The general consensus amongst attendees and organisers alike, was that the 2021 Women's Trad Festival was 'much needed'. After a fallow year and all that 2020 brought with it, for many it felt like a breath of fresh air to finally arrive at the gates of Clark Farm in Sheffield last Friday. Now in its sixth year, the festival run by Ellie Fuller, Charlie Low, Hetty Key and Gilly McArthur focuses on three core values of Mental Wellbeing, Sustainability and Accessibility, something that the organisers are passionately committed to investing in year-on-year.
Those core values underpin everything from the toilets to the teabags at the festival site. Recyclables and organic waste are separated in various receptacles, the entire site is solar-powered (and functioned seamlessly despite sunshine being in short supply over the weekend), there is no single-use crockery provided by food vendors and the wash-up facilities are furnished with waterway-friendly detergent. The availability of subsidised tickets and free to borrow clothing and climbing gear from sponsors DMM, La Sportiva, Tenaya and Lowe Alpine supported those facing financial barriers in attending the festival, and this year a week-long ballot application system was put in place in order to make ticket allocation fairer for all after the 2019 festival sold out in a matter of seconds. Each learner is carefully matched with another learner and leader based on their previous experience, ability and ambitions for the weekend and this year, 20 AMI professionals were on hand as mentors to the leaders to help further develop their instructional skills.
This year's festival welcomed over 300 attendees despite the dubious-looking forecast. Friday afternoon saw hoards of excited learners and leaders line up under the marquee to register with the core volunteer crew, gifted with a hand-crafted goody bag full of genuinely useful stuff from the festival's sponsors including heavenly-soft, sustainable socks from BAM and the bag itself lovingly made from repurposed Pertex fabric by environmentally-conscious climbing brand Dirtbags. Tents sprung up across the field, encircled by an army of campervans and in the unexpected but very much welcome evening sun, multi-colour clad climbers began to mingle and gather on haybales surrounding the fire pits. The BMC were on hand to talk all things mountaineering, maps and sphagnum moss and representatives from Rab ran an icebreaker activity throughout the evening that saw strangers become friends as the sun went down over the Sheffield skyline.
Saturday got off to a bright and breezy start with a morning yoga session held on the grass, and caffeine kicks for those less lively in a morning provided by Elliot's Coffee Van. Loosened up and with last-minute nerves soothed, learners and leaders convened to discuss what they hoped to achieve and after a welcome speech by festival organiser and compere Gilly McArthur, piled into cars and headed for the crag. Miraculously, the rain held off for most of the day and supportive whoops and excited laughter echoed along the gritstone in cheerful contrast to the grey skies.
The festival this year offered four types of workshop ticket alongside the usual learner sessions including a Learn to Lead workshop supported by Mountain Training, Breaking Barriers run by the Association of Mountaineering Instructors and Self Rescue and Crack Climbing workshops with DMM. Learner tickets cater for total beginners to indoor climbers taking their first forays onto real rock, to those with experience seconding looking to build on their technique and skillset in preparation for leading and parent and child tickets combatted childcare barriers and meant that the kids could get in on the climbing action too.
As attendees reconvened that evening over pizza and punch (served in stylish, reusable cups supplied by Dometic), this year's festival themes of Connection Unity became even more apparent as climbers of all different abilities, ages and from all walks of life recounted emotional anecdotes from their day on the rock. There was raucous laughter, quiet tears and much-needed hugs shared by new and old friends and the sense of community was tangible.
By Sunday, Stanage Edge was in spate! Testament to the determination and resourcefulness of learners and leaders alike, many donned their waterproofs and headed to the crag anyway. Wet weather activities included ground-based belay tuition, gear placement recaps and assembling abseils and anchors. Self-rescue skills were taught in the shelter of a cave and some lucky learners even managed to sneak in a few routes in between downpours. Back in the basecamp marquee, leaders and mentors talked trad theory, demonstrated gear rating and loading, abseil set-ups and anchors, and coffee and cakes were enjoyed by those who hadn't already taken refuge at Outside Café in Hathersage!
As the weekend drew to a close and the tents dwindled, many remarked on the unwavering psyche of the leaders, learners and mentors through the inclement conditions, and multiple social media reports suggest that crag dancing was rife in the rain! With only a handful of vans in need of a push out of the mud, the festival concluded successfully; the weekend community disbanded but with bonds formed and skills learned that will last a lifetime.
With thanks to our sponsors and supporters: AMI, Rab, Lowe Alpine, Pertex, DMM, Dometic, Tenaya, La Sportiva, Mountain Training, BAM Bamboo Clothing, BMC, Dirtbags Climbing, Outside Hathersage, Jackery UK and UKClimbing.