INTERVIEW: Emma Twyford on Unjustified - 8c or 8b+?by Jack Geldard - UKC Chief Editor Aug/2014
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Emma Twyford has hit an amazing run of form in recent weeks, with an incredible flash ascent of Bucket Dynasty (E7) at Dove Crag in the Lake District and a redpoint of Unjustified (8b+/c) at Malham Cove in Yorkshire.
For those in the know about hard sport in the UK, two things are unsurprising; the first is that Emma has upped her grade from 8b and made an ascent of Unjustified. Malham Catwalk addicts have seen Emma on the route sporadically over the last few years, and those efforts have now come to fruition, which for those who know just how good Emma is, is no surprise.
The second thing that has come as no surprise is that Unjustified could well be downgraded to 8b+.
It's a tricky situation, with Emma's ascent of Unjustified possibly being the first 8c climbed in Britain by a woman, and it is a shame that it takes a historically significant event to catalyse a public change of grade on a route that has been in existence for twenty years.
Hey Emma, congratulations of the ascents, you must be having a great few weeks?
Actually, things have been a bit up and down... I had a car crash a couple of months ago which was pretty stressful, I crashed on the M56. I was going 70mph at the time, but I came out with just bruised legs and whiplash. No one was seriously injured, so it could have been a lot worse.
Also, it's been a bit up and down with my boyfriend, but we're back on track now. It's funny, I always seem to climb better after a break-up!
I guess a bit of turmoil could be a boost to throw yourself in to climbing a bit more?
Well, when you don't have anyone to compromise with you become a bit more selfish don't you, you just say "Right, I'm going to do exactly what I want to do, like I can go off to the Lakes for a week of climbing and not think twice about it."
Yeah, I headed up to the Lakes with James McHaffie to meet some friends and family up there for some climbing and for the Raven's Pit event in Langdale. It was an brilliant week with lots of good climbing, including the day at Dove Crag.
Dove Crag is pretty intimidating, there was a couple of guys on the classic Fear and Fascination when we were there, and one of them fell off it, just as I was about to go for it on Bucket Dynasty. I had to climb back down a bit to the ledge to recompose myself before setting off again.
So you flashed the route after watching Caff on it, and you saw him get pumped... didn't that, plus the guy taking a massive lob put you off?!
Ha, kind of! So James went up, and it took him about 4 or 5 up-and-downs before he committed to doing the crux, then he climbed the route, abseiled off and took the gear out, and then I did it afterwards.
He did look pretty pumped high up, not the usual Caff style of making everything look easy. And even after watching Caff it still took me a few up-and-downs myself before I committed to the crux!
Watching Caff get pumped, what did you think? Did you think you were going to struggle?
I actually took the piss out of him for getting pumped, and then I got pumped too, in exactly the same place, so it kind of backfired...
I'm not surprised the route brought on a bit of lactic acid, that wall is very steep! But if I remember, generally the gear is quite good but spaced out, is that the case with Bucket Dynasty?
Yeah, kind of. The gear that protects the crux is quite good, but it is quite shallow. It's a large cam and a large wallnut about a size 7 ish. The wire is okay, but it's quite shallow, you know the type of nut that could lift out. So, yes it's a good wire, but it's not one of those that you think "yes! that is bomber".
After that it is quite run-out, you would be pretty close to hitting some ledges if you fell, then you get some small cams in mid-crux, which again are good, but they are shallow. If they ripped then it would be really bad. Then it goes in to being pretty safe, you get pegs and good gear, but it is still quite fierce, like I said, I saw Caff get pumped on it!!
It's such a great effort to flash that Emma, brilliant stuff. It would be interesting to hear what you think about comparing Bucket Dynasty to Rare Lichen, the E9 you headpointed in Wales. How did the two match up?
It was way more of a fight on Bucket Dynasty, I'd practiced the moves on Rare Lichen, and when it came to it the moves felt easy, but on Bucket Dynasty I was really trying hard not to fall off. Rare Lichen is a lot more balancy, whereas Bucket Dynasty is a lot more physical.
I actually managed the crux on Bucket Dynasty relatively easily when I committed to it, but there was a bit a lot higher up the route that I found really tough. There was no breeze and it was really sweaty and I was fighting not to come flying off the holds!
Bucket Dynasty sounds awesome. Dove Crag really is great for steep trad isn't it.
Yeah, there's so much good climbing up there on that crag, I mean Caff thought Dusk till Dawn was one of the best E7s he's ever done, which was the second one he onsighted that day... I'll have to go back and do that, as I didn't fancy it that day - I'm not like Caff, I can't knock out E7 after E7!
We did have a few pints at the Raven's Pit event that week in Langdale, which slowed climbing down quite a bit the next day! I had a great week that week, we went to Malham the day after Dove Crag, and then we went up to Scafell for a couple of days doing classics like Lost Horizons, which was awesome.
Speaking of Malham, lets get on to the subject of Unjustified, your recent redpoint. How many days did you have on the route overall, do you know?
I'm not sure how many goes I had in 2011 and 2012, but I left it two years and then tried it again this year, and I've had seven days on it this year.
And what was different about the 2014 Emma to the 2012 Emma?
Probably that I've been doing loads more bouldering, and I was feeling a lot stronger on the crux. Previously I was fitter, but I didn't quite have the core strength for the crux to feel easy enough. The last few times I tried it I arrived at the crux and it felt the same as if I had just pulled on from a bolt, I felt fresh, and that made a huge difference. The crux is quite spanned out for me and when I wasn't arriving fresh it was just desperate.
And what about the grade? There's quite a lot of debate on that at the moment.
Well, for me, it's the hardest route I have ever done, and whether it is 8b+ or 8c I'm happy either way.
I've actually tried this route myself, although only very briefly and it was over ten years ago, but the grade back then was just 8c, there wasn't any talk of 8b+ that I remember. So what's changed?
Yeah, it's had quite a lot of ascents now hasn't it, so I guess there's more opinions in the mix. There seems to be quite a lot of division, some people think 8b+, some 8c, and it's one of those things, grades are subjective. Some routes feel easy for some people, some feel hard.
Well it's been a lot of people's first 8c, so there will be some broken hearts! And grades are always funny aren't they, wasn't it Jacky Godoffe who said that what people don't realise about Fontainebleau is that some of the 7as are harder than some of the 8as!
Well exactly, and Adam Ondra fell of Marie Rose the 6a the same day he flashed an 8a in Font, so there you go! But talking about Unjustified, I've heard some people say that it's 8b+ but would probably get 8c in Spain, maybe there's that good old British mentality of having everything hard for the grade and no soft touches!
Ha! Well, it would be nice of course for the route to be the first 8c, but if there is going to be any controversy about it, personally I'd rather just go and climb another 8c that won't get down-graded!
But really, doing routes that are so hard for you - and Unjustified was the hardest route I've ever done - well it's more of a personal achievement you know. I didn't climb it for anyone else, or so that I could say I have done that route and it makes me this, or ticks that box or whatever.
Of course I remember Rachel Farmer climbing 8a on British soil, and this is kind of a similar thing, and it's a great bonus if it stays at 8c, but that's all, a bonus. I think people are making too big a deal out of it really, especially compared to people climbing so hard in other countries. I'm way behind some of the Euro Wads!
It's still an amazing achievement, and a really good effort to tick Unjustified, so lets not get bogged down in the grade debate too much. If we leave it as 8b+/c for now, and see how it settles, what do you think?
Yeah, that sounds good, but I am motivated to try another 8c though, possibly Bat Route at Malham, which is regarded as 8c, but hey, there will probably be controversy about that too as it used to be 8b+!
Your ascent of Unjustified follows the other 8c by a British woman, which was of course Hazel Findlay's ascent of Fish Eye in Spain. At the time of that ascent I remember reading a report that Hazel Findlay had 'won the race to 8c'. Did you feel like there was a race? And if so, did you know you were in it?
Again that's this British focus isn't it. There's so many Europeans out there climbing so well, and these young kids climbing 8c and 8b+ really fast, for me there wasn't a 'race'. It kind of puts it in to perspective for me, how crap we are in comparison!
So, following Unjustified, what's next on the sport list?
I'd like to go and do The Brute (8b) at The Diamond in North Wales. I did have a look at it last year, but the conditions and the short access window meant that I didn't quite get it. Also I saw Caff trying The Beast (8c) at the Diamond, which also looks amazing.
So apart from climbing hard routes and having car crashes, what else do you get up to? What's your work schedule?
I work at the shop V12 in Llanberis sometimes but mainly I have started doing a lot of route setting. Next year I am doing the BMC Movement Master classes, and also I am tying in some of my route setting with coaching, like next month I am setting at the Highsports walls during the day, and running coaching sessions in the evening, so although they will be long days, it should be really good.
Also, I’ve switched sponsors to Rab recently, which is fantastic, the deal I have with them will enable me to climb a bit more, so I’ll be going to Spain over the winter to climb, and I’m really psyched for that - can’t wait!
Well, good luck with the Spanish trip in the winter and well done again on Unjustified and Bucket Dynasty, and thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
She is also working on the upcoming Women's Climbing Symposium in Glasgow - check it out here.