Keeping it in the family: climbing on Father’s Day

Posted by Claire-Jane Carter on 13/06/2014
Katy Whittaker and her dad Paul on the Cuillin Ridge, 2013.

It’s a great family activity, so what better way to celebrate Father's Day this Sunday than with a family climb. Claire-Jane Carter caught up with five climbing fathers, sons and daughters to ask them about having climbing in their blood, and how they share their passion.

Like cowlicks, the propensity to burn in the sun and odd passions for country music, climbing is one of those strange habits that passes down through the generations. Babies at the crag and grandads at the climbing wall are common sights, and with more children learning to climb at school, ‘getting your parents into climbing’ should soon be PE homework! 

We talk to five climbing families...

Katy and Paul Whittaker

Katy and and her brother Pete are the infamous ‘Grit Kids’, climbing hard traditional routes at a young age, as well as dabbling in competitions. They continue to push their grade and style of climbing, Katy climbing E8 and 8b+, and Pete putting up new routes at E10.

When did you last climb together?

Katy: Probably the most memorable time we last climbed together was when we did the Cuillin Ridge on Skye in June last year. It took us 15.5 hours and we made a plan to go back and do it again when Dad is 73, as we met a great guy on the ridge who told us he didn't have chance to do it when he was younger, so was doing it now aged 73!
Paul: That was a truly brilliant day; thoroughly enjoyable, even when I called for 'rescue' in a state of distress on Naismith's Route. One other climb that sticks in my mind is Katy leading me up Wuthering at Stanage a few years ago. I still jitter when I walk past it now.

The Whittaker dynasty would suggest climbing is genetic, do you all climb in a ‘Whittaker’ style or do you make very different shapes?

K: We are both pretty similar in terms of both character/sense of humour and body type! We are both very tall and slim in comparison to Pete and Mum/Jill who are more powerhouses/keen beans. We both also get tired quicker and definitely more scared, but usually find it pretty amusing, especially when we are together.
P: Pete and Jill are definitely keen. They even enjoy training! Katy will bosh it out as long as there is food available.

It's raining cats and dogs, all the climbing walls are shut, what’s a non climbing Fathers day?
K: Roast dinner and mickey taking!
P: Sounds pretty good. When is it?

Katy is 25, and the UK marketing co-odinator for Arc'teryx; Paul is 59 and works as a OS cartographer.
 

Emma and Paul Twyford

Emma is a strong trad and sport climber, recently climbing Rare Lichen (E9) in the Ogwen Valley and the sport route Predator (8b) at Malham. She was a British Junior Bouldering Champion, and at 15 climbed Penny (E4) at Holyhead Mountain on a BMC Youth Meet.

How did you get into climbing?
Paul: Both of us got into climbing when I joined the Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team.

Emma, when has having a climbing dad been most important to you?
Emma: The most important time having a climbing dad was when I first started but its always been important as its a special bond we share.

What would be a top climbing route for Father’s Day
P: My choice of route would be Lakeland Cragsman on Sargeant Crag Slabs. It would have been Overhanging Bastion at Castle Rock but its currently not climbable.
E: It would either be Troutdale Pinnacle Direct on Black Crag or Dream of White Horses at Gogarth, both for the location. I've always wanted to take Dad on Dream of White Horses but it hasn't quite happened yet!

Emma is 22, a climbing wall route setter, coach and sponsored climber; Paul is 47 and works as a Solicitor and lectures in Law.


Emma and Paul Twyford at Castell Helen, Gogarth.


Pete and Rick Graham

Pete recently went to Patagonia after receiving a BMC expedition grant, where he and his partner summited Fitz Roy, Domo Blanco and Stanhart. His dad Rick has put up several summer and winter routes in the Lake District and contributes to FRCC guidebooks.

At what age do you think you have or will climb your best?

Pete: I've been climbing properly since I was about 14 (now 27) and am still improving at all types of climbing. I reckon maybe mid 30s till early 40s. 
Rick: Probably 29 (just before a big argument with the car park at Cheddar Gorge - ground fall ).  Pleasing phases at 36, 40 and 51 when enthusiasm, lifestyle and diet peaked simultaneously.

Do you prefer climbing on your home turf or adventuring elsewhere?

P: Hard to choose. I've been to some pretty special parts of the world to climb. Places like Yosemite or Patagonia are pretty awe-inspiring places to be as a climber. But I think there's also something very special about climbing where you grew up. For some strange reason I value fighting my way up a mossy 40-metre bit of rock in the Lakes as much as climbing a 1,200-metre stunning granite wall on Fitz Roy.
R: Anywhere, even an indoor wall.

Are there any drawbacks to being father-son climbers?

P: When I was younger every time I managed to lead the next hardest grade my dad would spite my achievement by seconding me in his trainers. Fortunately he is no longer able to do this.
R: We used to discuss when our climbing standards graphs would cross.  I remember it seemed to happen pretty suddenly. Though Peter did have a brief flurry missing out E2 and going straight from E1 to E3. I now have trouble following Peter’s best leads.  Anyway I seem to have digressed, the main drawback is Peter’s enthusiasm and constant trips away wearing out the gear he keeps "borrowing".

Pete is 27, and Rick is 60; they both work as site engineers in the Lake District.


Pete and Rick Graham at the same point on the White Spider on the Eiger, 20 
years apart.


Ed and Dan Hamer

Ed Hamer is on the GB Climbing Team. As well as climbing 8b+, he has been climbing hard routes on the grit this spring. His brother Sam climbs too and together they write a climbing blog ‘The Hamer Boys’. His father Dan, grandfather and grandmother are also keen climbers!

Ed, what route have you most been busting to tell you dad about? And dad are they any routes you wish Ed had kept a secret?

Ed: Meshuga (E9 6C) at Black Rocks, mainly because it was my first E9, and I knew my dad has always wanted me to climb it.
Dan: He's pretty tight-lipped about them sometimes, but I like to hear about them all.

What would be a top Father’s Day outing?
D: Alderman Rocks above Greenfield.
E: It was Grandfather Dan's favourite local crag and The Great Slab was one of Father Dan's early VS’s.

           
Grandfather Dan leading Amen Corner in the 1950s, and Father Dan on Alderman Rocks, 1960s.

And post-climbing Father’s Day meal?
E & D: Raspberry pavlova and shisha!

Ed and Sam have a keen climbing fashion sense, is this also inherited?
E: Definitely inherited from Grandad Dan and Father Dan, check those bogolan wastecoats...(below)

Ed is 22 and a climber and coach; Dan is 58 and works as a geologist.


Bogolan boys: Ed, Sam and Dan Hamer, sporting mud waistcoats

Hazel and Steve Findlay

Hazel is a BMC Ambassador, and was a competition climber until 16, when she became an adventure climber! She has climbed 8c and E9, and grew up sea cliff climbing with her dad. Steve is also a very keen climber and mountaineer and developed many routes on the British sea cliffs.

Hazel, three top climbing tips you’ve learnt from your dad, and Steve, three top climbing tips you’ve learnt from Hazel?

Hazel:
1) Don't panic.
2) Go for it.
3) Always finish a good day's climbing with a pint in hand.

Steve:
1) Hazel explained the 'power of projecting' in a way I understood a few years ago, I generally lose interest in a route if I can't on-sight it. She has used projecting hard sport routes as an effective and more fun way of getting very fit for trad routes and also made the mental jump into protracted concentration and determination. Maybe I will project a route sometime.
2) Be bold!
3) I think we have both learned the value of being able to climb all sorts of types of rock, including the delights of the loose.

What, if any, climbing flaws do you share?

H: I think, all things considered we are both bad at training for climbing, especially inside. My dad doesn't like running, which is at least something I like doing.  Overall we've both preferred to keep it fun rather than spend all our time pulling on plastic. Is that a flaw?
S: Hazel uses chalk !!! on sea cliffs! My main flaw nowadays is that I don't climb often enough, there's too much else to see and do. I don’t think not training is a flaw really, it takes a certain personality type to be that committed, we both seem to have taken the view that climbing is a spontaneous and fun activity. Even if it's serious. Oh, and I never really got good at jamming.

If you could put each other on any route, anywhere in the world, which one would you choose and why?

H: I'd like to see my dad climb something cool on his 60th birthday (coming up this August). He's in Australia at the moment, so maybe the famous overhang Kachoong at Arapiles. Dad?
S: Good choice Hammy, it was the first route I did in Australia 11 years ago but it would be fun to do on my 60th. Better start doing some pull-ups. I would like to see Hammy on Serpentine, an iconic grade 30 on Taipan Wall in the Grampians, thought by many to be one of the best routes of its grade on the planet. It was put up by mutual friends around the time Hazel was born. That way I may get to see her some time this year!

Hazel is 24 and a full-time climber; Steve is 59 and an expedition and climbing guide.


Steve and Hazel at the base of 'Once Upon a Time in the South West’, E9 6c, Dyers Lookout.

Thanks everyone and Happy Father's Day!
 

Watch a film about climber Alastair Lee taking his son climbing on Yorkshire grit, 'The First Great Climb' on BMC TV:



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