In a quiet, damp Swiss wood, the British climbing event of the year has just taken place: Shauna Coxsey has become the third woman in the world to climb an 8b+ boulder problem. It’s very definitely time to find out more, thinks Claire Jane Carter.
Barely two weeks since she last hit the headlines, for taking second place in this year's IFSC Bouldering World Cup, our Runcorn Rocket has fired again: becoming the third woman ever to climb an 8b+ boulder.
Shauna was on a trip to Magic Wood, Switzerland for two weeks of “chilling out and sunbathing” between finishing the World Cup and the one-off World Championships in Munich.
Despite attracting the only dreary weather in Europe, she managed her third 8b and then, on her last day, her first 8b+: New Baseline.
New Baseline was first climbed by Bernd Zangerl. Originally graded 8c, Dave MacLeod described it as “one of the most iconic hard problems on the planet.”
The first woman to climb 8b+ was Tomoko Ogawa, with her October 2012 ascent of Dai Koyamada's Catharsis at Shiobara, Japan. Her ascent took her about 30-40 days spread over three years. Tomoko was joined by 13-year-old Ashima Shirasihi when she sent Golden Shadow in Rocklands, South Africa, only two days ahead of Shauna’s success on New Baseline.
Shauna had previously climbed three 8bs: Zarzaparilla, Nuthin but Sunshine and One Summer in Paradise.
Coming off the back of her second place in the Bouldering World Cup, ticking New Baseline confirms Shauna as a truly world-class performer. We caught up with her to find out how relaxed you really have to be to climb 8b+, and what this all means for British women’s climbing.
Two weeks of sunbathing leads directly to 8b+, there must be something in your suncream?
I hadn’t really thought much about climbing in Magic Wood. I was genuinely looking forward to getting a tan and eating some ice cream. Unfortunately the weather didn’t allow for such luxuries, and we were forced to spend a lot of time sitting in the house watching films and reading waiting for the rocks to dry. Maybe the rest was the key?
How hard was it?
Not as hard as I thought it was going to be. It’s the first 8b+ I’ve ever tried. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get off the ground, and I had prepared myself to get totally shut down. I was amazed that in my first session that I was able to figure out most of the moves. It felt hard but definitely possible. Once I’d linked a few of the moves it dawned on me that it might be possible, though linking the whole problem was significantly harder than my first session suggested both physically and mentally.
Was it a tactical siege on the grade or did you just fancy it on the day?
I’d seen pictures and video footage of the boulder and I thought it looked really cool. It wasn’t about the grade. I went to Magic Wood for a holiday, to have fun climbing. My idea of having fun just happens to be trying really hard and pushing myself and I found that on this climb.
Tomoko Ogawa spent 30-40 days over three years trying her 8b+. How long did your attempt take you?
I spent five days on the boulder with very mixed conditions. It stayed dry for a short while after it started raining so I managed to squeeze in a few days on it when the weather was bad. I did it in my second session trying it from the start.
Could you spend three years on a problem?
Good question. I really don’t think I could. I really admire people with the ability to be so focused and determined. I think I would find it hard to be that patient.
Ashima Shirasishi climbed her 8b+ literally days before your ascent, is there a cosmic shift going on for women’s climbing, or is it just coincidence you have both broken this boundary?
Maybe it’s something to do with the summer holidays.
You set up the Women’s Climbing Symposium three years ago. Apart from 8b+, what’s changed in women’s climbing?
The WCS has grown every year, and I think that is a definite reflection on the growth of the sport. There are so many more women climbing and motivated to push themselves at all levels. I have people writing to me of all ages and abilities who just want to tell me how psyched they are. It’s amazing to see.
What gender-specific factors might hold back the development of women’s climbing at the cutting edge?
In almost every sport there are physical limitations that differ between men and women. Climbing is a unique sport where physical ‘limitations' can sometimes be benefits. There is no specific build or trait required to climb hard. I can see no reason why women cannot climb as hard as men.
The theme for WCS 2014 is bravery and boldness, how does climbing 8b+ relate to that?
I don’t think of myself as being brave or bold. I would never use those words to describe myself. When I think about it though, it took me a lot of courage for me to consider trying an 8b+. I was afraid and nervous. Once I had started trying it I thought the fear and apprehension would subside but instead it grew. The realisation that something is possible adds pressure and expectation into the mix. The night before I did the climb I slept terribly and couldn’t get the moves out of my head.
A couple of days before I had backed off the climb right near the end on a committing move, that if messed up could result in a slightly sketchy landing. I’m an indoor dog and get a little scared outside. I was so afraid of backing off this move again. My first attempt on the day I did the boulder I did the same thing again. The frustration was overwhelming. I guess breaking down that barrier took some boldness.
You’ve obviously been working pretty hard for the last year. Are you going to have an actual break, rather than an 8b+ break, or do you need to keep on pushing to stay at the top?
Well, I have four weeks of intense training now before the World Championships. In September, I’m planning to have two full weeks off climbing and training. I think this will be the longest I have ever not climbed or trained for ever. I can’t decide if I am looking forward to it or dreading it.
Talking of competitions, watching the World Cup, is seemed that the overall title could easily have been yours. How did it feel to take second overall, were you a bit disappointed?
I was really happy. I had a great season. I know it wasn’t the perfect ending that we had all hoped for but I can’t complain. And it definitely makes me psyched for the World Championships.
We're all going on a summer holiday, no more climbing for a week or two. Shauna Coxey, doing holidays the hard way, good luck in the World Championships.
Shauna is a BMC ambassador
WATCH: Don't miss the 2014 World Championships
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Shauna filmed this on her iPhone stuck in a tree, she explained: "I've been reluctant to share the video of my ascent of New Base Line due to the quality of the footage. I went to Magic Wood for a holiday. No film crew, no photographers, just myself and Ned. I wanted to film my ascent of the boulder to send to my coach so we balanced my phone in a tree as I was too scared to attempt the boulder without a spot. Due to the bad weather there was no opportunity to film the climb at a later date. This is my most significant ascent, and I have decided that I want to share my experience. I know this video doesn't show the whole climb but I hope you can appreciate my effort. I have watched this video countless times and I think it's pretty funny..."
WATCH: Shauna's home-made World Cup video diary
Shauna Coxsey's World Cup Video Diary: Part 1 from team_BMC on Vimeo.
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