Girl Crush: An Interview with Allison Ong

Every so often, we’ll interview extraordinary girls doing extraordinary things: this is Girl Crush.  This week, we’re totally stoked to have caught up with badass par excellence Allison Ong (en route to Yosemite, no less)!

Alison on Inti Watana (5.10c), Red Rock

Alison on Inti Watana (5.10c), Red Rock

I first met Allison during my climbcation to Vietnam, where she was working as a rock climbing guide on Cat Ba island a few years ago.  Allison has lived and climbed all over the world, from New York to Tokyo to a Subaru Outback across the United States.

Allison currently resides in East Palo Alto, CA, where she interns for a landscape architecture firm, and route sets at her local gym.  She considers herself a 5.10 trad climber, and some of her favorite ascents include: Liberty Cap & Half Dome, Yosemite; the Mont Blanc, France/Italy; Levitation 29!, Red Rock; Modern Times, The Gunks! (that roof is intimidating!!); and The Face, Vietnam.

BB: You’ve often been referred to as a ‘badass’.  Does this description resonate with you, and what do you think it means to be a badass?

AO: Whenever I try something I’m not sure I can do, and succeed, it makes me feel like a badass. But it’s a totally transient state of being. After doing something badass, there’s an afterglow of badassery which lasts about a day until I feel like a regular ass again. Right now, I feel like a normal ass, but having had the experience of being badass, I know how to get that feeling back by going outside and putting myself out there!

Badass: Someone who attempts something at the edge of their abilities.

BB:  Everyone has an origin story.  Tell us how you started rock climbing.

AO: Oh man. I am a big batman comics fan and his origin story is told over and over in so many ways throughout the comics. My origin story is not gonna come even close! I took ‘basic rock climbing’ from Cornell Outdoor Education as a PE class my freshman year of college. I thought my instructors were so cool, but I never considered applying to become an instructor because I felt that I lacked experience, ability. I guess my instructors saw some potential because I was encouraged by the climbing programs coordinator to apply for the job. With the support of my new climbing family, I gained the experience and learned the abilities I lacked.

BB: How has rock climbing changed your life?

AO: I don’t know who I would be right now without rock climbing. I used to be the type of person who would want to do something big, but then get hung up on details, logistics, and self doubt. Since I’ve been rock climbing, I know that if I want to do something, I should just do it and stop using things as excuses. I’d always wanted to go abroad alone, but part of me was afraid. After college, I decided to move to Vietnam to work for a guiding company. That was a moment where I just sucked up all my doubts and just committed.

Leading The Face in Vietnam, 7b (5.12a)

BB: Do you believe that rock climbing is a metaphor for empowerment?  What are other areas in your life that have been impacted by your ability to be bold and push your mental and physical limits?

AO: I think rock climbing taught me that I can be the brave Disney princess I want to be. That sounds really silly, but growing up I wanted to be half Disney princess and half the kid from My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. If you can do that scary and hard move climbing, then you can probably do all the other scary and hard stuff that intimidates you.

BB: How did you make the transition – the ‘leap of faith’ – from indoor to outdoor climbing?

AO: When I was starting to really get into climbing, I was surrounded by friends (all guys) who had this attitude of ‘we should just go do it’, no hesitation. My first trad lead outside was completely spontaneous, and not that safe. But it gave me a lot of confidence and I learned the safety pretty soon after. I tell people I learned how to climb outside because I probably spent more hours at the Gunks (which was 3 hours away) than at our small university gym. What’s funny is that it was hard for me to transition to indoor climbing. Since I’ve mostly climbed outdoors, its still really hard for me to find the inspiration and motivation to train indoors. I started route setting as a way for me to connect to climbing indoors.

BB: We love that you’re an outdoor climber who had to transition to indoor climbing!  You’ve climbed all over the world.  Tell us about an epic outdoor climbing experience.

AO: An epic experience was my first big wall poop-sharing experience. I stood next to my boyfriend, on a small ledge, while he pooped into a bag. I tried not to look and I still love him! Magically I didn’t poop on that climb.

BB:  That’s pretty epic, and hilarious!  In sports, the term ‘like a girl’ is usually used in a disparaging way in our vernacular.  What comes to mind when you hear ‘climb like a girl’?

AO: Climbing like a girl, for me, describes a static and graceful climbing style (as opposed to muscling through something). I think a lot of women identify with this style, including myself. But every so often I see a very dynamic and aggressive female climber. Shame on me for generalizing!

BB: You’re one of the strongest female climbers I know (and I feel like I know a lot of chicks who climb).  What’s your training regimen?

AO: I’m a little ashamed to say it, but I don’t train. I ran track and cross country in high school and associate training with pain and suffering. I train by convincing myself I’m climbing (pain and suffering) for fun! I just climb what’s fun for me a lot! There’s a little voice in my head that reminds me that I’d be a lot stronger at climbing if I trained more, but climbing is first and foremost about having fun!

BB:  We agree!  That being said, how does it feel to climb harder than your boyfriend? 😉

AO: Dan and I mostly climb at the same level; he’s better at certain styles of climbing, and I’m better at others. We have a deal where he leads hard slab and face, and I lead chimneys and cracks. Being competitive with him, I’ve discovered, is not very good for our relationship. But to answer your question, climbing better than him makes me feel guilty…about feeling so good 😉
BB: You’re most drawn to big wall climbing.  What is it about big walls that attract you?
AO: I used to say that my favorite part of climbing is belaying. In multi-pitch climbing when the leader finishes their pitch, there can be up to an hour of belaying up the follower, just sitting on a ledge, checking out the view, watching the birds fly around, feeling really good about that last pitch. That hour is my happy place. The more pitches on a climb, the more time there is like that to reflect on how lucky I am to be in such an amazing place.
Plus I like going up, and up, and up, then going to sleep, then waking up and going up and up!
BB: We love the view from the top too!  What’s next on your tick list?
AO: My next goal is to be a 5.11 crack climber, so I can climb desert towers in and around Moab, and The Nose!

BB: Sweet.  What advice would you give to newbie climbers?


1. Learn to outdoor climb from a reputable person safety-wise. Make sure they are actually reputable.
2. Surround yourself with climbers who make you feel like you can do anything, and you’ll be able to do anything.
3. Climbing is supposed to be fun! Its easy to let pride get in the way. Remember, you climb for you!

Alison and Dan on the summit of Mont Blanc

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