Hazel Findlay interviews: Katy Whittaker

Posted by Hazel Findlay on 30/01/2012
Katy Whittaker climbing Master's Edge, Millstone. Photo: Alex Messenger.

Katy Whittaker is one of the UK's top female climbers. Hazel Findlay talks to Katy to find out what makes her tick.

Katy has been a part of the climbing scene in the UK since she was very small. I’ve known her since we were in the age 7-9 category of the BRYCS (the old name for the BMC Youth Climbing Series).

Aged 15, we competed together in our last year of the BRYCS in Leeds. We both topped out all the routes and had to go head-to-head in a super final. Karin Magog (who has always been a bit of a hero of mine) set the super-final route. I remember it being grey, with small holds and very long. I was rather terrified, but also knew that there was no one I’d rather lose to than Katy. There would be no bad terms other than a little well-deserved ribbing.

But we both managed to top out, resulting in a tie. It was a perfect result and a great way to end our days of competing as juniors. We made a pact: to one day come joint first in a World Cup when we were a little older (and a lot better). Unfortunately, or fortunately (depending on how you look at it) neither myself nor Katy have become world champions, but we’ve both continued to love climbing.

I’ve focussed mostly on trad climbing in the last few years, but Katy seems to be excelling in all disciplines of the sport whilst also receiving a First in Graphic Design from Sheffield Hallam University.

I gave up competing but Katy has continued to represent Great Britain in several international bouldering competitions and held a consistent presence on the podium in our national competitions. One of her greatest achievements was winning the bouldering competition at the Climbing Works International Climbing Festival in Sheffield. Although not technically recognised as an international competition, it’s basically regarded as one: all the best climbers from around the world flock in to flex their muscles.

Often I’ll claim that it doesn’t matter how strong you are on plastic, or how much you train, most of these competitors can’t stand on a grit slab, nor can they work out a techy face sequence. Although this might be true for a lot of competitors, I cannot say the same for Katy.

Having completed E6 on the grit ground-up, head pointed E7 and flashed a super-techy E5 7a (Shirley’s Shining Temple at Stanage which, if you haven’t tried it, is nails) I can honestly say that Katy is not bad at standing on her feet. I recently climbed with Katy in Bishop. Katy consistently surprised me in her ability to read the rock and put her feet exactly where they were to be best used.

Katy can also sport climb, having done a number of 8a+ sport routes in Europe and at home. However, more impressively and unknown to most, Katy ticked an 8b just before her trip: Love Amongst the Butterflies at Cheedale Cornice. She is one of the few females to climb 8b in the UK, and this is the first female ascent of that route.

Katy is a proper all-round climber, so I asked her a few questions.

Katy, you don’t seem to have settled for one style of climbing that you prefer and do the most – dividing your time between bouldering, inside bouldering, sport climbing and trad climbing. Although you are good at all four of these disciplines, do you find a lack of focus to be limiting? If so - do you want to change this about yourself or not?

I love the variety in climbing, I think I get bored easily and I also love to try everything so when I get bored of trad, for example, I can go boulder or do comps.In the last year or so I have been thinking about trying to focus on one aspect of the sport but I just can’t choose! It is tricky because obviously you train for bouldering and lose all your endurance and vice versa. I think deep down, I am a route climber. I’m not built for strength and power but I get through bouldering and comps by having that bit of extra reach.

You recently did a 3 month trip to America, what did you enjoy the most, and what did you learn?

Yeah, America was amazing, it was an eye opener to how big routes are! You get used to climbing a few meters of grit and generally placing one cam on the way or putting a bouldering mat underneath you. I loved the big days out, the walking to the crag, doing 13 pitches and then walking all the way back down and collapsing at the campsite.

My aim was to learn to crack climb. I haven’t climbed much at all on granite and didn’t trust anything especially my feet. Crack climbing felt like learning how to climb again. I tried my hardest to smear and stand on anything outside the crack, but learnt you just have to put your foot in and twist – and it hurts! I don’t think I improved that much on the cracks, but I learnt to trust my feet again and occasionally do the odd fingerlock!

What are your future goals and ambitions, if any?

That’s secret, innit!



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