The 1970’s were an era of change and it was no different with climbing. One of these was the emergence of hard climbing women, free from the shackles of misogyny. These girls were doing it for themselves.
Things moved a little slower in Ireland. The staunchly Catholic nation saw women as home-bodies and child-bearing objects. Nuns were the symbol of a professional woman. Cutting loose from her convent education, Clare Sheridan found her future in the mountains. Climbing gave her the ability to rise above convention and to tread her own path.
Clare’s Sheridan’s journey has been clearly laid out and beautifully written in her autobiography Uncoiling the Ropes. For a climbers’ story, it is one of the best page-turners I have sat with. Clare’s life has been action packed with ascents of major peaks throughout the European Alps, the Himalayas, and in the rock-climbing mecca of Yosemite.
Clare is happily married to life- and climbing-partner Calvin Torrans, has three sons, and she still carved out a climbing life while raising her children and working as a school teacher. Clare Sheridan’s story recounts many of her ascents, including first ascents, and a life of adventure. Her style of prose is inclusive, capturing more than just the climbing. She has a deep respect for the people she shared a climb with. It was clear to me whilst reading her story that Clare is a gifted writer who is able to merge people, place, culture, and feelings, into succinct passages that flow. In short, she writes climbing as we feel it.
Climbing biographies are often a collection of notable peaks interspersed with fly-away one liners about escaping into the hills or from the responsibilities of life. Not this one. Clare does uncoil the ropes of a climbing life. From her humble upbringing in Ireland, to the romance of a loving relationship with her life-climbing partner, Calvin Torrins, and riveting accounts of people and places that she and they have climbed. It is not just a life story that tells of a ripped woman in her prime and of her youthful accomplishments; it spends time engaging the reader in the transitions of a woman, a climber, and of person in the stages of life. There is wisdom and resonance in her writing. You can’t not enjoy her story.
As a climbing biography and a story in general you will not be disappointed in opening the covers and diving in. It is engaging throughout, thought provoking at times, and often had me laughing out loud with her reflections of people she has shared a rope with over decades of impressive ascents.
Do yourself a favour, get yourself a copy of Clair Sheridan’s, Uncoiling the Ropes and fall in love with climbing all over again. What’s more, learn of a female climber that belongs in sentences with names like Lynne Hill, Catherine Destiville, and Junko Tabei. Clare has accomplished much in climbing mountains, but for me I found her passion for life just as impressive. She reminded me of my favourite quote by another women of prose, Helen Keller who said, “Life is a daring adventure or nothing.” That sums up my richly rewarding read of Uncoiling the Ropes.