Friday, November 23, 2018

Book Review- Space below my feet by Gwen Moffat

I first came across Gwen Moffat through watching a short film by the talented Jenn Randall and Claire Carter - Operation Moffat. I was really interested to find out more about this extraordinary lady through her own words.  Being relatively new to climbing, I am only just learning about the history and what shaped the sport to be what it is now.  As a newly qualified climbing instructor with encouraging women to get into the outdoors being very high on my agenda,  I was really keen to read about Gwen and her take on being the first female guide in Britain. I started reading her story and not only I was instantly hooked by her excellent writing, it was obvious that this book will be something that I will recommend to all the girls who are interested in the outdoors.

Space Below My Feet follows Gwen, from when she was a young woman at the beginning of her climbing career, all the way to her professional season as the first ever female mountain guide. Everything was transient in Gwen's life apart from climbing, her love for the mountains and her family. Jobs, climbing partners, men, places to stay and everything else in between came and went.

As you are reading the book you can't help but call her badass. I constantly have to remind myself that the events did not take place last year or even a decade ago. This was the 1940s and 1950s where women who rejected conventional life were most definitely not a common thing and women in the outdoors even rarer. And those who swam in frozen lakes, hitch hiked to the Alps and spent months and months living from a tent were not really heard of. Even in 2018 to be fair.

It is also interesting to see how far we have progressed in the profession of professional guiding and instructing.  There are more women who are guiding or are instructors but we are very far away from equality. According to Mountain Training, as off 1st January 2018,  there are 38 women who hold the MIC (Winter Mountaineering Certificate). To put it into perspective, this is 6% of all award holders. Those statistics are really shocking and it goes to show how far we have to go and how important it is to support women in the outdoors, from grassroots, all the way to the top.

I like to think that I can endure some ''hardship'' in the mountains and that I have toughened up a little bit since I started to spend my time in the outdoors. Being hungry, wet and cold etc is all part of it to a certain extend and over time I am learning to deal with it. But in reality, I have a top of the range equipment which keeps me safe and dry, plenty of food in my bag to last a long time and always an opportunity to go somewhere when things get too tough. Gwen on the other hand, is actually 100% gnarly. Sleeping whilst freezing cold in deserted homes with often rats as the only company, going hungry, and enduring all sorts of hardship which is involved in mountaineering, all done in the name of love for the mountains.  If I can be 10% as gnarly as Gwen, I think I would take it quite happily.

Gwen is tough. But she is also vulnerable. She loves, gets scared and opens up to the world with her honesty. She talks about fear, men, babies and is unafraid to show herself in the full spectrum of human emotions and feelings. In this day and age where we perhaps try to only share the good bits of our lives, it is really refreshing to see a woman going through real life and sharing that with the world.

I really can relate to Gwen in so many ways. I too love wild swimming. I too am quite open about my fears and I also will prioritise climbing over most things in my life.  I don't have kids yet but once I do, I have a feeling that I will be the same like Gwen - parenting will be the most important thing for me and I will always have that at the back of my mind when I climb but I will never give up being in the mountains. Climbing and being in the outdoors is so deeply important to me and I will have to learn to juggle these two crucial parts of my life. She seems to have done just fine even if it at points involved asking a random passer by to hold her baby whilst she climbs a route. Would I do that? If I was itching to climb so much and the passer by was legit? Yeah I would. 

I think for me, one of the most important qualities in a person is honesty. I too try to be quite open, especially about my fears as I find that this actually helps others. The thing which is the hardest for us to talk about and to share is usually exactly what helps others with their own struggles.  I once heard  Mina Leslie-Wujastyk who is a professional climber talk about how she feels scared taking falls whilst sport climbing and how she really had to work on it.  I was quite surprised at this fact as I thought that professional climbers can't feel fear and that my own fear of falling was isolated to me. That moment has given me a lot of inspiration and I realised that talking honestly can mean that other people can really empower themselves. Gwen has this quality in her writing a lot. Her way of honestly portraying the events of her life as well as her feelings makes her extremely relatable.  She is a woman who is unafraid to be who she really is.

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