It’s a Midlife Crisis for Katy Whittaker

Posted by Alex Messenger on 16/10/2014
Katy Whittaker climbs Mecca. Photo: www.rainereder.com.

Katy Whittaker continues her stellar year, with a tick of the classic Mecca the Midlife Crisis (8b+) at Raven Tor. We catch up with her to talk her training secrets, hot yoga and why she gave up trad climbing.

We think it’s safe to say that Katy Whittaker has had a pretty good year. She’s joined the grit E8 contingent with her ascents of Gaia and Knocking on Heavens Door. She became the fourth British female to climb 8b+, with her ascent of China Crisis at Oliana in Spain. And, now, she’s put to bed her biggest battle to date: finally clipping the chains of the mighty route Mecca the Midlife Crisis (8b+) at Raven Tor.

Dave Mason caught up with her to see how it all went and find out just how she does it.

So, first off, huge congratulations. How did it feel clipping the chains?

Thank you. Driving out to Raven Tor, I really didn’t think I was going to do it but it was my last chance to try the route before going to Canada with work. It felt more like I was just going through the motions, going out to give it one last go. Needless to say, I was very surprised when I got to the chains. I’m still smiling now!

A lot of energy went into this ascent: poor conditions, injury and a race against time before leaving for Canada. Where does it sit in your climbing achievements so far?

It took up a huge amount of my time, energy and thoughts. I got to the point where I knew I could do it, but I then proceeded to fall off the same move again and again. It was definitely the hardest battle I’ve had to fight on a sport route so far.

It must be nice to climb your hardest climb on home soil. How does it compare to China Crisis?

I loved trying China Crisis. It was an incredible line with great climbing, and I enjoyed every minute, every day that I spent on it. Mecca was different. I tried it because it was local and a perfect opportunity to work my weaknesses.

The climbing was fun, but the experience was a lot more stressful! I kept falling off going into the bottom of the groove and, eventually, the lack of progress started to frustrate, bore and wear me down. I had, however, put so much time into it that I didn’t want to give up.

In terms of difficulty and grading they are incomparable: China Crisis is long and pumpy compared to the short and powerful nature of Mecca. The preparation that went into China Crisis was much more thorough. I had looked at the route on a previous trip and then trained over the winter months solely for it. I went to Oliana for three weeks with one goal: to climb China Crisis. The process on Mecca was completely different, with no specific training and little structure. I trained on the route and fitted sessions around work, training and poor conditions!

You seem to have really upped your climbing over the past year. What’s your secret?

Well for starters, I stopped trying to do everything! Juggling competitions, bouldering, sport and trad climbing just isn’t possible, especially whilst working four days a week.

The competitions were the first to go and that gave me more time to climb on rock. This was a start but, if I wanted to really push myself, I realised I needed to specialise even more. It came down to a decision between sport and trad climbing. I love them both and this made for a tough decision.

Trad has taken me to some amazing places and a lot of my most memorable experiences are from days out trad climbing, but I feel like I have to be doing it nearly every day to get my head in the right space to push myself. With sport climbing, I felt I could train and push my limits, whilst being safe and so I chose to pursue this avenue.

I still love going bouldering and trad climbing but now I’m weak and scared!

Yes Katy, I’m sure you are! Is your approach to a hard headpoint similar to redpointing?

I guess for both you need to be confident but this is where the similarities finish. On a hard headpoint I know the climbing is well within my abilities but the consequences if you mess up are always on your mind. When I’m redpointing, I have to make myself believe I can get to the top and then dig really deep and give 100% on every attempt. This ‘trying hard’ is difficult and tiring to do time and time again. This would suggest that my approach is pretty different but both require a lot from your head as well as your body.

What are your plans for the rest of the year and into 2015?

In the short term, I have a few trips to Spain planned, to explore some new areas and to do some onsighting. As it starts to get colder, I’d like to get out on the grit too. Looking forward to next year, I’m hoping to spend more time in Spain and potentially visit South Africa.

What did you get up to after the successful ascent?

I went to see Matt Pigden (chiropractor) to get my back cracked, as I injured it a few months ago. After that, Mina Leslie-Wujastyk had persuaded me to try hot yoga, which totally wiped me out! The night after was celebration time with a massive mixed grill at a Turkish restaurant!

WATCH: Katy talk about how she started climbing on BMC TV:

WATCH: Mina Leslie-Wujastyk climb Mecca on BMC TV:

WATCH: Steve McClure climb Hubble, also at Raven Ror, on BMC TV:

WATCH: Katy climb hard grit in The Gritual part 1, exclusive to BMC TV

WATCH: Katy climb hard grit in The Gritual part 2, exclusive to BMC TV


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