Emma Twyford: how to climb E9

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 08/10/2013
Emma Twyford, photo: Alex Haslehurst
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Emma Twyford was the second British woman to climb the coveted grade of E9. Sarah Stirling caught up with Emma to talk about her first E9, Rare Lichen, living the climber’s dream in Llanberis and what it’s like to be a female climber these days.

I was lucky to be taught to climb by an experienced and great bunch of people. I grew up in a village in the Lake District. My Dad joined Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team and took up climbing, then started taking me along when I was seven. I was addicted straight away.

Trad climbing just keeps on giving these new experiences and feelings. It’s the first style of climbing I got into and that makes it extra special. I love the mental aspect of trusting the gear you have just placed and the great friends you make through trad partnerships. The sport can take you to some amazing places, too.

I never rushed my climbing progression, if anything I’ve been incredibly slow. I had a thorough grounding in how to place gear and I’ve built up a reasonable amount of knowledge over the years on what works for me.

I’ve been incredibly lucky with the places I’ve lived and the people I've climbed with. In the Lakes, Caff (James Mchaffie) would show me good routes to try and I learnt a lot from watching him climb. When I moved to Llanberis, I discovered a great climbing scene and a wonderful variety of climbing there, too.

I mostly climb rather than train as I find this works well for me. Especially when I am getting out on the rock a lot. I try to climb at least two or three times a week. If I have any trips planned or a route I want to climb, I make a more regimented training structure. I have a good base level of endurance, so I focus on power and power endurance when I train and I do a lot of core work throughout the year too.

In North Wales I have girlfriends that I go climbing with and there are some strong female trad climbers around. But I find that I still go climbing more with the guys if I really want to push myself. I can’t really explain why but it just works better for me.

There are many inspiring ascents by women happening at the moment, which makes it easier to get psyched. The women’s climbing scene had been quiet for ages with most achievements coming from the guys. Perhaps the new influx of strong female climbers came through from the youth competitions that are getting more and more popular.

Events like the Women’s Climbing Symposium also bring women together. It gives them the opportunity to listen to some inspirational talks and get coaching specifically from other women - it’s great to see this event improving the female climbing scene.

WATCH: Emma Tywford climb Rare Lichen (E9) on BMC TV

I would say to women: don’t be afraid to go for your first trad lead. Make sure the route is something well within your comfort level - maybe something you have been on before - that way you can really concentrate on placing the gear well. Also make sure that you are climbing with someone really competent.

Consolidating at each grade is very important to then feel happy moving on to the next grade. It’s all about being smooth and efficient when you climb and also learning how to place gear well. Pick out a safe route that inspires you at the grade you want to move on to. Most of the time with trad it’s the mental aspect that lets people down. So a big part of improving is the self belief that you can actually do it.

When I find a hard trad line that I really like the look of, then it isn’t difficult to get motivated. I find I’m more scared on easier stuff where I have time to think about everything. On routes where I’m trying hard I find I’m completely focused on the climbing.

It’s wise to be aware of the risks but you have to be confident that you are going to do the route. Otherwise there is no point stepping off the ground. But I accept that there is always a chance you may fluff a sequence or a foot could pop.

I was first convinced to have a look at Rare Lichen (E9) by Calum Muskett. On first seeing the line I hoped it climbed as beautifully as it looked. The route didn’t disappoint and I was instantly hooked into wanting to lead it.

I head-pointed (practiced on a top-rope) the route about six times in total before leading it. When it came to leading the route the weather was pretty atmospheric and I definitely had many second thoughts about climbing it that day. But I didn’t want the mental aspect to start imposing on my mind too much so I decided to have a go anyway.

In the end I managed to keep it together on the important bits and the tricky sequences on sketchy footholds seemed to fall into place. There were definitely points where I climbed it better on lead and there were bits where I probably climbed worse.

It’s amazing what you don’t hear when you’re in the zone and everything goes to plan. It felt like a dream climbing the route and I was completely focused to the point that I didn’t hear the camera noises.

Who are you most inspired by?

  • James Mchaffie – I’m incredibly lucky to climb with one of the UK’s best climbers.
  • Rachel Farmer – for being the first British woman to climb F8a.
  • Hazel Findlay – for pushing female trad climbing forward and doing some cool big wall lines.

What are your top five trad routes to try in North Wales?

  • Lighthouse Arete Vs 4c – Castell Helen
  • Dream of White Horses HVS 4c – Wen Zawn, Gogarth
  • Left Wall E2 5c – Cromlech
  • The Axe E4 6a – Cloggy
  • Positron E5 6a – Main Cliff, Gogarth

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