Emma Twyford recently became the second British woman to climb E9 with an ascent of the bold arete climb Rare Lichen, in the Ogwen Valley, North Wales. Emma has been at the forefront of British women's climbing for some time now, with onsights of 8a abroad, 8a flash and 8b redpoint on UK soil.
Duncan: With your recent ascent of Rare Lichen you have become the 2nd British Woman to climb E9, what made you decide to try it when your previous hardest headpoint was Monopoly E7 6b? Have you always progressed through grades quickly?
Emma: Calum Muskett recommending the route definitely helped, and the fact that the line and the climbing was really cool kept me motivated for the route. If I hadn’t enjoyed the climbing I would have walked away the first day and not thought anymore about it. I did E5 before I did any E4’s and I also skipped E6 and went straight to E7, I don’t know why I’ve done this apart from getting a mental block about climbing E4 after an epic fail on my first try with Caff on a Lakes E4 called Nagasaki Grooves, I guess I usually see how things pan out for the year. I’m happy going out and trying anything, this just happened to be one of those days that started a new ball rolling.
Duncan: You grew up in the Lake District, but are better known for your impressive sport climbing achievements, was trad climbing the first style of climbing you got into or is it a more recent facet to your climbing?
Emma: I was lucky to grow up in trad heaven, this was the first style of climbing I was introduced to by my Dad and his mates on the Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team. My first climb was a VDiff called Donkeys Ears at Shepherd’s Crag, I think I got hauled up some of it in a full body harness. I go through phases of focusing more on one style of climbing but trad is really special to me.
Duncan: You then moved to Sheffield and studied Sports Science? Do you think that has helped you push your climbing standard to the forefront of British women's climbing? In addition to this you are now a coach, do you apply your coaching mindset to your own climbing?
Emma: Yeah I studied Sport's Science but have only recently started applying it to climbing for work. I don't train a huge amount, I try to get out climbing on the rock as much as possible (I understand that this works best for me). When I do train I tend to work heavily on areas I need to improve and lightly maintain my strengths. Each year I seem to understand a bit more about what works for me and I am aware of what is going on with my body. If I have a tweak or a niggle I will rest and train another area. I always try to stress pushing yourself and working on things you aren't good at, I do try to stick to this but there are definitely days when you just want a feel good day!
Duncan: I have seen first-hand the impressive training set up you and Alex have in your house, featuring numerous fingerboards, the 'hanging balls of forearm pain' and 'the ab-blaster 6000'. How much training do you do, and what sort of things??
Emma: Ha ha it's all for show! Well Alex is currently smashing in the DIY so the pull up bar has gone. I haven't used it much recently and I only use it to do a session if I can't get outside or to the wall – usually because my car is dying! The ab blaster 6000 does not really fit my ankles so it has the added fun of feeling like your about to fall out onto your head. I think I sickened Alex once by doing five open handed pull ups on the tiny moon board crimp when he struggled to do one (the only time I will beat him on pull ups!) I will use it more in the winter but it has been too nice to be doing inside sessions. I mostly climb but I do some core work outs and campusing. If I have a project I will tailor my training to focus on that project and work on the areas I feel I need to be better for on the route. I'm currently training power and power endurance for Spain – I know it should be endurance but I find this comes quickly for me so I need to be stronger to make the moves easier.
Duncan: What, if any, mental preparation did you do before leading Rare Lichen? How many sessions did you spend on it before going for the lead?
Emma: I guess I thought about doing the route a lot and thinking about myself topping out. Believing you can do a route is an important part to success and I find visualizing success really helps. I had three sessions on Rare Lichen, it could have been two but the days I had on it were really spread out.
Duncan: What do you feel your strengths are? Weaknesses?
Emma: I'd like to think my footwork is good and I move well. I've improved my mental aspect of climbing and I tend to go for moves more often. I still find that my core could be better and my power lets me down but these are things I am currently working on to hopefully get better.
Duncan: How did it compare to your hard sport routes, it is obviously within your physical limit, having flashed 8a, but did it make any difference knowing that a fall from certain places could be dangerous?
Emma: It's completely different, I think you really go for it above a bolt knowing the fall is going to be fine most of the time, but it is far more calculated on trad. The climbing felt tricky enough that I had to concentrate all the way but easy enough that I wasn't physically tired from it. I knew there were certain points I didn't want to fall from so I just put myself 100% in the zone and focused completely on the climbing, I knew I could do the route so I convinced myself it was no different to being on top rope.
Duncan: What is your view on the relationship between danger and climbing? Is it an important part for you, or something you could leave? What would you consider unjustifiably dangerous?
Emma: I would like to have a long climbing career, not a short one. I think you should always be able to walk away from a trad route where the consequences could be bad. I have backed off easier routes this year because my head wasn't there on the day and let my partners do the leading. I don't think there is any shame in doing that, it would be far more foolish to go for it and hurt yourself badly just for the ego.
I think danger can be exciting, the adrenalin rush is incredible but it can be extremely addictive. I can already feel the craving for trying something exciting again. But you should definitely respect the danger of a route and not be blasé about it, a few people I know have been lucky and got away with not having bad accidents on scary routes.
I think unjustifiably dangerous would be when you are not doing the route because you want to do it; if you are doing it for the grade or for other people then that is where it becomes unjustifiably dangerous. Seeing my friends climbing Indian Face did make me feel sick, I wasn't massively psyched for the rest of the day.
Duncan: You have been living in North Wales for a couple of years now, but only this year really got into trad-climbing here despite this arguably being North Wales' strongest suit, was there any particular reason for this?
Emma: I will have lived in North Wales for 2 years in January, the first year I had fun pottering about knocking out some of the classic routes and getting a few E5 onsights knocked out, even falling off one in a hungover state the day after my birthday. The first year the weather wasn't great for the mountains, so I headed to the Orme but this year it has been perfect and the North Wales team psych has been infectious!!
Duncan: Do you think that Rare Lichen suited your style? Do you think you could climb harder?
Emma: I think it suited my style of climbing but I enjoy trying a variety of different styles (maybe with the exception of jamming!). There is always room for improvement...
Duncan: What is next on the agenda for you? You recently went and tried Strawberries at Tremadog, any plans to go back to it?
Emma: Weather dependent I may get on Strawberries, if not this year then definitely next year. I'm off to Spain for a couple of weeks in November but no particular plans. I've got some ideas and options for next year but I'll have to wait and see if they happen.
Duncan: Why do you think so few women have climbed E9 compared to men?
Emma: I think guys are more gung ho about going for things, it seems they don't have the same rational consequence button switched on in their brain. Plus guys have more confidence about going for routes.
It would be nice to see that change over the next few years and for women's standards to keep on increasing, it's great when you see someone have belief in what they are capable of doing.
Duncan: You have pushed standards for British women in a number of disciplines now, does this make those achievements more special, or does it not factor in it at all?
Emma: They are all personal achievements, I'm trying to push myself to be as good as I can be at trad, bouldering and sport climbing. I don't really think I have pushed standards but I am personally pleased with some of the stuff I have done. If I try hard on a cool route then I am pleased and so many of those days are special with some great friends.
Duncan: What in climbing inspires you?
Emma: Being out with friends, on a sunny summer day at an awesome crag. Seeing people achieving their goals and pushing themselves to new standards. I find watching people trying incredibly hard inspiring, but I also find it inspiring when you watch someone make a climb look beautiful and effortless.
Duncan: Do you have any particular favourite climbing destinations in the UK and abroad?
Emma: I lurve Gogarth and Pembroke in the UK. LPT, the Diamond and Malham are also pretty spectacular for different reasons.
I have recently been to Ceuse for the first time and that was incredible climbing with a beautiful walk in. The Frankenjura is pretty cool too with some great cake and coffee – what more could you want?
Thanks to Alex Haslehurst and Ray Wood for supplying the photos of Emma on Rare Lichen.
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