Katy Whittaker climbs Toy Boy - E7 7a
When it comes to difficult, audacious climbing, however, it's hard to beat one particular Sheffield household, who are making history and putting down projects. When the sun shines and the rain is away, Mina Leslie-Wujastyk, David Mason and Katy Whittaker all come out to play.
At 25 years old, she made the first female ascent of the imposing arête at Stanage Plantation, exactly 25 years after it was originally climbed by Ron Fawcett. Providence or coincidence? We find out by asking Mina a few questions...
Sam: What made you choose that climb?
Mina: "It's Careless Torque... I don't know what else to say! It is a stunning arête that protrudes from Stanage Plantation – an incredible line. It also has a lot of history behind it, with Ron Fawcett making the first ascent in 1987, and many other well-known climbers trying it since, some succeeding and some not. Trying Careless is unavoidable if you live in Sheffield and have a weakness for beautiful bits of rock! For me it was a case of waiting until I was good enough."
Sam: What about the climbing itself?
Mina: "It has a powerful, burly start which requires flexibility and technique. Getting stood up on the arête is the hardest bit but then the style changes and other factors come in: crimps, balance, footwork and fear! The top section is estimated at about Font 7b+, committing moves with poor crimps for your hands and (with the beta I used) tiny pebbles to work your feet up on! It was an amazing feeling to climb it! I was so happy, a really monumental moment in my climbing. And then there was relief not to be taking the fall again."
I asked Katy why she chooses the heart flutterers...
Katy: "One of my strengths is climbing slabs, so I guess that's why I do harder and bigger lines on this angle. However, I do love all styles of climbing. I just think it is really cool climbing something where you can't just pull on your arms. You have to have full faith in your feet and just trust the friction. I think it helps make you a better climber."
Sam: What attracted you to these two in particular?
Katy: "I have always wanted to climb Art Nouveau. It is an uber classic! I went over with a few friends mainly to have a look, as I had never actually seen it in the flesh. When you see the wall it just screams out to be climbed. It is a beautiful, stepped overlap; a very unique feature and rare to find on the grit stone. It's strange to climb as the hand holds are relatively good whilst the feet are poor smears. You climb diagonally left using some cool beta – the crux involves a step through from a good smear – and you need have full faith in the friction! I managed it second go, I fell off on the flash go as I didn't weight my foot properly and it popped."
"Toy Boy takes a direct line straight up to join the top half of Great Slab. The slab is very steep and the hand holds on the first section are few and far between; just some tiny edges to keep you balanced. The footholds are small edges and holes rather than smears. The second section swaps over to very bad feet with a couple of sloping crimps and a gaston for your hands. It's probably the hardest thing I have done on the grit. It certainly took me the longest but maybe this was because of the ground up style I did it in. It was actually my first route on the wall, so I thought it would be rude not to do Great Slab (E3 5b) and Artless (E5 6b) afterwards and then lie in the sun for the rest of the afternoon!"
Sheffield's strongest household (please let me know if another house would like to contend for this prestigious crown) wasn't finished there, however, as David Mason has also been putting his training to the test by sending a long standing ambition of his, Superman (8B). This problem dates from the Ben & Jerry era, so I asked David about the history...
Sam: Was it the history, the difficulty, the line or a combination that attracted?
David: "To be fair Superman is not a line, it's an eliminate up a shoddy piece of limestone. However, the spot itself is very secluded and quiet; the chance of seeing anyone else there is slim. Most of the problems are pretty difficult but with good, interesting movement. And then there is the history: how can you not love a place of eliminates and rules where our climbing heroes like Ben, Jerry and John Welford used to train. The reason for Superman is simple: I never thought I would be able to pull on the minute left hand crimp! The climb itself is very short – three hard moves followed by three more that are all droppable. Physically it requires a lot of body tension, finger and contact strength."
Sam: How long did it take you to climb?
David: "The first time I ever saw Superman was nearly seven years ago and I knew I wanted to climb it at some point in my life. I first tried it four summers ago, though. I couldn't touch it; the crimp was far too small for my finger strength. The next year I tried it by lantern in order to get cooler temperatures so that I could preserve my skin for as long as possible but again I think I was far too weak. Last year I tried it once and left with a bloody left index tip after only two attempts. The ascent, when it happened, was unexpected to say the least. I had hardly climbed the week before due to the weather in Fontainebleau. I just went to do some movement on rock and, amazingly, it was dry. A couple of hours later I had stuck the two moves I had never done before and on the link. On the send it felt ok actually; I kept expecting to fall off to be honest and at the top I just didn't want to mess it up. I felt bloody chuffed after!"
In an additional note, although not strictly in the Peak District, both Mina and David made a one session ascent of Jason's Roof (8A) at Crookrise in North Yorkshire recently, alongside John Welford. Here's the video of Mina's ascent:
In other Peak District news, Sheffield's climbing centre scene is undergoing a tumultuous change. Expansion, development and new facilities appear to be the order of these changing times, as rock climbing's popularity continues to rise.
The Climbing Works, on Little London Road, is set to increase in size by around 50%, with the opening of new premises next door. As well as providing additional space for all customers, the expansion is to meet demand for a child and group friendly space. The plans include more walls for youngsters, to build on the popularity of the fort inside the main centre, but particularly to provide an additional stepping stone to the easier circuits on the main walls. There will also be more for adult climbers, with circuits up to the difficultly level of their current wasp set (6B+ to 7A+), so there will be something for everyone. The expansion should be opening in April or May so keep your eye out.
The Centre also recently held the excellent Climbing Works International Festival (CWIF) – you can read a full report (by yours truly) here - UKC Report.
Elsewhere, the owner of The Edge, on John Street, recently bought the old Abbeydale Picture House – a listed building originally constructed in 1920. They are planning to convert it into an indoor climbing facility, as a venue for top rope, lead and bouldering. There will also be two rooms available for hire, for activities such as yoga, pilates, or sports massage, and an independent café. The proposals will require permission from Sheffield City Council for a change of use from an arts venue, but early indications are positive. With a decision due early summer, and if all goes to plan, work can start later this year. It is hoped the centre will open towards the autumn or start of the winter season.
Finally Awesome Walls Climbing Centres, which already has premises in Liverpool, Stockport, Stoke and Dublin, has taken over a large industrial unit in Garter Street, Grimesthorpe, and has gained permission to convert it into a one of England's largest indoor training facilities. The development will offer the usual climbing courses, taster sessions, children's parties and climbing leagues, as well as include a cafe and shop. But the big focus is on the competition wall, which has a total route length of nearly 22m. With large spectator areas, such as a two tier mezzanine, the owners have their sights set on hosting national and international sport climbing competitions. As the climbing community is well aware, sport climbing is being considered for the 2020 Olympic Games, so the new Sheffield Awesome Walls facility is being touted as a key training venue for potential Olympic athletes.
Keep your eye out for future Peak Area Reports for the latest insights.
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