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MEC Ambassador Emma Contaoe smiling with climbing rope

Emma Contaoe

Emma is an avid climber and lover of all things outdoors. As a certified rock climbing instructor in Quebec and founder of Climbing Escapes, she teaches beginners the basics of climbing outdoors safely. She also hosts climbing, camping and yoga womxn empowerment retreats near Montreal. Through five years of teaching, she’s realized that it is as meaningful to her as climbing itself.

She’s happiest trad and multi-pitch climbing, and aspires to become an ACMG Rock Guide (and eventually an IFMGA Mountain Guide) so she can further empower people, specifically womxn, to push their boundaries and achieve their goals. Her biggest climbing dream? To climb in Patagonia, sleep on a portaledge, and run womxn empowerment retreats across the world.

Travelling is also a big part of Emma’s life. In 2019, she hitchhiked and backpacked across the Moroccan desert to get to the remote climbing area of Taghia. She also travelled solo for three years in Australia and southeast Asia, and founded a non-profit to build a school and temporary shelters after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal.

When she’s not climbing or travelling, Emma’s home base is Montreal, where you’ll find her packing at the last minute before her next trip.

“A community can take time to build, but you can feel an instant belonging in one. To me, community is one of the important pillars of my life. My community inspires me, uplifts me and drives me towards growth.”

Instagram: @emmacontaoe

Get to know Emma

MEC Ambassador Emma Contaoe teaching climbing on a rock face

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

Starting my own business. It was terrifying because I felt like I was taking a big leap by putting myself out there. As a woman of colour, I had imposter syndrome. I had a hard time believing in myself and that I was good enough and qualified enough. I then remembered my mission: to empower people to climb. To inspire women to find courage within them to tackle their fears and push their boundaries. Focusing on my mission was what kept me going and led me to where I am today.

What’s your favourite part of climbing?

The feeling of being present in your movements up the rock. Climbing is like an active meditation for me; it’s a dance on the rock, where I feel a synchronicity between my body movements and the rock features. I also love the community. In climbing we support each other, inspire each other and push each other with our goals and ambitions.

MEC Ambassador Emma Contaoe climbing up a route

What was a defining outdoor moment for you?

My first overnight hike to Everest Base Camp – it was the first time I understood the power of the mind. During the 14-day hike, I got altitude sickness for 10 days. I visualized myself going through the hard obstacles, took it one step at a time, and was able to reach Everest Base Camp and beyond. I’d proven to myself that anything is possible if you have faith in yourself and keep pushing through.

Favourite meal cooked outside?

Breakfast potatoes roasted in the fire.

Where do you go to escape?

When I’m in the city, it’s anywhere where there’s sun. I love going to the park by my home, putting on music and sitting under the sun. I also love escaping to a park a couple hours north of the city for climbing, hiking or camping. There’s nothing more relaxing than waking up in the outdoors and smelling fresh air.

MEC Ambassador Emma Contaoe carring a large hiking backpack

Advice for new climbers?

When it comes to climbing outdoors, take a course with a professional or go with a mentor who’s up to date with current practices. The internet is saturated with info; it’s hard to know what to follow and what method is being used in your area. Reach out to someone who’s been practicing the sport for a long time and has experience in multiple disciplines in the sport.

If your life had a theme, what would it be?

Growth. I take every opportunity and challenge as a way to grow. I think that by looking at life this way, we see how we turn a situation into a growth opportunity rather than an unfortunate event. By seeing the good side of things, I welcome more good into my life.

Emma’s gear picks

  • Mammut ropes: I put my trust in Mammut ropes. They’re my favourite because they feel great, last long and are known for being good quality. Whether you’re new to climbing or are a pro, Mammut never disappoints.
  • MEC AlpineLite Backpack: Love this backpack. I can store all my climbing and hiking gear easily, then attach my rope over the top when my pack’s full. It’s a must for me when travelling, since it’s compact enough to bring along and then use for day climbing trips.
  • Jetboil: Such a quick a reliable way to make food camping. It boils under in less than two minutes and takes up minimal space in my pack.
MEC Ambassador Emma Contaoe smiling on a mountain ridge