First female British 8c ascent for Twyford

11 August, 2014

Unless social media is complete anathema to you then you probably already know that Emma Twyford climbed Unjustified at Malham on Sunday, making her the first female to climb a British 8c.

This achievement beats her previous hardest redpoint, Predator (8b) in 2011, by two grades. So far this year she'd been making the headlines for her trad climbing and E7 flashes.

Starting from the Catwalk, Unjustified initially climbs Something Stupid (7b), clipping the chain on the way past, before moving steeply out right on the undercuts to make the crux pull on to the headwall.

DMM spoke to Emma to get the story behind her ascent and find out what took her so long to finish a route she was doing in two overlapping halves back in 2012.

Emma Twyford on the crux of Unjustified in April 2012 shortly before walking away from it for two years. © Ray Wood

You nearly called the day's climbing off?

I set off in my van on my own at seven in the morning from Llanberis to meet Toby Dunn coming from Sheffield, but when I got to Chester Services it was chucking it down. I tried calling him to cancel it but couldn't get through, so carried on. I was pretty miserable because I kept thinking of this crucial hold just above the Something Stupid chain that gets wet from seepage.

It was still raining when we got to Malham but luckily the rain wasn't blowing on to the crag. Two guys that turned up after us had brought umbrellas in town which I wish we'd done. Fortunately the rain eased off as we got on with it.

Did you expect to do it that session?

I thought I had a chance as on Monday and Tuesday as I was managing to get through the crux from the ground for the first time. But I also knew that after warming up my skin would only let me have two redpoint attempts. I got it on my first go even though I messed up my foot sequence on Something Stupid.

This year I'd found that something as ridiculously subtle as slightly twisting my left leg on the crux made a big difference leaving the undercuts and having a stronger core when I arrived at them was useful. A curry and a glass of port the previous night also probably helped.

You've got a lot of previous history with Unjustified?

That's true. I first got on it in 2011, around the time I did Predator and then tried it for a short while in 2012 when I was managing it in two overlapping halves before losing motivation to keep trying it.

I'd moved to north Wales and I wasn't enjoying the process anymore. I felt I was making the trip over there just because it was 8c and not because it's a great route. I was thinking 'oh my God' I've got to climb Something Stupid again. I was sick of the drive and felt jaded. I had a brief look at it again in March this year when Alex Megos was over and then came back to it in May.

So what's different about Emma in 2012 and 2014?

I was probably fitter back then but not as strong. I'm bouldering better and I've been doing a lot more core work-outs. Normally for Malham I'd have done a lot of fingerboard training but I haven't done that this year.

The only notable sport climbing I've done recently is a retro flash of Bad Bad Boy (7c+). But I have been getting savagely pumped on E7's. Perhaps this year I've learnt to fight through the imperfections and not just drop off. This time round I had a totally different mindset. I was excited to be trying it again and enjoying the effort. Not being tied to a project last year was definitely good for me. I'm lighter now and I definitely have more energy because I cut out gluten three months ago.

How did you feel when Hazel Findlay pipped you to becoming the first British woman to climb 8c with her ascent of Fish Eye in Spain?

If I'm honest I had mixed emotions about it. I think the smart money would have always been on Hazel to do it. Obviously I was pleased for her but I also felt disappointed with myself because I'd been so close to Unjustified in 2012. It made me wonder if I should have just persevered, even though I'd have hated the route and felt like I'd sold a little bit of my soul.

There's been some mutterings that Unjustified is hard 8b+ rather than 8c?

There doesn't seem to be a consistency of opinion about this. It's been 8c for over ten years. People seem to forget everyone has got stronger and fitter, with the general standard going up, compared to when it was first done. It's taken some good climbers a long time to do it.

I've heard the crux being given V6 by one person and V8 by another. I flash V6's and normally do V8's first or second go. It took me at least a couple of sessions and a lot of refinement to consistently be able to do the crux on this route. Megos took around five go's over two days and he didn't seem to disagree with the grade. The heel hook move after the crux has recently got harder since a bit of the flake has broken off.

Why is British 8c so special?

Not having settled weather makes it difficult to make plans and conditions can be so fickle. You just have to play it by ear. Also unless you're a full-time climber or taking some time out from work you have to hope you can fit the times when the route is in good nick around your job.

If I was to generalise, say compared to continental sport routes, hard British sport always seems a bit more intricate, with tenuous footholds, no decent rests and sequences that aren't obvious even when they're chalked.

The obvious question is 8c+ next?

Of course I'd like to give it a go but I might consolidate a bit more first. If I was to try 8c+ I think it'd be abroad for the weather. I'd like to try The Beast (8c) at the Diamond but there's such a small window of opportunity to get on it. You almost have to be better than the route itself. Everyone who has done The Brute (8b) down there is at least an 8c climber.

Emma Twyford on the headwall of Unjustified in April 2012. © Ray Wood