Katy Whittaker fights her way to F8b+

Posted by Dave Mason on 18/03/2014
Fighting to stay on. Photo: Nathan Lee.
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Katy Whittaker has just joined a very elite club: becoming one of only four British women to climb F8b+ with her ascent of China Crisis in Oliana, Spain on 10 March. Dave Mason caught up with her to talk fitness, fighting and her plans for F8c.

Katy’s recent ascent of China Crisis means that she joins Lucy Creamer, Mina Leslie-Wujastyk and Hazel Findlay in the British F8b+ club. I caught up with Katy as her time in Oliana was coming to an end and she was preparing for the real world again. I wanted to know what the route felt like and when she thinks the British women will breach the F8c barrier. 

Boom! F8b+. So, how does that feel?
Amazing! I’m really pleased. I actually didn’t think it was going to happen, but I ended up surprising myself.

You went on a short trip in November last year to try and find something to get your teeth stuck into. Did you try the moves on that trip and know you could climb the route with a bit of training?
I’d wanted to visit Oliana for quite some time, and Neil Mawson had recommended China Crisis to me as he thought it looked like a route that suited my style. From the first time I saw it I was psyched: the climb follows a long grey streak up a gently overhanging wall on immaculate rock. I went up the route on two separate occasions on that trip and thought it was desperate.

I found it hard just getting from bolt to bolt! However the climbing was so good on it, I decided I needed to come back and give it my best shot. I returned home, persuaded work to give me three weeks holiday and booked some flights. It was time to train!

What training did you do?
The route is a test of fitness but starts out with a hard, crimpy boulder problem. I knew I had to get fitter whilst maintaining good strength for the boulder problem at the beginning.

Due to working four days a week, my time is quite limited and so each week I did one session of routes where I focused on mileage and one bouldering session that was project based – basically trying really hard moves and then linking them together.

I also took some advice from a friend and went back to basics with my training. I spent a lot of time working on my base fitness and strength, which involved non-climbing related sessions. I needed to condition my body so it all worked together rather than rolling around on my joints and relying on finger strength. I really think these sessions helped me the most and I am keen to continue with this kind of training.

So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty! The route took you eight days of effort. Did it become a mental battle or did everything go relatively smoothly?
At the start of the trip I didn’t put myself under any pressure as I thought the route was actually too hard. As with anything, though, the more I tried the route the better I felt on it, until the day came when it was time to start with the redpoint attempts.

On my first redpoint I totally surprised myself and made it onto the head wall, falling just under the penultimate clip. This is where the nerves and pressure started to kick in. Before this go, the thought of actually climbing the route hadn’t entered into my mind, now it was time for the mental battle.

After the initial good go I had a few a poor attempts and I began to think that maybe I had got lucky. My next attempt ended in a high point but I still couldn’t imagine being able to do the last few moves on tiny crimps and slopers. I took a rest day and then managed to pull it out of the bag.

Did it all go smoothly on the send go or was it a real fight?
I felt really good on the lower section but when I got onto the head wall I began to feel the burn in my forearms. I had ten or so more moves and was so pumped I had to miss the penultimate clip. I was clawing at the holds and whimpering, trying my best to stay on the wall.

Sounds like a real fight then! Like the hard ones should be! What have you been doing since sending your project?
After a rest day it was time for some onsighting at Tres Ponts. The highlight of my last week was climbing Mishi (F8a) on my second go. The fitness I had built up from China Crisis was paying off!

Everyone will be harping on about F8c, not only for you but British women in general. Are there routes you have your eye on?
People have been harping on about F8c for ages! One step at a time though! I want to continue to build my pyramid before moving onto F8c. I’ve climbed a fair few F8as and F8a+s but only one F8b and one F8b+ so maybe a few more of those first.

I’ll hopefully get back out to Spain at some point soon and find something inspiring! For F8c my money is on Mina at Raven Tor and Hazel or Emma in Spain. Come on ladies!

What plans have you got for the upcoming year?
A trip to Pabbay with a psyched crew in the summer, and I’d love to return to Oliana at a similar time next year.

You’ve got a full-time job, how does that affect your climbing?
Hmm. After spending three weeks here and feeling fitter, I’d love to be able to stay for another month or two and climb some harder stuff. That would be the life. At the same time, I’m lucky enough to have a great job with Arc’teryx and get to work with some ace people.

It makes it interesting juggling work and climbing, but I’m lucky enough to have Wednesdays off so I can get out and climb on the grit or train for trips.

With social media becoming so popular you’re constantly reminded when sat at work that you aren’t out climbing in the good connies (conditions) but you make the most of what you have available. The shorter answer would have been, yes, I’m pretty happy plodding along doing what I do!

Would climbing full time change climbing for you?
I think when you can’t have something all the time you want it even more, so I really appreciate and look forward to my days off and I’m really motivated when I do get out.

If I climbed full time then, perhaps, my hobby would end up feeling more like a job and maybe it wouldn’t be as fun and stress free. However, like most climbers, I do sometimes wonder what it would be like to do it full time.

WATCH: Katy talk about starting climbing on BMC TV:

Katy is sponsored by Arc’teryx, DMM and Five Ten



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