Nina Williams is a professional rock climber currently based in Boulder, Colorado. Besides her career as a climber, Nina is also a Certified Professional Coach in Leadership and Development.
She has been climbing for 22 years and is most known for her highball bouldering pursuits.
Keep reading to learn about Nina Williams’ climbing career– including where it all started on the East Coast in New England and where she is currently.
Nina’s Early Years On the East Coast
Nina was born in Killingly, Connecticut, on August 21st, 1990. However, the bulk of her upbringing occurred east of Killingly in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Like most kids, she explored various athletic pursuits such as soccer, ballet, and even horseback riding.
Finally, as a twelve-year-old in 2002, Nina discovered rock climbing. After being told by her mom, “Choose one activity. I can’t afford to keep driving you around all the time”, Nina decided to focus on climbing.
After just one year of exploring the new sport, Nina joined a Rhode Island-based climbing team. With her new team, she learned to climb at the classic cliffs of Rumney, New Hampshire, and how to compete indoors.
After a few years of training in a new competitive environment, Nina started competing at the age of 14.
A Turning Point for Nina
During her youth competitive climbing career in New England, Williams cheated in a regional competition by signing a judge’s initials on her climbing card to get to Nationals, where she later placed fourth. After not getting caught the first time, Nina continued to cheat in subsequent competitions.
Eventually, Williams was caught. As punishment, she had to return her Nationals jacket and trophy, was banned from the next sport climbing season, had to volunteer as a belayer at subsequent competitions, and had to write (and recite out loud) apology letters to her teammates, competitors, and coaches.
In an interview on the Enormocast Podcast with Chris Kalous, Williams explains that her cheating stemmed from a desire to be accepted and respected among her male-dominated climbing team–to be the “cool” climber girl who could keep up with the boys.
Later in the interview, Nina describes the entire incident as a “really good thing.” She explains that getting caught cheated helped her reorientate her climbing motivations. Specifically, getting caught cheating helped her transition from climbing for the acceptance of others to learning how to climb for herself.
Moving Out West
In 2010, Nina moved to Greeley, Colorado. In 2013, she relocated south to Boulder, CO, where her climbing career skyrocketed. At the age of 20, Williams’ youth climbing career was well behind her. She was finally able to climb purely based on her personal motivations. Her new perspective on climbing, combined with bigger rock formations and the thriving climbing community in Boulder, helped propel her climbing forward.
Out west, Nina was able to continue pushing forward her bouldering. In 2013, she sent her first V13 Ray of Light to Rocklands, South Africa. At the same time, her new geographic location allowed Williams to expand her climbing skill sets, specifically with regard to traditional climbing.
Six years after moving out West, in 2016, Nina sent the 900-foot Final Frontier, (V 5.13b) trad route in Yosemite. Two years later, she led all the crux pitches in a six-day free ascent of the 2,000-foot Father Time (VI 5.13b) on Yosemite’s Middle Cathedral.
Besides moving out west to develop her skills as a professional rock climber, Nina has also went to college. She studied Communications and Leadership Management at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Highlights of Nina’s Climbing Career
© Michael Pang
Nina has had an extremely impressive climbing career. In particular, Williams’ first female ascents (FFA) of classic boulder problems and difficult routes are what separates her from other professional climbers.
Overall, her most notable climbing ascents are characterized by mental discipline, confidence, and being the first woman to stamop her name on the tick lists of previously male-dominated climbs.
First Female Ascent – Ray of Light – V13
First Female Ascent- Too Big to Flail – 50ft highball V10
Nina Williams is known for a lot of rad ascents, but her first female ascent (FFA) of Too Big to Flail in the Buttermilks of Bishop, California, is the climb that supplanted her into the ranks of the best highball boulderers.
With her seventh ascent, Williams joined the likes of climbing legends like Lonnie Kauk, Steven Roth, Ethan Pringle, Fabian Buhl, Nick Muehlhausen, and, of course, the original first ascensionist of the route, Alex Honnold.
Honnold, who climbed the route in 2013, mentioned that Too Big To Flail was one of the hardest free solos he had ever done.
First Female Ascent – Ambrosia – 45ft highball V11
First Female Ascent – Window Shopper – V12
First Female Ascent China Beach 5.14b
First Female Ascent Final Frontier – 5.13b trad
First Female Ascent Father Time – 5.13b trad
Solo ascent of the Diamond
First Unsupported Female Fastest Known Time (FKT) of the Longs Peak Triathlon
For Colorado locals who enjoy endurance sports (but who love suffering even more), The Longs Peak Triathlon (LPT) is a somewhat underground and unofficial challenge that combines cycling, hiking, and climbing to summit one of Colorado’s most famous 14,000-foot mountains Longs Peak, in Rocky Mountain National Park.
In particular, the LPT links together 40 miles of cycling from Boulder, CO, to the Long Peaks Trailhead, five miles of hiking to approach the East Face of Longs, known as the Diamond, and 1,700 feet of vertical climbing up the Diamond’s most classic (and easiest) route, The Casual Route.
In August of 2023, Williams completed the LPT in 13 hours, 10 minutes, and 7 seconds.
Fun Facts About Nina Williams
- Her favorite colors are teal, peach, pink, and black.
- She is 5″3″
- She self-identifies as Chinese-American
- Her favorite climbing advocacy organizations are The Access Fund and the Bishop Area Climber’s Coalition
- In her spare time, she enjoys drinking coffee and reading The New Yorker
- Nina has a pet hedgehog named Frankie Von Quillsbury
- She has hiked all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks in a season
- Her favorite climbing areas are Bishop and Yosemite, California
Nina’s Current Whereabouts
Currently, Nina’s status is that she is training and climbing in Boulder, Colorado. She is a sponsored athlete with The North Face and Scarpa. She is managed by Reppa, a talent management company for high-end rock climbers and athletes like Kyra Condie, Nathanial Coleman, and Sean Baliey.
Outside of climbing, she has become super interested in endurance sports, such as cycling. Her first woman FKT for the Long’s Peak Triathlon exemplifies Williams’ current interest in learning new skills and pushing her boundaries into the next stage of her life.
Besides being a professional climber, Nina is also a Certified Professional Coach in Leadership and Development. As a coach, Nina has worked with organizations like Flash Foxy and Color the Crag. In her coaching practice, Nina enjoys working with women and people of color to help construct confident and intentional lives.
In addition, Nina is a board member with the American Alpine Club where she consults the organization on topics like the power of transparent and meaningful communication.
“Success depends on how you define and pursue it. Define your success by setting a goal that is 100% true to yourself, and pursue that goal in a way that works for you. Learn from failure, try again, and take a moment to appreciate how far you’ve come.”
–A Quote from Nina Williams