Katy Forrester: boulderer to ice climber

04 April, 2014
Katy Forrester in the chimney's of Route 1 (VI 6), Ben Nevis. © Nick Bullock

The pared down simplicity of bouldering is a world apart from winter climbing and not a transition that you'd imagine would be an easy one to make. But this past season, former GB bouldering squad member, Katy Forrester, swapped her crash pad for a pair of ice tools and crampons.

'Signing up' for a fast-track ice climbing and dry tooling apprenticeship she led on ice outdoors for the first time (Umbrella Falls) and competed in the Ice Climbing World Cup Series. Currently living in the Lake District we asked Katy a few questions to give us some background on how she went from hanging slopers to swinging axes.

It'd be fair to say your chosen discipline before this winter was bouldering? You were a member of the Women's GB Bouldering squad in 2013.

I've always loved to boulder. You do these intensely physical and mentally taxing moves in a position where you can try them over and over again. I've also got experience as a sport and trad climber. Although I was part of the GB bouldering squad in 2013 I never got to compete internationally due to university commitments, something I now really regret. I knew I wasn't going to try for the squad for this year as I am currently doing my teacher training and thought that I wouldn’t be able to maintain my fitness while studying. My best result was at CWIF last year, coming 10th.

When and where did you first try dry-tooling? Which was your first competition?

I started in the Monkey Bar Area of the Dinorwig slate quarry, above Llanberis, in September 2013. Since then I have used The Works in Cumbria and White Goods crag in Wales. My first competition was at the Scottish Tooling Series in Glasgow. This was the first time I had climbed on plastic holds with axes, instead of being on mostly drilled pockets. It was scary having to adapt to the axe moving around on the placement.

What made you want to get involved with dry tooling and ice climbing?

I really want to go to the Alps or Greater Ranges so needed to learn to winter climb. I persuaded Nick Bullock to take me out ice climbing and I have literally been hooked since then. It was so much fun. I think I have been dragging Nick dry tooling more than the other way round since then.

What were your initial impressions of dry tooling? Does it work different muscles to normal climbing?

At first I thought it was terrifying and hard work but fun. It seems to be incredibly shouldery. I’ve developed far more lock-off strength since I’ve started dry tooling. The girls who are competing well on the World Cup circuit are very strong. Someone like the Swiss climber, Petra Klinger, who competes in bouldering and ice climbing, is a good example. Angelika Rainer has massive shoulder muscles. I found I got a new muscle in my hand, just by my thumb, from gripping the axe! To do well, you need lock-off strength and be able to keep the axe still.

Katy Forrester competing in her first World Cup Ice Climbing competition at Saas Fee. © Chris Prescott/Hot Aches

How did you end up competing on the Ice Climbing World Cup circuit?

I just asked Andy Turner (GB team captain) if I could. I love competing. Andy is keen to develop a team along similar lines to the bouldering squad and was psyched to have someone as enthusiastic as me involved. I went to Saas Fee in January 2014 and Champagny en Vanoise a week later.

At Saas I missed a stein-pull and fell low in qualifying, coming 23rd. At Champ I qualified for the semi-finals in 16th, then had an axe placement in the ice pop as I left the ground and ended up 19th. I felt pretty silly until the Korean Shin WoonSeon fell low in the finals with an axe popping as well. It can happen to even the best climbers. I was really proud of my results though, considering I only had five months experience with ice tools.

What training did you do for the World Cup?

Nowhere near enough. My PGCE took over. So I did bits of core, gym work and a day-a-week hanging from axes. I need to do far more next year. I’m lucky to have support from Eden Rock in Carlisle who want to help me build a structure to train on for next year’s comps.

Do you think ice climbing would make a good Olympic winter sport?

Yes! Ice climbing is part of winter sport and climbing is a movement that is missing from the Olympics. I think it’s exciting and the positions you put yourself in are exciting for spectators. The time limits mean you have to climb really quickly.

Who has been helpful in giving you advice and pointers on dry tooling etc.

Andy and my team-mates were all really helpful. I did a lot of training with Nick Bullock, who knows a lot about movement on ice/dry tooling and how to refine it. I’ve had nutritional advice from Rebecca Dent, sport psychology support from Rebecca Williams and Mark Reeves has given me bits of training advice. Iain McKenzie offered to help as well but I couldn’t make time for the training program.

You've done a few good winter routes with Nick? What has he taken you on that made a lasting impression?

Home Wet Home (WI4) on the Rive Gauche (Argentiere) was really special as was Smith's Gully (V) on Creag Meagaidh.

Your first ice climbing lead on an a natural route outdoors was only this February. Was it very different to swinging tools on an ice-tower in a comp?

I led some pitches of Umbrella Falls (V) on Liathach. It was ace. Nick's introduction to leading on ice had mostly involved ignoring belays and getting me to simul-climb. This year I was given two ice screws per pitch for leading. I placed both on one pitch so had to make the belay out of my axe. Nick's take on ice climbing is suiting me though! It’s nice being able to swing an axe into ice rather than just hooking like in comps. I guess the two don’t compare.

Thanks Katy and good luck with next year's comps.

Katy Forrester in the chimney's of Route 1 (VI 6), Ben Nevis. © Nick Bullock