set of women climbers in Birmingham

Women climbers in Birmingham gather at the Big Rad Ladies' Night at High Point Climbing and Fitness Birmingham.
Big Rad Ladies’ Night at High Point Climbing and Fitness Birmingham. Photo from Facebook

High Point Climbing and Fitness has been home to a vibrant crowd of climbers, yogis, weightlifters and kids since it opened its Birmingham location in 2016. They regularly host Ladies’ Nights. You don’t have to be a member to attend. Click here for details.

Next weekend, they’re hosting Round 3 and Finals for the Southern Grit Bouldering Competition on January 11-12. If you want, you can either go watch amazing climbers from all over come to compete, or enter in the all-levels part of the competition yourself. Details here.

4. Birmingham woman climber: Kayla Lamb

Climbing is like a body puzzle.

Kayla Lamb
Kayla Lamb is one of the women climbers in Birmingham. Here she is climbing at Little River Canyon.
Kayla Lamb climbing at Little River Canyon. Photo by Ryan McCorvey

For about nine years, since she was a voice student at ASFA killing time at First Ave with a friend when traffic was bad, Kalya Lamb’s been climbing. Even before that, when she was little, she was climbing trees, cabinets, you name it. Now, as one of the route-setters at High Point, she gets to share her passion with others.

5. Birmingham woman climber: Kelsey Moore

Kelsey Moore is one of the women climbers in Birmingham. Here she is climbing at Hospital Boulders north of Gadsden.
Kelsey Moore at Hospital Boulders, north of Gadsden. Photo by Ashlyn Brown

Kelsey Moore is High Point’s events manager, and organizes get-togethers like the Ladies Nights to bring people together for learning, friendship, and fun. Like several of the other folks featured here, she’s been climbing off and on for about a decade. After she moved back to Birmingham in 2016 from California, where she’d been working as a wilderness adventure guide, she got a job at High Point, where daily climbing has become her passion.

6. Birmingham woman climber: Jessi Reddick

Jessi Reddic is one of the women climbers in Birmingham. Here she is with a friend on top of Sandia Mountains in New Mexico.
While climbing’s a lot of work, there’s also time for being goofy. Jessi Reddick is on the right with her friend Alyssa Gammon on the left on top of the Sandia Mountains in New Mexico. Photo by Jessi Reddick

Jessi Reddick works as High Point’s programs coordinator, and is all about growing the community of climbing. She’s been climbing off and on for a decade, and has been working in the industry since 2011. Her favorite part of climbing – and there are many things she loves – is the people, and “having the shared experience. You’re not just climbing a rock face or mountain by yourself, you’re with a partner for a long day of laughing, joking and rock climbing.”

UAB Climbing Club welcomes women climbers in Birmingham

The UAB Climbing Club is one of homes of women climbers in Birmingham.
Indoor climbing wall at UAB’s Rec Center. Photo from University Recreation website

The UAB Climbing Club meets at the climbing wall in the UAB Rec Center. According to Olivia Dunne, the Club’s public relations officer, “anyone who’s involved with UAB gets a free pass there, whether they’re a grad student, a med student, they work at UAB or they’re an undergrad student.” People can do rope climbing and bouldering there, depending on the style they prefer.

7. Birmingham woman climber: Laura Wagstaff

As a former dancer, I love the full-body mindfulness, and how you have to be aware of what you’re moving.

Laura Wagstaff
Laura Wagstaff is one of the women climbers in Birmingham. Here she is climbing Golden Flake at Sand Rock.
Laura Wagstaff on Golden Flake at Sand Rock. Photo by Olivia Dunne

Laura Wagstaff got into climbing three years ago when her first year of college didn’t go the way she was hoping. She reached out to her high school friend Olivia Dunne, who said “come to UAB, we’ll live together,” and then proceeded to introduce her to folks in the climbing world. That welcome was what she needed to get hooked. Now she loves the adrenaline rush of challenging climbs.

8. Birmingham woman climber: Olivia Dunne

Olivia Dunne is one of the women climbers in Birmingham. Here she is climbing in a collegiate competition in Tuscaloosa.
Olivia Dunne competing at the T-Town Pull Down annual collegiate competition at the University of Alabama. Photo by Rachel Levkoff

Olivia Dunne’s been climbing for about five years. Interestingly, when she started, she was afraid of heights, but found it was a great way to become both mentally and physically stronger. She’s quick to let you know she “still can’t do 10 pull-ups,” but she now loves the meditative process of the sport.

4 specialized routes into the sport for women climbers in Birmingham

While the pictures and stories above might lead you to believe that only a certain type of person can climb, they’re really meant to show who you might meet should you decide to give it a try at a local gym. That said, there are a few speciality routes into climbing for folks who are looking for a slightly different type of experience than you might find just walking into a gym.

1. Catalyst Adaptive Climbing

The Birmingham chapter of Catalyst Sports works to provide people with physical disabilities the chance to try climbing. Since the Fall of 2017, they’ve been hosting adaptive climbing clinics at High Point. According to chapter coordinator Leigh Ann Tannler, they’re open to “anyone with a physical disability (including, but not limited to: spinal cord injury, visual and auditory impairments, brain injury, amputation, stroke, and cerebral palsy). All ages are welcome and no prior experience is necessary.”

Some of the women climbers in Birmingham help with Catalyst Adaptive Climbing, may have children who participate, or may participate themselves.
Preparing a climber and her grownup for ascent in the Wellman’s chair, an adaptive climbing chair. Photo by Lauren DeSano

The Adaptive Climbing Clinic is the 3rd Tuesday of every month at High Point Climbing and Fitness off Hwy 280 from 6:00-8:00PM. There is no cost for the event. They have a lot of special devices and helpers who can meet all different kinds of needs.

2. Regions Climbing Wall at the Lakeshore Foundation

Some of the women climbers in Birmingham are at the Lakeshore Foundation.
Women climbing on the Regions Climbing Wall during Lakeshore’s Amazing Race. Photo by Lakeshore Foundation

Back in 2006, people who were working in Lakeshore’s injured military program came up with the idea of a climbing wall. Now, “at specific times each week, you may find injured soldiers from Iraq or Afghanistan with one leg, kids from military families, other kids who are members, and a 70-year-old all climbing on the wall,” according to Damian Veasey, The Lakeshore Foundation’s associate director of communications. Fortunately, for the military women and men, it provides a challenge – something they did in training – and a way to stay physically fit. Plus, it’s a lot of fun for everyone.

3. Color the Crag Festival at Horse Pens 40

In October, this four-day festival takes place at Horse Pens 40. Its mission is “to celebrate diversity in the sport of rock climbing … and to increase access and exposure to historically marginalized communities by building relationships, encouraging leadership, and providing positive representation of climbing and physical activity among populations of color.” And, it’s got a great program of all kinds of clinics, with something for everyone.

4. Flash Foxy Women’s Climbing Festival

Still, as inclusive and supportive as the climbing world can be, there are times when it’s good for women to gather in women-only spaces. For this, Brooklyn-based Shelma Jun founded first an online community called Flash Foxy, and now two live women’s climbing festivals – one in Bishop, California, and one in Chattanooga, Tennessee. In addition to being a safe space for all types of women, the festival is intentional about being welcoming and inclusive to LGTBQ folks.

Some women climbers in Birmingham participate in the Flash Foxy Women's Climbing Festival, which is openly welcoming to LGTBQ women.
Participants at the 2018 Flash Foxy Women’s Climbing Festival in Chattanooga, TN. Photo from the festival’s official photo album

If you’re a longtime climber, or just want to give it a try, you’ve got plenty of opportunities here in Birmingham. You can check out First Avenue Rocks, Birmingham Boulders, High Point Climbing and Fitness, or UAB’s Climbing Club. If you’re looking for something a little more specialized, you can explore Catalyst Adaptive Climbing, The Lakeshore Foundation, Color the Crag, or Flash Foxy Women’s Climbing Festival.

Author: Sharron Mendel Swain

Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference