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Bobbi Bensman: What I’ve Learned

Boulder, Colorado, sales rep, has done 200 5.13s, last year bouldered V9, age “50 something.”

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The best thing about growing up climbing in Arizona was the community, the climbers. In Flagstaff the community was really strong and keen on making sure that you were doing everything as safely as possible.

The rules were strict. No chalk. Everything was ground up. If you fell, you lowered back down and started over again. You pulled the rope. No hangdogging, nothing like that. And you had to tell it like it is, black or white, nothing in between. You either did it or you didn’t.

Probably what I learned was overgripping [laughs], from the fear of falling and having to lower all the way to the ground and start again.

Those things are ingrained: Hold on for dear life, and try to do things the right way, and be open and honest.

***

From early redpoints in Europe I learned just how avid climbing was and how they were so much further along than we were. … Scott Franklin, Todd Skinner, Alan Watts—those guys were the first hangdoggers, and everybody said, Oh my god. Then you go to Europe and everyone’s doing it, so it was cool to see and learn that. I remember [at Smith Rock, Oregon, in 1987], Luisa Iovane and Heinz Mariacher hanging all over, and doing all these routes, and it was so inspiring seeing Luisa do Churning in the Wake [5.13a]. And thinking, This is my dream climb, and coming back the next year and doing it. You learn from your elders!

***

That was the beginning of hard sport climbing in North America. I was in on the early redpoint scene in American Fork and Logan Canyon and Smith Rock, so by the time I got to Rifle I knew the game, except you had to learn a whole new style. Those were such magical days, those early Rifle days. I took to the style of Rifle. It really suited me, really powerful, power endurance, bouldery, lots of underclings and sidecuts, and I felt like the people that were putting up the FAs, the Ruckman brothers and Kurt Smith and Mike Pont, put up awesome safe climbs and you could really push yourself.

***

[In early 2015], I was on a 5.12 sport route in Golden, The Old Man and the Sea, and it’s got a double roof. My feet were above the second roof, and I fell and went headfirst into the first one. I got a dragon’s egg on my forehead. I went to the emergency room, had to do a brain scan, had to see a neurologist. Everything was fine and I was lucky, but I never have been quite the same since. I got back on the horse but every time I was going, the day before I was nauseated and not psyched.

I quit climbing on a rope and just bouldered for five years.

Then in December of 2018 my new year’s resolution was getting back on a rope. I started for real in July. The day before I go, I still feel a little nauseous and nervous but not as bad, and I make myself do it every time, because I know it’s getting better, and I wear a helmet.

You kind of have to force it. You have to get over it.

I’m really pleased because I’m having a really good time. You gotta face your fears.

***

My early role models were Mari Gingery, Lynn Hill and Marylee Harrer. I would advise a young woman climber always to hook up with other women climbing partners. It will give you confidence and camaraderie and belief in yourself!

***

For hard climbing over the years, you have to stay on it. If you stop and come back it’s pretty desperate. It’s always really hard to get the fitness again, you’ve got to keep it and train and climb as much as you can and stay psyched.

***

I’ve always been a lifer. I mean, what’s the alternative, unless something happens where you can’t anymore.


This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 261 (January 2020).


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