Who's the best British female sport climber you've never heard of? Challenging for that title is Lucy Mitchell, who's quietly been amassing a tick-list of hard sport climbs and has just returned from crushing Fish Eye 8c in Oliana Spain, her hardest route yet. Sarah Stirling tracks her down to find out more.
Lucy Mitchell, a 23-year-old climber from Belfast, has been ticking off a list of incredibly impressive sport climbs including a bunch of Kilnsey and Gordale test-pieces, while also working 60 hours a week managing a busy climbing wall. She's just returned from Oliana, Spain, where she managed to clip the chains on her hardest climb to date in just seven days. How does she manage to juggle a full-time job with training to attain her goals? Sarah Stirling finds out.
How did you get into climbing?
When I was younger I didn't know that you could climb as a hobby or a sport, but it was always my favourite part of residential and youth trips away. As soon as I found out it was possible I Googled how to get into climbing and haven't stopped since.
How often do you climb?
I climb as often as I can, but it’s tricky to fit it in around work. Some weeks I can climb every day, some weeks I won't even put my shoes on.
Tell us a bit about your job?
I'm on the management team at BoulderWorld Belfast. I do everything from hoovering the mats to serving the coffee, coaching the courses to setting the routes and organising the events. At the minute it's pretty busy. I can’t really remember the last time I managed to tick everything off my ‘to do’ list!
WATCH: How to belay a sport climber on BMC TV
How do you train to climb 8c?
In general I just climb, I wouldn’t class it as training. But when I climb, I do so at an intense level. I love stamina-based climbing – multiple repeats of routes, laps of problems and so on – and I also love trying very hard problems and routes. Occasionally I do a session of strength-based exercises, like pull ups, weighted ups and locks. It's not so much what I like, so I would call that training!
What's your top training tip?
Get a friend to try hard with. It’s always much more productive and much more fun when I have someone to climb with.
Why did you set your sights on Fish Eye?
I don't think there is a route I don’t want to climb at Oliana! Fish Eye just ticked more boxes than any other. An 8c bang in the middle of the main face, which doesn't have any majorly reachy moves and isn't scary.
How long did it take you to redpoint it?
I probably tried it upwards of 20 times over the course of around seven days, split over three trips.
What do you like about sport climbing in particular?
It's so accessible. Pick your route, put the draws in and up you go. On an average day you can climb (or try to climb!) three to five hard routes with very little faff. Many of the crags, certainly the ones I go to, have short walk-ins, too. You can climb pretty close to your difficulty limits without feeling like you're going to die! And the swing at the end – who doesn't love the swing on a massively steep overhanging crag. Watch out for trees through!
Do you climb trad as well?
I have climbed three trad routes: E5 6a, E5 6b and E7 6b. Two were in the Mourne Mountains, and one at Fairhead. For me, it's a bit scary and not as fun. Too much rain, too much walking, too many slimy holds and cobwebs! I don’t have the base of routes or experience to be confident enough to enjoy it, and at the minute I don't have the time, patience or desire to gain that base… you never know, maybe next year.
WATCH: Alex Honnold's Welsh Slate Experience on BMC TV
Do you compete as well?
I compete every time I step on the wall. With myself, my friends – anyone and everyone. If I’m trying to get to the top of something, I’m always trying to get it in fewer attempts, better style or more consistently than anyone else.
I enjoy actual bouldering and lead climbing competitions, too. Again, it's tricky to fit in around work, though. Weekends are pretty busy for me and unfortunately most competitions are held over weekends. But I wish I did more of them and I wish I was better at them.
You have to be on top form to compete, both physically and mentally. Competitions are both brilliant and brutal, sometimes both on the same day. The feeling when you climb well is unbeatable, but the feeling when you mess up is unbearable!
Where's your favourite place to climb in the UK?
Kilnsey or Gordale for sure. I lived in Leeds for three years while I was at university, so I did plenty of climbing there. I wish it was as close now.
What's your next goal?
I’m not looking to climb harder this year, grade-wise. However, if a non-reachy 8c+ came my way, I’d certainly give it a go. Realistically, though, I’d like to consolidate to the point where I could work 8b, 8b+ and 8c in a day or two. It would be great to be able to do two or three of them in a trip.
What do you think the future of climbing looks like, with all the strong youth coming through from indoors?
I think with the talent, ability and enthusiasm of kids today, we are all set to be incredibly impressed and excited by what the future holds.
If you hadn't found climbing, what would you be doing instead do you think?
Maybe trying to win the Tour de France!
What's your favourite possession?
Probably my climbing bag, which just by chance happens to have my climbing shoes, chalk bag, harness, favourite water bottle, favourite T-shirt, favourite shorts, favourite fleece, emergency bag of Haribo, a Fudge and my laptop in it!
WATCH: The Women's International Climbing Meet 2016 on BMC TV
Do you have any plans to become more of a sponsored climber?
Tricky one. Top sponsored climbers are working and representing every day while they are out climbing and competing. Yes, it’s what they love, but there’s a lot of pressure to perform every time they pull on. I’m not sure I’m up to that level just yet.
Sometimes I wish I had more time to climb abroad and train for trips and competitions, so I felt ready for them. But I would really like to do that without all the pressure. I guess I'd like to win the lottery!
It’s tough working so much and not having the time to climb, but I’ve enjoyed seeing so much positive uptake and enthusiasm for climbing in Belfast since we opened, and I’m happy to see where the job goes for the meantime.
I’m pretty lucky really. I have a really great climbing wall to train at (not that I’d be in any way biased), and Lyon Outdoors very generously keep my shoes topped up for trips. If a rope or a harness turned up at my door I’d smile a lot and be very grateful but I know there are an awful lot of people out there doing really great things every day and very deserving of support!
Lucy’s ticklist from 7c+ upwards
Cold Steal 8a
Complete control 8a
Last Action Hero 8a
The Thumb 8a
Mr Nice 7c+
Dead Calm 7c+
The Ashes 7c+
Fish Eye 8c
Humildes pa’riba 8a+
Mon Dieu 8a+
Soul Rebel 8a
La Perdonavida 8a
Red Bull 7c+
Cubata Cupito 8b
Hard Crit 8a+
Terre de Feu 8a+
El Fustigador 8a+
Gorges du Loup:
Hong Kong Fu Fu 8b
Arrow Head 8a
Black Mamba 8a
Maquerelle de Boeuf 8a
Pren Nota 8a
Les Cadres Regenerent 8a
Bag a bargain this winter with our fantastic deal on all single-trip BMC Rock Insurance policies. That works out at only £45 for ten days!
We've been insuring climbers like you for over 30 years. That's why all of our policies come with:
24-hour emergency assistance helpline
£10 million emergency medical cover
£100,000 search, rescue and recovery cover
£10,000 personal accident cover
£5,000 cancellation cover
£2,500 baggage cover
No age loading until you're 70
WATCH: BMC Insurance: Get out there
*Policy details: £45.74 for 10-day rock insurance valid on all single-trip European Rock cover up to age 69.