Building Community with Maiza Lima and She Moves Mountains

Written by: Samina Ahmed

Images by: Jules Jimreivat

Rock climbing naturally lends itself to building community. Climbing necessitates partnership and connection. Our best experiences, most daring feats, and proudest accomplishments can be attributed to the relationships and trust we foster with other climbers on our journey to self-actualization. Having somebody who believes in your climbing and takes you seriously can make all the difference between success and failure.

Maiza Lima understands the value, and challenges, associated with building community. Born into poverty in Brazil, she immigrated to the United States with her mother as a young woman seeking safety and a better life. Assimilating into a new culture requires grit and, in the best of cases, a good sense of humor. Maiza’s identity as an American is founded in her ability to laugh and play in spite of life’s challenges.

The rock we climb on is always the great equalizer: no matter who you are or where you come from, the rock remains the same. When Maiza first started climbing, she discovered a space where she could be herself: charismatic, playful, and resilient. Her passion for climbing continued to grow over time and after a few years, Maiza decided to diversify her skills. She signed up for a crack climbing clinic at Smith Rock in Terrebonne, Oregon, taught by Lizzy Van Patten.

Lizzy noticed Maiza right away when they met at the clinic. She stood out to Lizzy because of the way she approached challenges at the crag that day - with humor and grit. These days Lizzy runs a successful guide company which she founded, She Moves Mountains, and Maiza works by her side as a climbing guide. The road to this collaboration was paved with mutual admiration and complementary skill sets. At that first clinic, Lizzy encouraged Maiza. She believed in Maiza. Over the years, as Maiza’s climbing skills grew and her dedication to the sport became apparent, Lizzy suggested that Maiza pursue the path to become a climbing guide. She wanted to bring Maiza on board at She Moves Mountains.

“It’s important to me to tell narratives and share experiences that aren’t often highlighted. I’m given a lot of opportunities, and when given those opportunities I want to share them in ways that bring to light alternative stories,” she explains to me. “In Maiza I saw someone who can bring something to the table that I can’t.” Currently, Maiza works as an international climbing guide for She Moves Mountains, providing mentorship for rock climbers in the United States, Mexico, a trip to Greece set for the fall of 2022 - and the list keeps growing.

When asked to describe Lizzy’s approach to mentorship and how it complements Maiza’s approach to mentorship, Maiza laughs. “I bring the personality. A lot of the clients come for the full experience. In Mexico for example, I hung out with them after work every day, sharing meals with them. I think that’s one of my biggest strengths, my people presence.” Maiza is approachable and relatable. She enjoys quality time spent with friends at the crag, and she makes it fun. She currently offers to her clients the same thing that Lizzy once offered her: encouragement, and the opportunity to be seen, acknowledged, and taken seriously as a rock climber.

“What Maiza represents for people is something I could never represent for them,” Lizzy tells me. “There are not a lot of women of color in guiding. Out of the whole guiding community, I would assume it’s less than 1%.” Lizzy creates programs that encourage clients to reflect not only on physical prowess and climbing technique, but also the social dynamics within the climbing community which, unexamined, could serve to limit their growth as climbers and people. Maiza keeps things fun, providing camaraderie and building relationships while helping clients train and meet their personal climbing objectives. Ultimately both Maiza and Lizzy have the same goal: to provide mentorship and uplift other rock climbers.

Maiza is most drawn to sport climbing and bouldering, both of which require the ability to climb on steep terrain. Sport climbing calls for climbing featured rock walls. Bolts are placed strategically on these cliff faces, and sport climbers use these bolts to attach the rope to the wall as they climb. Lizzy is more drawn to traditional climbing, which is technically very different from sport climbing and bouldering. She uses protective gear, which she places herself, to attach the rope to the wall as she climbs routes where there are no bolts. In the event of a fall, the protective gear she places in cracks and openings along the cliff face will catch the rope and prevent her from hitting the ground. All of these styles of climbing require different skills, gear, and technical knowledge.

Even for experienced rock climbers, trying a new style of climbing can be intimidating. Leaving your comfort zone to experience a new challenge is never easy, and sometimes it takes a friend to help you out along the way. Maiza never thought she would want to be a climbing guide, but she has quickly learned to embrace the experience. One of the unexpected rewards of guiding has been to meet new people and share her favorite activity with them. This sense of community and mentorship has spread confidence throughout all areas of her climbing. If Maiza can become a climbing guide and lift up women in her community the way Lizzy once lifted her up, what else is possible?

While Lizzy encourages Maiza to think about climbing and community in expansive ways, Maiza brings levity and a strong work ethic to their friendship. They also learn from one another and grow on the rock, experimenting with new styles of climbing together. These complementary skill sets on and off the wall provide Maiza’s clients of She Moves Mountains with the opportunity to pursue any style of climbing which might intrigue them. Objectively, rock climbing doesn’t matter. The people who participate in the sport create meaning out of it if they choose to. For Maiza and Lizzy, the opportunity to provide mentorship and explore movement while also pushing their physical limits on the wall is the perfect foundation for building community.