Emma Twyford became the first British woman to climb a 17a route with Big Bang at Lower Pen Trwyn in North Wales on September 2019, 9. We talk to her about her relationship to the local climbing areas and the effects of the corona pandemic on the behavior of climbers.

A conversation with Emma Twyford

How did you get into climbing?
At the age of seven, I started climbing with my father and friends - traditional climbing in the Lake District at the beginning. I immediately fell in love with the challenges and grace of climbing. Sometimes I climbed more and sometimes less.

But when I contracted Pfeiffer's glandular fever at the age of 17, I gave up climbing for a year to concentrate on school. It took me a long time to find my passion for climbing again and regain my focus.

The key to this for me was to give up competitive climbing and get back to nature.

Most of the most important achievements of your climbing career to date have been in the UK. Why is that? Do British rocks have a special attraction for you?
There are a few factors, perhaps the simplest one is time. For professional reasons, I cannot be constantly on the move for long periods of time. But of course I've also developed a love for UK climbing.

This is where I grew up and my heart belongs to the local mountains.

Climbing in the UK has such a rich history that it simply has to be admired - especially the brave first ascents. The climbing areas may not always be wild and remote and there aren't any overwhelming alpine landscapes either, but the variety of climbing we have in the UK is truly amazing.

Image Ray Wood

I love promoting what we have on our doorstep and I think it's important that we don't take it for granted. Yes, we can have terrible weather here, but we don't have to travel abroad to have incredible experiences. 

Conquering Big Bang and the film that followed are big moments in your career. Do you think that has had an impact and how do you feel about being so recognized outside of the UK climbing circles?
It's hard to imagine that this didn't affect my career. I hope it means a little more freedom to pursue the goals and dreams I have now, but we are facing difficult times with COVID and the aftermath. Not to mention climate change.

Basically, climbing projects and success, by and large, are a drop in the bucket compared to the problems we are currently facing.

For me the ascent was the Big Bang Route (9a) a very personal journey, and I still find it difficult to sum up all the emotions that come with the success of a large project.

Getting recognized outside of the UK climbing circles is nice, but I didn't do it to get validation or recognition from others.

All I really care about is that it hasn't changed my core values, and the recognition that I care about most comes from family and friends who mean the world to me.

Trailer for the film The Big Bang

You are quite a luminary in the British climbing scene. How does it feel to be part of such a community?
It feels so surreal to be in the spotlight and have played a role in British climbing history. I'm pretty introverted until I meet people, so I find it difficult sometimes, but I also really like trying to inspire and motivate people. That's why I love coaching and having conversations - even when I get nervous

If only I can inspire one person to go beyond what they thought possible, then it's worth it.

I hope that through my involvement in the UK community, people will see that I am just a normal person like anyone else, who works hard for my goals.

Image Ray Wood

Do you have any short or long term climbing projects elsewhere in Europe?
I have some in the pipeline, but not for this year because I don't want to risk it. I can imagine that not all of them will be realized, but I hope that I can realize some of them. 

I would like to visit the Verdon Gorge - one of my dream routes there is Tom et Je Ris - but I would also like to try some of the spectacular multi-pitch climbing tours.

Another dream route is Paciencia on the Eiger, which I've been thinking about for several years.

You might be interested in: Nils Favre and Symon Welfringer climb Paciencia (8a) on the Eiger

I also have sport climbing goals, maybe back to Oliana or Céüse. I would like to accomplish these goals with minimal impact or make longer trips out of them so that the trip is worth it. I am reluctant to fly there and back just for that.

The pandemic has ruined many climbers' travel plans this year. Has this changed the way you view the destinations near your home and do you think other climbers have had similar experiences?
I hope COVID has changed the way we think. It's the way Mother Nature rings a big alarm bell to tell us we need to change the destructive path we're on. There are already enough warning signs.

I assume that most of my goals have always been close to home and I am happy to be able to continue on this path.

We can also experience great adventures on our doorstep.

It's so hard because climbing involves exploring places in the wild, and being locked in isn't natural for many of us, but we can get used to making the most of what we have - even if it's not what we once had 

Perhaps the time has now come when our freedom to explore remote places will be more restricted if we are to slow climate change. That doesn't mean we have to limit ourselves, it can only mean that we pursue our passion in a different way.

Image Ray Wood

Perhaps the next great adventure will be exploring the areas of our home that we have never been to to appreciate what we may have always taken for granted. 

I think a lot of climbers have struggled with the situation; I know some who have taken a break, changed their goals, and thought more about how we can responsibly do what we love.

For me, the lockdown brought a much-needed break from climbing.

I didn't train much but saw it as an opportunity to relax and focus on learning new skills.

You recently joined the “ACT for our Summits” movement. Please tell us what it's about and how did you get there?

ACT for our Summits was recently founded by climbers Arnaud Petit and Christophe Dumarest with the aim of reducing our impact by 10 percent annually according to the world's climate reports. It wasn't a difficult decision for me to get involved there. I am very aware that we as a climbing community can no longer continue on the same destructive path.

As sponsored athletes, we have a responsibility to be more responsible and use our influence to encourage others to do the same. That means we have to put everything to the test, from the way we travel, the food we eat, to the clothes we wear. To protect the places we love we need to ask ourselves whether we really need new things or whether our gear can be fixed.

We should also ask ourselves if we need to travel for our sport or if we can find great climbing tours on our doorstep. In my opinion, it's important to find the right balance. For some, it will be impossible to give up travel. But we also have to take into account the impact on the environment when choosing projects and organizing the necessary trips.

Basically, it's about changing the way we tell our stories. If we reduce it to the essentials, then climbing is all about this piece of rock. We climb with great passion, but we can be very selfish. Instead of focusing on the levels of difficulty, we should enjoy the natural beauty of this sport - take time to experience the trip, culture, flora and fauna - and be grateful for all of this.

Nobody is perfect, but it's never too late to get better. If we can influence others to make positive changes in the future - and exemplify those changes ourselves - then this is a good place to start.

That year you became an ambassador for Patagonia. How does belonging to the company affect your thinking on broader environmental issues?
I am happy to be part of a company that cares about the environment and other important issues outside of climbing. I have some very good friends who work in marine research, which is why we tend to have long conversations about climate change.

In my 20s, and perhaps a little naively, I always wondered how one person could bring about change and influence large companies. But then you look at Yvon Chouinard (the founder of Patagonia, editor's note) or Greta, and that's exactly what they did. 

As a climber, how do you feel about the trips you plan for the coming year, given factors like COVID and the realities of climate change?
This is difficult to answer because there are always potential opportunities that are difficult to refuse. It is important to weigh these trips as well as their duration and the potential of those trips. As climbers we pursue our passion; sometimes quite selfish in traveling all over the world climbing. 

As an influential climber, I need to think responsibly about the message I want to convey and what the trip means: If we continue to fly everywhere for short trips, is that really okay? I am not sure if that is the case. 

If I could limit myself to one flight a year and then use other travel options, such as the train, that would be an improvement. I try to plan my travels now and make the best possible use of the time I have, e.g. B. by linking certain projects together so that my trips are limited to a minimum. It's not the only factor we need to change, but it's a start.

Last question: limestone or sandstone. Which rock do you prefer to climb?
Haha, if only these two are available, then of course limestone. I am struggling with poor circulation that isn't good for a winter on sandstone, and I just love good crimps too much.

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Credits: Artwork picture Ray Wood