Freja Shannon talks Risk, Craic, and Brit Rock

© BritRock Films

Earlier this year, we reported on Freja's ascent of Sista Bossen, E8 6c, in Bohuslän, Sweden.

The route, Freja told us at the time, was more about delicate climbing than it was about raw strength or power.

Freja moves out onto the thin crimps of the traverse section.  © BritRock Films
Freja moves out onto the thin crimps of the traverse section.
© BritRock Films

'It looks impossible at first glance', she told us, 'thin cracks, tiny holds, and slopers make the route about body position, tension, and really trusting your feet and tiny granite crystals'.

The route had three distinct cruxes, required the climber to drop a rope two-thirds of the way through it, and finished with a runout above tiny gear. 

Whilst some might see taking on a route like Sista Bossen as a risky endeavour, others would argue that risk is in the eye of the beholder.

This route, and the risk it did or didn't entail, ties together both of Freja's events at Kendal this year. Her ascent of Sista Bossen is one of the flagship ascents in her Brit Rock film, Goddess of Craic, whilst her other session - The Mountain Equipment Risk Session Red - features a 'one-on-one' conversation between Freja and climbing psychologist Rebecca Williams, where the two will delve deeper into Freja's perception of risk, her motivations, and the dangers that climbing can pose.

Whilst both Freja's 'Red' risk session and James McHaffie and Dave MacLeod's 'Blue' session are already sold out, you can still find tickets for the 'Green' session, linked at the bottom of the page.

We got in touch with Freja to ask more about her ascents this year, her experiences of filming for Brit Rock, and to get a sneak preview of her approach to risk.

Your film in this year's Brit Rock - Goddess of Craic - follows you as you take on Sista Bossen (n9-) E8 6c, as well as Snell's Law (E7 6c), whilst also exploring your journey into climbing. Tell us a bit about that journey and what gets covered in the film?

My journey into climbing started about seven years ago in the French alps and it sort of started off backwards, with alpinism first followed by rock climbing in recent years.

I spent years bouncing between diffirent random jobs, working in a graveyard, working in numerous Irish pubs, cleaning chalets, all so I could afford to live the climbing-centric lifestyle I wanted and pay for climbing trips.

Since I started climbing, I have always lived to climb, and have never really thought about the future or anything beyond my next climbing objective. I never really thought my climbing would lead me to climbing full time.

Consequently, my life has changed dramatically over the past year or so, and the film dives deeper into dealing with doubt and imposter syndrome and finding that inner confidence.

The two routes in the film are situated in your two, 'ancestral homelands', Sista Bossen in Sweden, and Snell's Law in Ireland. What has it been like to explore these two parts of your background through climbing?

It was really special to climb two meaningful routes in both Sweden and Ireland, representing both halves of me. I have always been torn between the two, thinking 'am I Irish, or am I Swedish'? To be given the opportunity to explore both sides through climbing was fun, and somewhere along the way I just accepted that I can be both.

The two routes entail what I love about both countries – Snell's Law in Ireland on the West Coast with a roaring atlantic ocean beneath you, finishing in the pub with a pint of Guinness, and Sista Bossen in the Swedish countryside, finishing with a barbecue in the midnight sun!

Sunset over the Mirror Wall  © Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing
Sunset over the Mirror Wall
© Rob Greenwood - UKClimbing, Jun 2017

Talk us through the two routes, where do the difficulties in each route lie, and what challenges did each one pose?

Sista Bossen felt challenging for me because of its technical difficulties above runouts on small gear. The route has three chapters, and it was crucial to nail all three as it felt like I could come off at any point. The climbing itself is very balancy and technical, and less about strength or power.

Additonally, Sista Bossen doesn't see many ascents and rarely any female ascents (I made the second) which added an aspect of having to break through a mental barrier and force myself to believe that I could do it.

What actually drew me to the route was the first crux, a techy traverse, where you drop one of your ropes at the end of it. I really wanted to be on the wall and be reminded of trad climbing in Ireland, so for some bizarre reason I got psyched on the rope dropping!

Snell's Law in Mirror Wall in the Burren ( Ailladie (Burren, Co. Clare)) is a thin seam that goes right up the middle of the wall. It's only seen a handful of ascents despite being on the cover of the guidebook. It's kind of similar to Sista Bossen in the way of being crimpy, techy, and kind of bold, but the seeming impossibility of it enticed me.

Mirror Wall will always have a special place in my heart, as it's where I did my first E2, E3, E4… you get it! To come back to a line that I never, ever thought I would touch felt special. Similarly to Sista Bossen again, I had to convince myself to be confident that I could do it, and not question why no one really climbs it. It's one of the most spectacular lines of the cliff!

Freja on Zebedee, E4 6a, at Mirror wall &copy D.Russell  © D.Russell
Freja on Zebedee, E4 6a, at Mirror wall © D.Russell

Have you seen any of the film yet? If so, what was it like watching yourself take on these scary routes and take some big falls?

I have seen the film and even though I hid under a pillow for half of it I really enjoyed seeing what became of everything we did in those two weeks.

Watching the climbing brings me back to my favourite mental state of complete focus and fire on a route, and it has gotten me so excited for future projects.

I'm sure I will dread when the film goes live and so many people can watch it, that's entirely unknown terrain and the exposure of that is way worse than any run out on a micro wire!

What are your favourite memories from your time working on this film?

My favourite memories from working on the film are actually the things that happened outside of the climbing.

I got on with Al like a house on fire, so we struck up a fun and wacky friendship. On day two in Sweden we went to buy a memory card, but ended up having a shopping trolley race down a hill. Another time I got really excited to film a scene jumping into the fjord and we spent about an hour getting the perfect splash. All in all, it was really lighthearted and easy-going, which made the whole project less intimidating.

I was definitely pretty worried prior to the filming and had a dose of imposter syndrome, and it was really cool to break through that and challenge myself in a mental way rather than physical.

We hear that Al asked some of the climbers in this year's Brit Rock to do some of the filming for his own film 'Head Jam', were you involved in the filming at all, and if so, what was it like to be on the other side of the camera?

Al mentioned that he had been prompted on many occasions to tell his story of filmmaking and climbing, but wasn't quite sure how to make it happen.

So, on our first day filming in Sweden on some local cliffs I just sort of took the camera off Al and got a crash course in what all the buttons meant. The universe tilted a bit and moments later it was me hanging on a static and Al climbing! Filming a couple of times made me realize what an insane project and huge amount of work it is, I think the film-maker has a harder time than the climber!

You're also taking part in this year's 'Mountain Equipment Risk Session' - the notion of risk is something that all climbers grapple with, but is something that seems to change over time. Can you remember when you first started climbing, and what your perception of 'risk' was at the time?

I started climbing in the heart of the Alps and was surrounded by mountain guides and alpinists, so my perception of risk was a bit distorted in the start I think.

As a pretty naïve nineteen year old, I sort of just thought everyone in the climbing world was out shiver-bivvying, doing thirty hour pushes, and racing up couloirs before the sun.

At the time, I was also just so ridiculously enthusiastic that I don't think I really stopped to think about the risks involved. In hindsight, I'm glad I got away with it, and perhaps not overthinking things allowed me to progress, but I'm quite glad the tables have turned now!

How has that understanding of 'risk' changed over the years, as you've become more experienced as a climber?

My understanding of risk has changed significantly, as I have replaced my bucket of luck with a bucket of knowledge!

I have also gained more confidence in myself, which allows me to take calculated risks tailored to me and my abilities, rather than just following others. Often my attitude to risk has got to do with the objective and the more the objective means to me the more risk I'm willing to take, and vice versa.

Freja Shannon on the thin cracks of Sista Bossen, E8.  © BritRock Films
Freja Shannon on the thin cracks of Sista Bossen, E8.
© BritRock Films

At the end of the day it's also about understanding what feels scary or what is just plain dangerous, but I feel that is relative to the climber themselves. Climbers might be perceived to take more risks than they actually do, but I feel like it depends on the building blocks they have within them... if that makes sense!

I'm sure some people think a lot of climbers are hedonistic lunatics, when actually the majority just know themselves quite well. The vast majority of us want to live long, happy, healthy lives doing what we love, and nothing is really worth jeopardizing that!

Kendal Mountain Festival 2023

The Mountain Equipment Risk Sessions Red (SOLD OUT) - Friday 17th November 6:00 pm. 

Back by popular demand, this year's Risk Sessions have a new spin - each sessions features Dr Rebecca Williams as she talks one-on-one with a selection of well-known climbers and outdoor adventurers about their attitude to risk, their motivation, and how we can learn to manage the dangers faced in adventure sport.

The 'Red' session, featuring Freja Shannon and Aldo Kane, and the 'Blue' session, are now sold out. You can buy tickets to the 'Green' sessions here.

Brit Rock 2023 - details to be confirmed.

The BRIT ROCK FILM TOUR is back for 2023 with another stunning line-up of the UK's best climbing and adventure films. Five exhilarating films capture an array of hardcore action, pioneering spirit, and some proper madness.

Details of Kendal's Brit Rock screening will be added to the festival site towards the end of October. You can keep an eye out for tickets via the link below.


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