Mina Leslie-Wujastyk – top sport climber and BMC Vice-President – has just powered her way up Mecca Extension (8c) at Raven Tor in the Peak District. We tracked her down to find out how just hard an 8c actually is, what you can learn from failure and what it would take for her to climb 9a...
BMC Vice-President Mina Leslie-Wujastyk has once more smashed her way to the top of British female sport climbing, with her recent ascent of Mecca Extension (8c) at Raven Tor in the Peak District.
This is Mina’s first 8c, and she joins a very select club of British women. Hazel Findlay was the first British woman to climb 8c with her ascent of Fish Eye in Oliana, Spain in April this year, whilst Emma Twyford became the second with her tick of Unjustified at Malham in August (although her ascent has since sparked talk of a downgrade to 8b+).
Mina has been climbing since she was eight, spending much of her twenties on the punishing competition climbing circuit between trips abroad and projects at home in Sheffield. Now, psyched to continue braving the climbing both on the grit and the limestone, she has quit chasing podiums to put her feet back on the rock.
We jumped on the Mina Send Train to find out how hard an 8c actually is, what you can learn from failure and just what it would take for her to climb 9a.
For those of us that weren’t clawing at a dripping limestone crag this week, can you explain just what Mecca Extension is
It’s a 25-metre, 8c route at Raven Tor in the Peak District. It’s an extension of the climb Mecca the Midlife Crisis (a short, bouldery 8b+). For the extension, you climb the 8b+ section to a good rest and then there’s an 8a+ headwall with a bouldery, run-out and heartbreaking crux at the top!
Now can you explain why you were attracted to it?
I actually came to try it a bit of a roundabout way. Last year, I put a lot of time and effort into Evolution, an 8c+ route next to it, that has infatuated me for some reason. Evolution is shorter but, although I could do the moves and climb it in two sections, I was nowhere near fit enough to do it. So this year I decided to train my endurance and to try a longer route to get my fitness up first, so I chose Mecca Extension, which then very much became the central goal.
How much time did you spend on the route? Are those holds on Mecca now just small, fossilised Mina fingertips?
Haha, yes! I tried it a bit before going to away to South Africa this summer and then basically from mid-August until now. That sounds like an awfully long time but with UK weather frustration it felt quite short. I got pretty close in August (falling on the top section) but then the weather heated up and for four weeks I couldn’t get through the 8b+ section at all. That was really frustrating and I began to doubt my abilities. But then the weather got cold and it started to come together again. In the end, it was my tenth time at the top section that I did it
As few of us can understand what moving up to 8c feels like, can you give us an idea if it’s comparable to the grade jump between 6b+ and 6c or 7b+ and 7c? Can you remember making those grade jumps?
That’s a hard question for me because I’ve done most of my development through bouldering, not routes. I guess all grade jumps feel hard when they are at your limit, but I feel like the high grade jumps are tough because (especially in the UK) people are very careful about over-grading and so it really has to earn its position. I remember my first outdoor 7a though: it was Medusa Falls in Portland, I was so psyched.
What would it take for you to climb 8c+ or 9a?
It would take more killer training from Mr Tom Randall, a route that suited me, a route that I loved enough to spend a load of time on and some powerful fairy dust.
Do you think breaking grade boundaries is down to the individual? If we put you on the moon with a star-crusted 9a do you reckon you could send it alone, or do you need the inspiration of the climbing scene to push you on?
Wow, that route sounds amazing, let’s go! But my question would be how many people could I take with me? The climbing scene is incredible and I think Sheffield, in particular, has something very special. I wouldn’t have been able to do this route without some brilliant friends. One becomes so invested in other people’s routes too, I was over the moon when Katy Whittaker did Mecca and I am so psyched for Sam Whittaker (no relation!) to send it too, and for Ethan Walker on Kabaah. The list goes on; it really feels like everything is a group effort.
What are your three top tips about supporting other climbers outside?
1) Give everyone time and space to de-brief about their experience on their route, analyse with them and let them reflect with you and think about how it is going.
2) Be completely with them when belaying on redpoint – little words of encouragement help but also let the climber know that they have your undivided attention
3) Positive talk and bring extra snacks!
You’ve recently left one climbing scene for another. Do you miss any elements of the competition circuit?
Sometimes I miss the buzz of competitions but that was such a small part of, what was for me, a very unfulfilling experience. I learnt a lot from competitions but more about how I wanted climbing to make me feel and what was important to me.
You write very articulately about dealing with failure as well as success, but how do you move from one to the other? Getting psyche back after a low seems very difficult when your performance is so crucial.
It feels very hard to me. When you have a low period or a period of not doing as well as you want, you need a successful experience more than ever and somehow that makes it more elusive! I guess you have to learn to chill out and be patient and find your belief in yourself first and then the rest will follow. We often feel that we need a new success to find self-belief, but I think it has to work the other way around and come from in the inside.
What about staying on the success train? Do you accept that you will need to take some time off from pushing it or are you going to try and keep chugging?
I have a plan to have some time off climbing in January, which is a totally new thing for me, but for now I’m going to try and stay on the happy, psyched, self-belief train and if that comes with success, then great!
You’re 27 and a full-time climber. Despite the perceived privilege of that, it’s a not a stress-free life. Do you think you will be motivated to keep pushing the boundaries of the sport or can you imagine other things taking priority?
I think the balance is definitely going to change soon for me; I’m starting to investigate paths that will allow me to work in other areas but also climb lots. I feel like now I want to be part-time climber, part-time something else, but it’s finding the something that I’m both really keen for and that allows the flexibility for trips and such. But I think I’ve found it...
OK,thinking nice, cool British conditions, I’ve arrived in Sheffield on the Mina Send Train and I’ve got one day to get out in the Peak, where should I go, what should I climb?
If you have one day, I would say the obvious: Stanage Plantation. You’ve got great views, lots to go at for all abilities, easy access and it’s full of history.
Cheers Mina. Choo Choooo!
Mina is sponsored by: Organic Climbing, Arc'teryx, Five Ten and DMM. She is the star of Project Mina, a new film by Jen Randall, sponsored by the BMC.
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