Rare Lichen E9 6c on Clogwyn y Tarw © Ray Wood
Emma is one of the very best female climbers operating in the current British scene. She has flashed both E7 and F8a, headpointed E9 and redpointed F8b+/c.
She was born in Exeter in 1986, but grew up in the Lakes. Her dad is a climber so she started climbing at a young age.
“My Dad and his friends from the Mountain Rescue team took me climbing. I used to swing on the trees at the bottom and they took me up some easy multipitch climbs at Shepherds Crag in Borrowdale. I got hooked pretty quickly.”
Emma soon got in the swing of things:
“I was very lucky growing up in the Lakes. My dad and his friend Mike Park started me off and showed me how to lead and place gear well. Having Mike as a mentor was great as he taught me how to climb safely and competently. Then as I got older I went out climbing with Caff (James McHaffie) which was great as we did lots of cool climbs together and he really pushed my standards whilst being super chilled and psyched.”
She also did well on the indoor walls, winning various competitions and becoming British Junior Bouldering Champion. Outside on real rock Emma consolidated with a lot of classic E1s, E2s and E3s in the Lakes. Her first big step up came at the age of 15 when she climbed Penny E4 6a at Holyhead Mountain on a BMC Youth meet.
Emma continued to toy with competitions as she got older, coming second to Lucy Creamer in her first senior lead competition and gaining some good international results (the highlight being 5th in one of the EYC rounds and 4th in a Senior International Masters.) Despite the success, competitions were not where her heart lay and after the 2008/9 season she gave it up.
In 2008, having already onsighted classic Peak E5s such as London Wall at Millstone, she tried her hand at headpointing. A quick ascent of Monopoly E7 6b (also at Millstone) followed:
Onsighting Aegialis F7c, Kalymnos © Neil Foster
“I got psyched by Monopoly as a friend was trying it on top rope at the time. It’s pretty bold with bad fall potential and small bad holds with lots of smears. I did it clean first go and was keen to go back and do it as I enjoyed the climbing.”
Emma was also making progress on the sport climbing front. In the spring of 2010 she redpointed her first F8a, Call of Nature at Raven Tor. She was pushing up her onsight/ flash grade too, firstly with a flash of the brutally steep Comedy F7c at Kilnsey and an onsight of Aegialis F7c on Kalymnos in October. Two days later on the same trip Emma raised her game significantly again with an impressive onsight ascent of Fun de Chichunne F8a, a 40m roof on spectacular stalactite tufas.
In early 2011 Emma hung out at Malham in Yorkshire, ticking benchmark test pieces, Raindogs F8a and Zoolook F8a, before going on to climb her first F8b, Predator. Things were obviously going well, but a trip to Lower Pen Trwyn in June saw Emma pull off a really special flash of the notoriously tricky and technical Statement of Youth F8a.
For a while she lived in Sheffield, leaving her well positioned for quick trips out to the Peak District crags where she made fast redpoints of routes such as Powerplant F8a in Cheedale.
In the winter of 2012 Emma moved to North Wales and dived head first into the busy bouldering scene, making quick work of a few V8/Font 7Bs, including a flash of Down on an Elephant in Nant Gwynant.
Back on the routes she managed to redpoint Over the Moon Direct F8a at LPT and then a trip to Frankenjura yielded a trio of good ascents: SMS F8a+ (second go/first redpoint - her first F8a+, despite having climbed F8b before!), Witchcraft F8a (3rd go) and lastly a flashed ascent of Stronlinie F7c.
Flashing Yukon II E/7 6b, Nesscliffe © Ollie Cain
In North Wales she ticked classics such as Positron E5 6a and A Dream of White Horses HVS 5a , and on a trip back to the Lakes climbed the difficult Hell’s Wall E6 6c second go. Also at the Bowderstone Crag she came close to headpointing Bleed in Hell E8 6c in one session, falling off going for the good finishing hold.
During the spring of 2013 Emma gained a new bouldering personal best with Powerstrips 7C at Chironico; back in North Wales she managed to climb the Llanberis test piece, Bus Stop 7B+ in a single session.
With the arrival of summer she onsighted her first E6, the pushy Pretty Girls Make Graves; she had also become interested in pushing her headpoint standard. With this in mind Emma spent a couple of sessions working the moves on the hard and tenuous Rare Lichen E9 6c on Clogwyn y Tarw in the Ogwen valley.
A trip to Ceuse in August helped to boost fitness levels and included a flash of Vagabond F7c. Returning in September with the benefit of all that French limestone mileage Emma was ready to make her move on Rare Lichen. In the end it all went smoothly on the first headpoint attempt, although the slightly damp conditions prompted her to pre-place the crucial micro wires.
Another highlight for 2013 came towards the end of the year when a trip to Tres Ponts in Spain resulted in a flash/onsight of El Segre F8a.
After a hard winter of training Emma continued to improve during 2014. Early proof of this came with a flash of Yukan II E6/7 6b at Nesscliffe. In August a flash of Bucket Dynasty E7 6b on Dove Crag in the Lakes also stood out but the best was yet to come.
Unjustified F8b+/c, Malham © Ray Wood
Emma first tried Unjustified F8b+/c at Malham in 2011 just after she had done Predator. She also spent time on it in 2012 but was put off by the long haul over from North Wales. In March 2014, with a mixture of improved strength and trad climbing tenacity, it felt different; it felt like it could happen quickly.
With renewed levels of psyche Emma returned in the summer and on one session found herself redpointing past the main crux three times. On the final day she did it first go and history was made. The previous hardest female sport ascent on British soil had been F8b+ (Mina Leslie-Wujastyk's 2012 redpoint of Mecca at Raven Tor). Opinions on the grade of Unjustified are divided (thus the split grade), but there is no doubt that Emma’s ascent was an outstanding achievement. Check out her DMM interview for the full story.
Outside of climbing Emma loves to ski. She also enjoys going hill walking in the Lakes with her family and catching up with non-climbing friends. Home is currently Llanberis, where she works part time in the V12 Outdoor climbing shop; she also does coaching classes and route setting. Check out her latest blog entries on her website: emmatwyford.com.
“The route that sticks out most in my mind has to be my onsight of Fun de Chichunne F8a. It wasn't mentally scary but when I set off I thought I only had one real shot at the climb as to try it again would be soul destroying (40m of pretty steep climbing)! I was on the route for over 2 hours, maximising the use of rests and lots of knee bars. I spent 15 minutes working out what was the crux for me low down but near the top of the steep terrain just before you get on to easy climbing (after nearly 2 hours of climbing) there was a big move with some friable rock.”
“I ended up climbing back down to the rest, pumped out of my mind from over gripping, and really had to dig deep to stay on and use my imagination with technique to reduce the risk of slipping off. I was so chuffed when I got to the top because it was the biggest effort I have ever put into a route, but at the same time I was able to have fun on the route and joke with my mates at the rests and lose the seriousness momentarily - crazy but good! This climb had everything but it really tested my determination to do it - I've never wanted a route so badly.”