CLIMB // 01 JUNE 2022
MEET THE BOOBS
“I’ve taken very few falls because I am a pussy. I’ll put that out there” laughed Ally Malone, a founding member of Climbing with Boobs, an Instagram page dedicated to sharing the founding trio’s sends and some of the silly parts of climbing.
“She’s not!” interjected co-Founder Rachel Fletcher, leaning over the center console from the backseat between Malone and the final co-Founder Katie Vaughan. “Just with leads, but not with bouldering. She’ll send boulders outside that I won’t send. I’m not comfortable falling off a twelve foot boulder from the top, but she’ll do that. We all have [our thing].”
“She’s the boulder girl,” Fletcher said, pointing to Malone.
“I’m the trad girl,” Fletcher said, pointing to herself.
“And she’s the sport girl,” Fletcher smiled, pointing to Vaughan. “We complete each other.”
Initially acquaintances, the trio became friends while climbing at their local climbing gym. “[You] know how people just start talking to each other and we all started talking to each other,” laughed Vaughan. However, it was a trip up to Pilot Mountain in North Carolina that solidified the group.
While climbing together regularly, the idea to start an Instagram page came up. “It just started out because we’re like, let’s just do something to share our sends on. We can make it together and have fun,” explained Malone.
“Honestly, we didn’t expect anyone to ever pay attention to our sends at all,” laughed Fletcher.
Looking to grow their Instagram page and share their climbs with a wider audience, Malone decided to start a TikTok. “[It’s] because she’s young and relatable,” smiled Fletcher. So relatable in fact that their first video received 20 million views. “I came up with the idea while I was sitting on the toilet at work,” laughed Malone. The video, which joked about which climbing holds are good and which ones suck, reached all over the world, far beyond the intended climbing community niche.
“I actually refused to download TikTok for a very long time,” smiled Vaughan. “I was like, I will only do it if we get famous.” Her reverse-psychology manifestation worked. “Yeah, I downloaded TikTok.”
Now the group receives regular messages from young girls and other women thanking them for inspiring them to climb and asking for advice. For the Boobs, the page has become more than just a place to post their climbs. “I see it as more like we’re helping people, and it’s like a really cool outlet to encourage [others]. We love encouraging women, being really positive and talking about real stuff, but also making jokes. The best way to cope with life is, like, humor, I think,” explained Fletcher.
“Those messages, sometimes they make me cry,” continued Malone. “People messaging and just being able to share that part of things. I personally had no idea climbing existed for a long time. Then once I started doing it, it totally changed my life. It’s cool to be able to share that with other people and possibly other people’s lives can be changed by starting to climb too.”
Even though they have attracted the attention of several sponsors, the Boobs have held off working with brands, waiting to find companies that align with their principles. At least that was the case until they were contacted by Girlfriend Collective. Malone explained, “We looked at their stuff, like, saw that they make sustainable clothing, and it was really cool.”
“All skin colors, all body types,” continued Fletcher.
“We absolutely love that,” said Malone. “This is definitely something that we want to do and it was crazy. It was just so crazy to have this brand with a verified checkmark reach out and want us to [promote their product].”
Upon opening the package, they were a little confused. “They sent us dresses instead of leggings,” chuckled Vaughan. A little concerned with the logistics around harnesses, they powered through and brought the dresses to the gym. It ended up being a success with the Boobs getting compliments from other women at the gym.
“We also noticed a lot of dudes were just, like, staring at us,” laughed Fletcher. “They were definitely like, I feel like they pre-judged. She’s wearing a dress she doesn’t send. Then it felt good to send in a dress and sending hard.”
“Honestly,” said Malone. “It was definitely a freeing experience for me to climb in a dress. Because I don’t wear dresses that much as a person in general. I feel at my best when I’m climbing and working on stuff, I feel mentally free, I feel physically strong, and I feel proud of myself. So to do that while I’m wearing this pretty dress, it really was like, I’m embracing my femininity right now.”
Though they’ve enjoyed connecting with other climbers around the world via the internet, they’ve taken some precautions against the negative side of social media. Keyboard crusaders and classic internet trolls will hop on posts to give unsolicited advice, sometimes sending specific videos with notes to the individual climbers. “They’ll correct me on how I place my protection or how I extended a draw,” explained Fletcher about some of her trad climbing videos. “I’m like, are you doing that to other dudes? Because, I feel like you’re not. I feel like you’re only doing that to me because I’m a woman and you feel in some way justified to [critique me].”
“I’m really about safety, so I’m always open to learning and being corrected, but sometimes I don’t know if it’s with the right motive.”
To create a mental barrier between their social media and climbing, preserving the sport for their own enjoyment, the Boobs don’t post their grades on Tiktok. As Malone explained, “At the end of the day, negativity does affect you as much as you try to laugh it off.”
The pressure of social media hasn’t been all negative though, there are times when the group has been motivated in their climbs knowing they need to post to the page. “It has made me feel like I should be leading more often,” laughed Vaughan. “I can flash an eleven on top rope and forever all of my friends have been like, you should be leading these and I just haven’t been. Everybody on Instagram is leading their elevens. So I was like, fuck, I’m going to do it and now I have to.”
Usually climbing together, the Boobs have been separated the past couple of months with Fletcher helping her husband open an addiction treatment center and program called Moving Mountains Recovery. The program, for which Fletcher is a community liaison, works to not only help patients with their recovery, but to guide patients in creating a new life. They provide opportunities for patients to try outdoor activities, helping them seek new passions to aid their recovery journey. Fletcher explained, “I’m five years sober. So for me, climbing is more than a sport, it’s my recovery. If I have a really shitty day, I can go climbing and everything goes out the window. I can’t think of anything going on but what I’m doing, especially when I’m lead climbing, because I’m literally just thinking I’m going to die.”
With the move just around the corner, and Fletcher in and out of state, the group has focused on maintaining the status quo, posting consistently to their pages and supporting the community when opportunities arise. Even amongst all the life changing events, the Boobs have their climbing goals set for the year.
“I’m really excited to be able to live in New Jersey and climb outdoors way more often and have accessibility to outdoor boulders,” explained Malone. “In the Gunks, there’s a couple of outdoor boulders there that are on my project list and I’m actually excited to be able to project them. My goal really before the end of the year is to send a V7 in bouldering, which I’ve come close to, but have not succeeded.”
Fletcher continued, “My goal is to lead as much trad as possible and just get super intuitive with placing protection.”
“I would like to just stop being afraid of falling,” smiled Vaughan. “When I top rope things, I’ll do crazy moves. I have no fear. When I’m on lead or on the boulder wall, I second guess all the time the move that I’m about to make, even though I definitely could make the move, I just don’t. So that’s my goal, I just want to not be afraid.”
Attacking that fear head-on, the trio divulged their plan for their session that evening. “We’re going to try to start a trend called #WhipDay,” grinned Fletcher. “It’s just a night where you focus on whipping, just building mental strength because we’re all strong, but we are scared as fuck.”
Constantly pushing one another while cracking jokes, Climbing with Boobs is a close knit climbing crew whose positive vibes radiate beyond the boundaries of their photos and videos. Overflowing with a passion for climbing and a dynamic that makes any climber feel like they could be friends with the group, it’s no surprise that so many people have been inspired by the Boobs.
“When I meet women, I’m always like, what are you passionate about?” smiled Fletcher. “I can’t tell you how often someone will pause. They’ve probably never been asked that, and there’s something so cool about chasing after things that you want to progress in and to have friendships that you meet through it.” Laughing alongside two best friends, found among the ropes and boulders of a climbing gym, she seems to be onto something.