Katy Whittaker: two Johnny Dawes hard slab climbs in a day

Posted by Hazel Findlay on 01/03/2012
Katy Whittaker: no stranger to hard grit. Photo: Alex Messenger.

Katy Whittaker (22) has just climbed two of Johnny Dawes’ super-hard slab climbs at Black Rocks. But, with the advent of bouldering pads, are they routes or highballs, and what grade can she claim? Hazel Findlay decided to find out.

Katy Whittaker has just climbed two Johnny Dawes slab climbs in a day, both on ‘The Block’ at Black Rocks. First, she did ‘Jumping on a Beetle’ (E7 6c) first try. Then, shortly after, ‘Angel Share’ – the toughest route on the block – requiring supreme Dawes-esque hands-off slab skills.

I caught up with her to find out more.

Katy, tell us about the two routes you did on the Block the other day? Have you working them before?
I have been on that block once or twice before, but could never get stood up on the rail. You have to do a funny mantle/rockover onto a long, thin runnel to get stood at the base of the slab. It’s such a weird move and, for some reason, I managed it on that day. I only really had plans to try 'Jumping on a Beetle', but managed it first go that day so thought I should try 'Angel Share'

What is Angel Share like?
You step off the very right-hand edge of the rail and do three very smeary foot steps up, which are basically hands free. Some people use palms but I found it easier to just purely concentrate on my feet and body positioning. You then do a fairly wide step-out left. At this point it’s possible to reach a thin seam at the top for your hands. The top-out is horrendously slopey. I fell off with my hands in the seam about five times and when I did manage to get over the top it wasn't pretty: you feel like your feet are going to rip at any moment!

How did you protect the route?
It’s a highball but I had eight pads under me. You feel pretty high when you’re stood in the rail but as soon as you start climbing it’s all forgotten… until your foot pops at the top and you look down!

How hard did it feel?
Like the hardest slab climb I’ve done. It’s definitely one of my favourites. You look at the footholds and think there’s not a chance my foot is sticking to that but when you trust it… somehow it does.

Angel Share is given E8 7a and Jumping on a Beetle E7 6c, however a lot of people argue that these grades are inaccurate if you use bouldering mats. For example, in the bouldering area of Bishop there are boulders higher, and these problems still get V grades. What are your thoughts?
It’s quite simple really: the guide gives it E8 7a or Font 7c. If you climb it without pads you take the E grade; if you climb it with pads you take the bouldering grade. I wanted to climb it ground up with pads, because it’s more fun to try with a bunch of people and, at the end of the day, a lot safer. If asked, I’d say it’s a highball 7c.

Do you care about the grade or what other people’s thoughts are concerning the highball/E-grade debate?
I didn't climb the route for the grade. It’s a really cool block with some amazing little routes on. I did Angel Share because I wanted to try a really hard slab and test myself. Personally, I want to climb a boulder/highball/route because it’s a cool line and inspires me.

If I really want to do these climbs, I have to bring them down to my level, either by top roping or using pads. Some people might think it’s cheating but, at the end of the day, if I’m happy with how I climbed it and I’ve been honest about the style, then who cares!
 



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Within just six weeks, Hazel Findlay has successfully headpointed Magic Line 5.14c R in Yosemite Valley, a 35m crack which she describes as the 'hardest and most beautiful line' she has tried and equivalent to 'E10 for sure'. It can be hard to directly translate top-end American grades, but this is an 8c trad route. Hazel added, "To give you an idea of how hard this route was for me, the lower boulder crux is the hardest boulder problem I’ve ever done."
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