Monique Forestier is a self professed climbing fanatic, and one of Australia’s most acclaimed rock climbers. With over 17 years experience, she has been at the forefront of women’s climbing in Australia, with one of her many achievements being the first Australian female to climb routes graded 31, 32 and 33. During these years she has travelled extensively and tackled a diverse range of difficult rock climbs around the world. Visiting over 18 countries including Madagascar, China, Vietnam, Borneo, USA and Spain, her experience is wide and exciting.
We sat down with Monique this month to get the inside scoop on how she got involved in climbing, what it means to be one of Australia’s best climbers, and the physical and mental requirements of tackling some of the most difficult walls!
Don’t miss out on this inspiring interview, as well as find out how YOU can hear first hand from Monique and her husband, professional rockclimbing photographer SImon Carter, on their speaking tour in February 2016. riveting stories of their experiences on the rock and found out how you can join our inaugural group rock climbing adventure with this legendary duo!
1 How did you get into climbing?
After I finished university I was searching for a new form of exercise. I was bored of swimming and too old for gymnastics. I was given a pass to an indoor climbing gym. From that very first time I new I had found something that I could get totally immersed in. I went once, then twice, then three times a week, then my friends took me outdoors, I was hooked.
2 What does climbing mean to you? What does it give you?
Climbing landed in my lap and smashed my preconceptions of how my own life would pan out. But that was a good thing, climbing has steered my life in directions I couldn’t have foreseen and has motivated me to achieve some things that I never thought were possible for me. Climbing has given me a reason to travel and has taken me to many extraordinary places that I would not have visited otherwise. Climbing is my anchor and yet my freedom.
3 How does it feel to be the first Australian woman to take on routes graded 31, 32 and 33? What made you want to take this on?
I felt on top of the world when I achieved each of these milestones, however I didn’t set out to become the first Australian women to achieve these grades. It was simply a natural progression in my climbing and I just happened to get there first. But I do remember about 12 years ago when my climbing was really starting to improve, I thought to myself, “I want to push myself to see just how far I can go, I wonder if I could climb grade 33?” The challenge wasn’t to be the first Australian woman, it was about pushing myself and exploring my own limits. For me climbing isn’t about being competitive with others, I’m more about setting my own goals and I have plenty of those.
4 You continue to break down barriers for women in this sport. What's your take on the gender gap in rock climbing?
When I started climbing the difference between the top male and female climbers was three grades apart. But now, currently in Australia, the difference is only one grade. The mechanics of climbing itself accommodates and counterbalances a vast array of physical characteristics. I guess this is why women do just as well as the guys. I don’t see any reason why women can’t be climbing the same grades as the men, not necessarily the same route, but a route of the same grade is possible.
5 How often do you encounter sexism and how do you handle it?
Sexism and jealousy are ugly and I’ve been the target of plenty of appalling behavior. I try not to get involved. I’m a peacemaker not an antagonist. I steer away from negative people and only climb with those who have as much psyche as myself.
Talk about judging a book by its cover though, last year I was in the United States. I walked around a corner to find a group of males throwing themselves at a climb graded 24. The alpha male took one look at me and said, “there’s some sweet 20’s around the corner”. I said, “Thank you” and walked on. He later sees me working a climb graded 33 and I hear him say, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming”. I just had a giggle to myself.
6 For those of us who have never climbed – how exactly do you train for it?
I have a holistic approach to training so not only do I train and climb on indoor climbing walls, I run, swim and lift weights. When in the climbing gym I try to climb as many routes or boulder problems as I can but there is a methodology behind it. I also train by climbing routes on rock, that’s more enjoyable but sometimes not as effective because your skin on your fingertips tends to wear out before your bigger muscles do.
7 What muscles are most engaged when you climb?
The back and shoulder muscles cop a hammering but most people would say that it’s their forearms that they feel the most. Usually you fall off because you get “pumped” in the forearms from gripping the handholds, you simply cannot hold on anymore and you get involuntarily ejected off the climb.
8 I don’t care what anyone says: nobody is completely unafraid of heights. It’s got to get scary sometimes – how do you cope with that fear?
Yes it’s natural to have a fear of heights or falling. Generally I’m more scared of driving on the freeway really fast than letting go and falling from a climb. I reduce my fear by reducing the unknowns. When I climb, particularly on a new route, I suss it out and break it down into pieces. I’ll work the moves and I’ll take some falls in order to ascertain where will I land, which way will I swing, how far I will go. So bit-by-bit I can become more comfortable with a previously apprehensive situation. The more confident I am in my physical capability the more I’m able to push myself mentally and push through fear.
9 What’s your advice to others who want to climb but can’t get over their fears?
Baby steps. With climbing there are so many things that happen all at the one time. Initially this is overwhelming because it’s hard to put a priority to it all, so by having systems in place these things can become ordered and more manageable.
I would suggest going to a climbing gym and getting professional tuition. Having a regular climbing partner helps with trust and consistency, maintaining safe climbing practices and open communication removes many unknowns from the climbing situation. If you know that you are safe and have faith in the system then you can enjoy the climbing.
10 What keeps you amped up and motivated to keep pushing your limits every day?
I definitely need a goal, a big fat carrot (a route in Spain preferably), dangling out there on a very long stick. I tend to choose routes that are inspiring, aesthetic and hard, I like to push my limits. Having a goal gives me a structure to my training (ie a time frame) and the type of training and climbing I’m going to focus on. I make a training timetable and weave it into my work / family schedule, it’s a very powerful tool, and it gets me to the gym when otherwise I’d do something else. Then when I’ve finished my training I feel great knowing that I’m one step closer to achieving my goal. It’s proven to be very effective for me, I’ll train like a mad women possessed in order to achieve that goal.
Want to join Monique on a rock climbing adventure?
Join Monique Forestier and Simon Carter on their second World Expeditions rock climbing adventure in 2018 - details to be announced soon!