Less than a handful of British women have climbed 8c, and even fewer have climbed a British 8c. The latest to crack the grade is Sheffield-based Maddy Cope, who climbed Freerider in Yosemite last year, then spent the winter training for Bat Route 8c at Malham. Sarah Stirling interviews this impressive all-rounder, who is planning to quit her day job and spend more time outside.
It's been an impressive year for British female climbers. Hazel Findlay, who was the first British female to climb 8c, Fish Eye at Oliana in Spain back in April 2014, made an incredible comeback from injury, and climbed another at the same crag: Mind Control. Lucy Mitchell, the best climber you've never heard of, also climbed an 8c this year: Fish Eye.
Emma Twyford was the first British female to climb an 8c — Unjustifed at Malham — but it was later downgraded to 8b+. In October the same year, Mina Leslie-Wujastyk climbed a British 8c — Mecca Extension at Raven Tor. She has since also climbed Bat Route.
Sarah Stirling catches up with Maddy Cope who is the latest to join club 8c:
MC: Climbing Bat Route has made me realise what is possible if you focus on improving your weaknesses. It's cool to see progression on a route over a longer period of time — you build up a relationship with the route.
I love the style of sport climbing at Malham. It's technical – a move can feel impossible if your body isn’t in the right position and you aren’t weighting your feet. It requires patience, too, because working out beta can take a while, but I like this part of redpointing – it's like solving a puzzle. When I've redpointed in Europe, the sequences have generally come together more quickly and the routes seem generally more fitness based, and perhaps less intricate.
There is always a good scene at Malham. Most people there go regularly and so are friendly and familiar. Everyone is interested in how other people are doing on their routes and there is usually a good level of banter. When people are pushing themselves (and failing more often than not!), the atmosphere has the potential to become tense, but this doesn’t really happen at Malham.
The fact that climbing is so varied is a big part of what I love about it. I enjoy climbing on different rock types and styles. As well as sport climbing I enjoy trad and have done some alpine rock and big wall climbing.
Big walls are probably my favourite because they are the most memorable. Because there is a variety of styles on one route you can’t shy away from weaknesses, and this makes it really satisfying. Also, you get to experience a unique environment, being tethered to the side of a cliff and sleeping on ledges. I enjoy the exposure. It's hard work and you’re not always sure you’re having fun, but the experience is a rich one.
Bat Route breaks down like this: a 7b that climbs into a Font 7B boulder problem through the roof, then a knee bar rest, which is a good break for the arms but tires your core and calves. The headwall above is about 8a+, and starts with a powerful slappy section, then, when the angle eases, there is a crimpy crux followed by a sustained technical wall. You reach some juggy undercuts and get to finish up a 6c-ish section with great exposure.
I first tried the route last autumn before heading out to Yosemite. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it in that time, but I wanted to try the boulder problem section. It's the hardest climbing so felt like the key to the route. I managed to link the boulder problem so walked away happy and psyched to try it properly in spring. It took nine sessions to work the route this spring.
I am not much of a boulderer so wasn’t sure how good a choice Bat Route was at first, but the route is amazing so I bouldered indoors over the winter to improve my strength. Previously, I have chosen more technical wall climbs because I thought they suited my style. Now I think styles that suit you are usually just the ones that you have focussed on more. Being motivated for the route is the most important thing.
I grew up in Warrington and, like most teenagers, spent my weekends going to terrible nightclubs, dancing to awful music, and drinking too many alcopops. On a night out I got chatting to a guy who had just got back from climbing in the Alps, where he had been helicopter rescued. I thought this sounded exciting. He took me to Warrington climbing wall, where I fell in love with climbing.
I develop online learning resources aimed at chemistry university students for a job. I work four days a week, which gives me a day to go climbing in the week. However, it’s harder to go on longer trips, which I really want to do more of. Although my work isn’t physical, sometimes it feels hard to balance it with climbing. A large part of pushing yourself is mental, so if I am mentally tired from work it affects my climbing. Vice versa, if I am really tired from climbing, I struggle to work well and that can be stressful.
I've decided to resign and finish in early September. My work was very computer based and I am more passionate about climbing and being outside. I think it's important to lead an active and healthy lifestyle, have goals, and appreciate the outside world. Hopefully I can find a way to make a living that is in keeping with these ideals. I would like to make a step towards being free to climb more — maybe making an income from climbing related work, such as outdoor instruction, or casual jobs.
I am currently sponsored by La Sportiva and recently Mammut. I really appreciate their support as it makes it easier to save for climbing trips and hope that I can give them something in return in terms of promoting the brands.
Professional climbing is a funny one. A sponsor has to feel it is worth paying you to represent the brand. This seems to be largely measured in terms of social media presence and this isn't something that comes easily to all characters.
I live in Sheffield where there are lots of psyched people to climb with and there are always friendly faces at the climbing wall. I found there was a really good training scene in the climbing wall this winter. Lots of people pushing themselves, being supportive of each other, offering advice, and generally having a laugh.
This winter was the first time I committed myself to training. I bouldered on the board at the Works. It's really powerful and all the feet are terrible so it is a good way to get stronger. You can make up your own problems and the creativity makes it a really fun way to train. I also started finger boarding and did general conditioning like core and pull-ups.
I didn’t have a strict training plan, but did whatever I felt like doing. One week I would be really psyched for the board and the next for pull-ups and press-ups. I think this works well because your body doesn’t get too used to any one exercise and injury feels less likely. One thing I noticed is that your body can adapt quickly to training, so you need to keep mixing it up so that you don’t plateau.
It’s impressive watching the finals of the comps and I like watching people I know compete, but I will definitely never be one of them. My passion is climbing outside and this is what motivates me. I am psyched to do more training indoors in the future, but I will need a goal outside to motivate me.
I just want to keep going climbing. I am really looking forward to spending some time in North Wales and Pembroke over the summer and going to Taghia in October.
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