6 minute read

Bolder Together

“My mum is Mexican, so I am half Latina, and you don’t see brown skin represented in climbing pictures that much. I identify as a feminist and part of the LGBTQ+ community, and it feels really important to me that I uplift my communities,” she says.

For the most part Anna finds climbing extremely inclusive, especially compared to normal life in America, though there are times when it can be a “total boys club”, not least online. “I’m not sure if that’s because there is more anonymity, but I definitely get attacked just for existing. Instagram can be bad, though it is generally more weird; YouTube is the worst.”

How does she handle it? “It seems like a necessary evil if I want to be in the spotlight [Anna has tens of thousands of followers on YouTube and Instagram]. It’s important to keep going and keep pushing, and I get some beautiful messages from people all around the world, who say thanks for just representing and showing joy, and allowing other people to also find that.”

As a child Anna had a lot of energy, so her parents tried her out at a variety of different sports in an attempt to channel it. She did swimming, three types of dance, and taekwondo – until the teacher asked her to leave as she couldn’t sit still on the mat when they came together at the end. Eventually, when she was around nine, they landed on long distance running. “I would run miles and miles every week. I didn’t love it, but it kept everyone happy and my grades good,” she says.

She continued to do track and field in her teens until just before her 16th birthday, when she was sitting out of a session pretending to be injured and a friend in the same situation suggested they go to the climbing gym. “It turns out, we both weren’t that injured,” she says dryly.

Anna describes that first session as “amazing”. Her friend had been before, and he set her off on an easy slab wall. “I remember getting to the top, and you physically had to top over. I was a little scared but really determined to do it, and then so proud and excited when I did,” she says. “It was so much better than running, I was instantly hooked.”

In the beginning, she climbed fast, perhaps a legacy from all those track and field meets, but she was never drawn into speed climbing or the broader contest scene at all. “Every time there was a comp, I always felt like it would be more fun to go outside,” she says. “I find it really comforting to have that connection to nature and I have a tendency to put too much pressure on myself anyway, so I didn’t want to add to that.”

She got into bouldering at her local crags in Southern California and then after graduating moved to Barcelona on a whim. It was while trad climbing on slabs in Catalonia that she learnt to edit videos and decided to set herself up on YouTube to document her experiences. Then and now, her videos paint a funny yet emotionally honest portrait of the highs and lows of climbing. In The Pursuit, a rock climbing video essay she filmed not long after moving to Catalonia, she almost breaks down. “I love putting the parts where I fail in,” she says. “I don’t like pretending I’m perfect on socials, as that causes so much more damage than good. No one is perfect, everyone is falling.”

What are the things that scare her the most when climbing? “I’m scared of falling and hurting myself if it’s a climb with ledges or weird features or if it’s really exposed, even if it’s safe, which I know is just my brain telling me that there is potential for injury; I have a very severe reaction to heights, so I’ve had to really work with that. And I really don’t want to fall, as that means I wasn’t able to do it, but I’m working through that as well – as obviously, one has to fall to learn and improve…”

Anna’s main strategies for handling her fears boil down to preparation and confidence. She often takes weeks to work out a climb, using a long-drawn-out process which includes throwing a rope down a face and rappelling down to rehearse the movements for the climb, where the best rests are, where the gear should go and so on. She might also practise some of the more difficult moves to reduce her risk of injury on the actual climb. “I’ve been developing the process over three years and it’s a good system, much better than just working my way up and hoping for the best,” she says.

The system gives her confidence on the wall, and she’s completed a number of challenging and exposed trad lines including The Walk of Life and Quarryman in the UK, and Spank the Monkey in Smith Rock, Oregon – the video edit of which featured an interview with Tommy Caldwell, another hero of hers.

Climbing in a slow and methodical manner helps her get into a flow state. “Now I understand what people mean when they say sports give them a break for meditation,” she says. “That’s what climbing has become for me. Once I figured out the flow, and gained more strength from climbing more, I got so addicted to it because it was calming for me.”

One thing she doesn’t do before a climb is watch beta videos, the instructional clips that are all over the internet explaining how to do specific routes, as she doesn’t want any spoilers. “Even if the climb has been done a hundred times and a hundred different ways, I want to figure it out [for myself],” she says.

Anna’s future plans include making many more videos and travelling. She wants to climb in Mexico and Chile, where the scene is quite established but still more lowkey than the US or Europe. And she also hopes to come back to the UK, where her climbing partner Tom Randall is based. “I hadn’t really heard much about climbing in the UK until I was there, and it turns out it’s pretty incredible. The sea cliff climbing I did in Devon is unlike any climbing I’ve ever done. You’re right on the ocean and you have these booming waves and it’s stunning. I felt I could just live on this little sea cliff for the rest of my life!”

Anna thinks people don’t often travel to the UK to climb because of the weather, but thanks to the success of her social channels and the associated sponsorship, she can afford to wait for the right conditions. “It might rain a lot, but I can work around it,” she says, demonstrating an adaptable attitude familiar to British climbers. One thing’s for sure, whenever she does return to these shores, it will be worth a watch.