Bitches on Pitches:
Mary Eden and Mercadi Carlson
Issue I, June 2018
Mary Eden and Mercadi Carlson have dedicated their lives to climbing. After the two met just over a year ago, they became inseparable, pushing each other to climb harder, constantly making and meeting new and challenging goals. Now, the Moab-based duo has garnered internet fame on instagram (find them @tradprincess and @mersendyclimberson) for their jaw dropping climbing photos, witty senses of humor, and down to earth attitudes.
Mary Eden hasn’t always been the seemingly fearless crusher she appears to be in her photos. She’ll tell you that when she began climbing in 2011, she started out like any other amateur climber - perhaps with even more fear than the average newbie.
“I am terrified of heights,” she claimed.
And she means it. A few Creeksgivings ago, Eden found herself perching on a ledge in the middle of an overhung climb with a 35-foot rope swing as a penalty for a fall. “I got to the shelf, and I sat down in my little cave shelf, and then I remember looking up at these holds to get out of the cave shelf, and I just was like, no, fuck that, no,” she recounted.
Seemingly unable to move on, and unable to jump off the shelf and take the swing, Eden was frozen. “I was on that shelf for an hour,” she said. “I was too scared to move.”
“This is what’s so sad, it was a top rope!” Eden lamented. She’s come a long way since that day frozen on the shelf. “We all start somewhere. I was lucky to be taken under Matt Pesce’s wing, and so I learned a lot from him,” she explained. Now, Eden climbs 5.12 and has 5.13 in her line of sight. She has found a way to make climbing her career by guiding with Red River Adventures, selling climbing photos, and hosting climbing clinics.
Eden certainly didn’t get there alone, though. Her accomplishments are shared with her climbing partner and best friend Mercadi Carlson. Together, the two have made progress in the past year they’d only begun to dream about previously.
“She was the first person to call me out about my instagram,” Eden said of Carlson, explaining how the two met. “She got really weird and awkward about it,” Carlson added. “She came into Gearheads when I was working there, and she was like ‘Why are you working inside?’”
Shortly after, Carlson joined Eden at Red River Adventures, and the two took their climbing to the next level. Not only did they climb more challenging routes, but they stepped up their photography game, hauling camera equipment up fixed lines to get up-close and personal pictures of climbers mid-action. Their photos became extremely popular in the climbing world and beyond almost immediately, and thanks to their passion for climbing and dedication to next-level photography, they haven’t found a shortage of work. “We started having to designate days to do photo work for certain companies,” Carlson said. “We realized we don’t really have days off, because we have to take photos, but is taking photos even a job?”
Eden added, “Especially when it’s so much fun. Being on a fixed line and seeing a climber try really hard is so rad.”
Of their growing notoriety, Eden said, “Oh it just snuck up on us. We sold a photo to a magazine that made the front page.”
Their instagram personas, @tradprincess and @mersendyclimberson, seem to be an accurate representation of the two climbers’ lives. They are crushers among desert climbers, men and women. But as relatively well-known female climbers in the public eye, they’ve dealt firsthand with the discrimination and harassment coming to light recently through other well known climbing profiles, like that of professional climber Sasha DiGiulian who was bullied by peer Joe Kinder.
“I’ve had a lot of issues with sexism in climbing, even before I was on social media, actually, when I was by myself just dirtbagging it in the creek I was harassed,” Eden said. “I got to see it. I got to experience it.” This comes as no surprise to Eden. She’s used to it. She’s come to expect it. “Women get harassed, women get talked down to, women don’t get the respect. If women get popularity on social media in climbing, it usually will be like ‘oh it’s just because she’s hot.’”
Eden isn’t running from the issue, though. Instead, she’s confronting it head on. “There is a problem with sexism in climbing and we’re confronting it by including everyone,” she explained. “I think the best thing for men to learn is how to handle strong women. And they’re not going to learn that by being segregated from strong women. So I like to actually include men.”
Eden firmly believes that the climbing world has room for everyone, and she leads by example to prove her point. “Everyone has a unique perspective. Let’s work together as a team, let’s learn from each other, and let’s support each other as a team.” she said. “And sometimes there’s this tiny little female that is more of a desert critter than you, and is more of a hardman than you, and that doesn’t make you less of a man. Sometimes that tiny girl is gonna outclimb you, and you don’t need to call her babe or honey. You don’t need to offer her beta, and you need to learn how to deal with that.”
Now that Eden and Carlson have successfully cultivated a career in climbing, the pressure is on to perform, which can be extremely taxing on both the body and the mind. The reality of this sunk in for both of them on their winter climbing trip to Joshua Tree National Park.
“There was pressure in going climbing the whole time, because that’s what we were there to do. To climb,” Carlson explained. “We’d been on about a month without a rest day, and were trying really hard to go climbing. We felt like shit because our bodies were so tired, but we felt the need to go climbing because we were on a climbing trip, and we didn’t really factor in the fact that we needed a rest day. Or else we’re going to do damage to our bodies and we wouldn’t be able to go climbing anymore.”
“We felt kind of pressured into pushing harder grades than we were ready to at a certain point,” Eden added. “It becomes this horrible stressful monster.”
When climbing no longer felt fun, and both their bodies and their minds were beaten, bruised, and sore, the two turned to each other to remind one another why they were there, and what climbing meant to them.
“This is about you,” Eden said. “We have to bring it back to you, and what actually is important. Because if you’re climbing for other people, you’re not climbing. You’re going to lose the love of it.”
“We also took like a six day rest week,” Carlson added. “We needed it.”
After giving themselves some much needed rest and recovery, and visiting hot springs, the two returned to Moab to hit the ground running (or hit the rock, climbing). “Mary just got two eights, so we’re going to go put those to use,” Carlson said, excitedly. “We’re going to do some off-widthing tomorrow, and work towards 5.13.”
“We started getting into first ascents,” Eden added. “Mainly boulders, but we’re dipping our toes into bolting routes.” The process for establishing new climbing routes is more complex than meets the eye. Eden explained, “You have to be really careful about what you do, because it might have been done before.”
“We’re learning,” continued Carlson. “So far we know it takes a lot of sand, and grit, and mud in your teeth, and placing anchors.”
There’s no limit to what these two young climbers will accomplish, and the world will witness their adventures through their photography and social media. For Eden, though, it’s as simple as it was on the first day she first climbed on Wall Street. “We’re going to go out there and challenge ourselves and be decent human beings while we do so,” she said. “It’s supposed to be fun.”