The 1970’s were an era of change and it was no different with climbing. One of these changes was the emergence of hard climbing women, free from the shackles of misogyny. These ladies were doing it for themselves.
Things changed a little slower in Ireland. The staunchly Catholic nation saw women as home-bodies and child-bearing objects. Nuns were the symbol of professional women. 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 in her beautifully written autobiography Uncoiling the Ropes: The Memoir of a Trailblazing Irish Climber. For a climber's 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 her life- and climbing-partner, Calvin Torrans, and has three sons, and she still carved out a climbing-centered life while raising her children and working as a school teacher. Her story recounts a life of adventure including many of her ascents, including first ascents. Her style of prose is inclusive, capturing more than just the climbing. It conveys her deep respect for the people she's 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 about climbing as we feel it.
Climbing stories 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 she's encountered and climbed with and the places they have climbed. It is not just a life story that tells of a ripped woman in her prime and of her youthful accomplishments; the story evolves, engaging the reader as Sheridan’s life as a student, teacher, mother, and climber unfold. There is wisdom and resonance in her writing. You can’t not enjoy her story.
As a climbing memior 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 Lynn 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.