Katy bouldering in Bishop © Ryan Pasquill
Katy Whittaker is one of the UK's top female climbers. She has excelled in a number of different climbing disciplines, from indoor competitions, to bold grit routes and hard sport routes.
She was born in Burnley, but grew up in Edale in the Peak District. Her introduction to the outdoor life came early with an abundance of family holidays focussed upon walking, scrambling and climbing.
Katy did her first lead on an indoor wall at the age of eight. She started doing BRYCCS competitions a few years later and got on to the Junior team aged 12. Competitions suited her and she kept a place in the British Team for most of the following decade, taking regular podium positions along the way.
In 2007, her first year as a senior competitor, she won the British Bouldering Championship.
“That was pretty cool; it definitely put a big smile on my face and made all the hard work and stress of comps seem worth while.”
Katy continued to compete in the Boulder World Cups on and off but could never really fully commit to indoor climbing, as she says: “Training on perfect grit days didn’t make any sense in my mind.”
She had always been keen on climbing on real rock and this really snowballed after a course at Plas y Brenin in North Wales. “I went on a trad climbing course with my brother (Pete) when I was about 13 and then just did a load of mileage in the lower grades whilst we were younger.”
A combination of family support and sibling rivalry encouraged Katy to make quick progress, but the big push came when she started working with Dave Binney, the British team coach:
“He taught us the fundamentals when we were quite young but made it fun. He then taught me how to train and wrote me training plans for a good few years whilst I was competing as a junior.”
China Crisis F8b+, Oliana © Nathan Lee
An important early ascent on the grit was triggered by the news that her brother had just climbed his first E6. “That was a big eye opener, I had never even considered or thought E6 was possible. Encouraged by Pete I went out and headpointed Life Assurance [an E6 6b at Burbage South]. This was the start of my love for grit I think. I have obviously climbed it all my life but climbing hard techy smeary stuff was fun and you didn’t need to be strong!”
Katy went on to climb a succession of gritstone test pieces; a major highlight was Braille Trail E7 6c at Burbage South - “I love the name and how well it relates to the climb. I found this the hardest and scariest out of all the E7s I have done as the gear is so weird and it is so easy for your feet to pop!”
Her ascent of Masters Edge E7 6b/c on Millstone Edge was also a big deal – “It’s just an awesome route. I felt really at my limit at the time, it never gives in, right up to the finishing jug!”
The emerging style on gritstone was for ground up ascents done above bouldering pads, essentially turning some of the shorter gritstone routes into highball boulder problems, albeit rather scary ones! This marked a step away from the ‘Hard Grit’ headpointing style and Katy embraced it whole heartedly. Soon enough she was ticking off ground up ascents of established classics such as, Desperate Dan E6 6b at Ilkey, Narcissus E6 6b and The Mint 400 E6 6b at Froggatt. One of her proudest moments was a flashed ascent of Shirley’s Shining Temple, John Allen’s ultra technical E5 7a at Stanage.
A trip to Black Rocks saw more impressive ground up action. Katy followed an ascent of Jumping on a Beetle E7 6c with success on its harder neighbour, The Angel’s Share. This faith in friction challenge was originally given E8 7a by Johnny Dawes, but with bouldering pads highball Font 7C is more appropriate – regardless of the grade, Katy’s ground up ascent showed off her exceptional slab climbing skills and cool head.
Another important ground up ascent, done in March 2013, was Toy Boy, a desperate E7 7a at Froggatt first climbed by Ron Fawcett – “This took me the longest out of all my grit ascents. It’s edgy, not smeary, so I found it hard and had to work hard to figure it out.”
Gaia E8 6c, Black Rocks © David Mason
During the autumn months of 2013 Katy continued to pick off a series of difficult and bold gritstone headpoints. First to fall were The Bad and the Beautiful E7 6b at Millstone, and Paralogism E7 6b/c at the Roaches. Both these routes were confidence boosters for what came next; Katy had set her heart on doing Gaia E8 6c at Black Rocks. A couple of sessions on it earlier in the year meant that she was more than ready for it, and on the day, despite getting worringly pumped placing the gear, the ascent went smoothly on first lead attempt.
Next on the grit hit list was Knockin on Heaven’s Door E8 6c at Curbar – this ascent followed a similar pattern; two preparation sessions then a successful first lead attempt on the third day. The route is considered hard for the grade and Katy’s lead was the first by a woman.
Katy is also keen on sport climbing. She climbed her first F8a at the age of 18 then went on to climb various F8a+s in Europe, plus Chimes of Freedom F8a+, at Raven Tor and Love Amongst the Butterflies F8b in Cheedale. In March 2014 she became the fourth British woman to climb F8b+ when she redpointed the 35m endurance route, China Crisis at Oliana in Catalunya.
Returning home Katy spent the rest of the spring attempting the classic test piece Mecca F8b+ at Raven Tor. She got close, but deteriorating conditions forced her to postpone further attempts until the end of August. After another sustained effort the successful redpoint eventually came in October. Katy was the second woman to have climbed Mecca, following Mina Leslie-Wujastyk's ascent in 2012.
Katy has onsighted classic Yorkshire F7cs such as Dominatrix and Biological Need at Kilnsey, but her hardest flash to date is Artisans F7c+, at Margalef in Spain.
As for travelling, she has spent time in the US, climbing in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite Valley, Joshua Tree, the High Sierra and Bishop. Highlights included Positive Vibrations 5.11a on the Incredible Hulk – “I thought the Incredible Hulk in the High Sierra was awesome and I loved the bouldering in Bishop although it does trash your skin!”
In Europe Katy has climbed a lot in Spain and has had a few trips to the Frankenjura, Ceuse and Magic Wood. One of her favourite places is Skye in Scotland where she recently did the Cuillin Ridge with her parents, describing it as: “such a hard 18 hours!”.
In 2012 Katy graduated from Hallam University in Sheffield with a first in Graphic Design. She currently works for Big Stone and does a little bit of coaching work for The Climbing Works and the BMC.
Knockin' on Heaven's Door E8 6c, Curbar © Nathan Lee
“I like climbing best where you have to think and use technique and balance rather than your arms. I also love big days out in the mountains, testing your ability to just keep going. Not necessarily hard climbing but long days where you come back to the campsite totally done in. In America I enjoyed the epics and suffering in a weird way, they have more of an impact/ lasting memory on me than say sending a hard boulder/sport climb.”