First British female to climb 9a is Emma Twyford

DMM | 17 September, 2019

Emma Twyford has become the first British female to have attained the magic 9a grade with her successful redpoint of The Big Bang on the evening of September 17th. This was only the third ascent of Neil Carson's 1996 route at Lower Pen Trwyn in north Wales. James McHaffie had previously repeated it twice in July 2011. The hardest section of climbing comes at the end of an 8b section using small sharp crimps to get established on the slab to finish.

Emma having turned the two-finger pocket and making the clip before the hardest moves.
Emma having turned the two-finger pocket and making the clip before the hardest moves.
Those aren’t big holds. The back-hand hold is obvious to the left of the crimp Emma is about to latch.
Those aren’t big holds. The back-hand hold is obvious to the left of the crimp Emma is about to latch.
 

Afterwards, Emma commented: "It went first go today. Conditions weren't even that good and there was no wind. I think that helped in a way because I felt no pressure. Angus Kille and I had the crag to ourselves."

"At the top, I thought to myself did that actually just happen? I wasn't pumped and it had felt like a path. There was also a fair bit of swearing with the relief of finally getting it done."

Skipping a grade, Emma’s previous hardest sport route was the 50-metre endurance-fest, Mind Control (8c), at Oliana in February 2018. A route of a very different nature to the shorter and crimpy Big Bang. Along with our congratulations we put a few quick questions to Emma about her ascent:

What made you choose The Big Bang?
The history and if I was going to try anything that hard it was going to have to suit me. Plus, when you‘re projecting a route at your limit it really needs to be close to home to save on travel time. Also, unlike Rainshadow (9a) at Malham there aren’t any queues on Big Bang. That also shows how many strong sport climbers there are living in and around Yorkshire.

Emma Twyford established on the slab at the top of The Big Bang just a few moves away from the lower-off.
Emma Twyford established on the slab at the top of The Big Bang just a few moves away from the lower-off.

So the route suits you?
Anything that suits James McHaffie but doesn’t suit Pete Robins is going to suit me. As I like crimping, the higher part plays to my strengths, but I find the burly lower section over the roof hard. The route is quite savage on your skin. But if it was a compression style route on slopers I’d be in trouble.

When did you first start trying it?
I had a couple of looks at it in 2016 and got on it again in 2017, but I felt a long way off from being able to do it. I could manage the crux move once out of 50 attempts. My breakthrough came in the first session of 2018. In that early spring I linked the crux section, from the two-finger pocket that is just below the slab at the top, to the finish. James said if you can do this then climbing the whole thing is possible. After that I felt like a completely different person trying it.

Emma Twyford established on the slab at the top of The Big Bang just a few moves away from the lower-off.
Emma Twyford established on the slab at the top of The Big Bang just a few moves away from the lower-off.

What makes it 9a?
You have to arrive at the pocket not pumped, having climbed an 8b+, and then you’ve got the hard moves, probably a V9/10 section. Initially, it felt like the living end but your body learns the moves and muscle memory sees you through. It boils down to turning the pocket, getting a ‘rat crimp’ with the right-hand, then a back-hand, rock-up, hit into a little crimp and get the left foot up on to the slab. Four tic-tac moves remain to the top whilst keeping your cool.

What part did getting on the route in good conditions play?
Definitely one of the challenges. I’ve had to re-schedule work and turn some down in the hope of being able to make the most of any decent conditions. Even though it was a dry summer in 2018 it was just too hot. Not having a run of consistently good conditions made it difficult to get any momentum going. And then I lost a couple of weeks because of being wiped out by a cold. Ironically, the evening I did it the conditions weren't even that good. The Friday before I'd fallen-off getting my foot up on to the slab so I knew I was close.