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A Chat with Emma Twyford

Emma Twyford is certainly flavour of the month. Thanks to her huge successes and exciting future goals, she has been cover star of both Summit and Climber in recent weeks. When she’s not on the rock, she’s one of the UK’s leading female route-setters and is running her business Creative Climbing offering setting courses to women with fellow setter Evie Cotrulia.

Currently busy setting full time, I managed to catch Emma for a quick cuppa before she set the comp circuit at my local wall. We talked climbing, route setting and inspiration.

That Cover Photo © J Bunney


First off, how does it feel to be cover star of Summit and Climber?

A little surreal! It’s kinda always weird seeing pictures of yourself on magazines in other people’s houses. It’s my first ever cover magazine photo, so it’s quite a nice reward for all the hard work.

It’s my first ever cover magazine photo, so it’s quite a nice reward for all the hard work.

You’ve done so much this year, what would be your biggest success?

The most obvious big success would be Big Issue (E9 6c), in that that was the route that I really really wanted to do that I hadn’t succeeded on the year before. This year I was kinda being stubborn deciding that I wanted to place the gear. It wouldn’t have felt the same if I hadn’t placed the gear, it would have just been another route, but in a more sporty style. Going back and placing the gear and being stubborn made it more worthwhile. It’s a little bit of a faff though!

The other one (although I’ve not done it yet) is starting to realise that Big Bang (9a) is possible and I’m kinda getting really close to it.

The most obvious big success would be Big Issue

Is that your main goal for next year?

It’ll be one of my main goals. I hope that I can - fingers crossed - if there’s some good days I can get it done fairly quickly now. But it went from being really really hot to really cold quite quickly, so the days that I had on it have been a bit stunted. Some days it’s been good, some days it’s been horrendous!

What are your other goals?

I’d like to try a route called Mission Impossible in North Wales, but that depends on the midges and the bog and the weather! It’s about an hour hike. The one time I have been there it was wet and midgey. Basically the worst combination possible!

Apart from that, a friend of mine - Caff [James McHaffie] - suggested maybe going over to Hoy, so I’ve been trying to piece together whether a trip there is possible. Maybe to have a look at The Long Hope (E7 6c), maybe do some new routing. There’s a DMM trip to Fairhead and I’ve never climbed in Fairhead, I’ve only done very little in Ireland, so I’ll go out there and have fun. I’m sure I’ll get more goals as I get into the year and I see how it goes. See where my fitness is at and have a look around work and see what trips I can do.

How do you balance work with training and home life?

Sometimes aspects of that suffer! Especially through the winter months [Emma is currently full time route-setting]. At the moment, my housemates and my boyfriend haven’t seen very much of me! But I don’t tend to train that much when I’m route-setting. If I’m in a really big heavy stint of setting like I am now, where I’ve been setting five days a week, the last thing I want to do is train.  When I’m doing three or four days of setting, then I've got a bit of time off, sometimes I do a bit of fingerboarding and core.  Just because I don’t want to end up too destroyed - I need to be able to test or set the next day. I think there’s only so far you can push your body before it breaks, so I just try and play it by ear; if I have the energy for a session, I do it and if I don’t, I don’t.

I think there’s only so far you can push your body before it breaks

The harder bit is to know what trips I’m doing throughout the year. I did end up cancelling some dates of work this year for Big Bang, which is the first time I’ve ever done that and I felt really bad, but sometimes it’s necessary and it’s really hard to plan that far in advance.

Who is your biggest climbing inspiration?

It’s a tough one. I mean, my immediate answer would be one of my closest friends, James McHaffie. We’ve climbed together for twenty-odd years and he taught me everything I know about trad climbing. I’ve yet to come across anyone else who is as exceptional - I don’t know anyone who could go out and do numerous E7s in a day and onsight them all. He’s definitely got the coolest head out there that I know. I always find, as well, that it’s the people that you climb with that tend to be the most inspiring. I could say Lynn Hill, but I don’t know her, I’ve never seen her climb. She did The Nose, so she’s a bit of a legend. But I always find that I draw inspiration from the people I climb with and the people I’ve met anyway, so… Caff.

I draw inspiration from the people I climb with and the people I’ve met. 

Possibly the same answer then.....who’s your favourite climbing partner?

Caff!

I mean, I go through different phases and it’s swings and roundabouts. I’ll always pick a partner for an objective where I think that they will work well in that environment. Most times I go trad climbing, I go trad climbing with Caff, because I trust him. Because if we get ourselves into a situation, I know he knows what he’s doing. The s**t hasn't hit the fan yet… in any situations where we’ve been climbing together at least! (I know he had his bad accident on Lundy).

But then equally one of my favourite climbing partnerships of this year has been with a friend of mine, Sophie. We’ve been going down to LPT and it’s nice because we’ve just had little girly sessions down by the seaside and know how each other works pretty well. So I find I go through phases, it’s not set particularly to having one favourite for it. It just depends - it depends who I’ve climbed with in the year and if they’ve got similar objectives they want to do.

If you could only do sport, bouldering or trad, which would it be?

Oh god! Um…. It would probably be trad? That’s what I grew up doing and that’s where I started from. It definitely wouldn’t be bouldering. The thing is… the other two are fantastic, but I feel like with trad you can push yourself harder, and it can still be to a high level, but you also go out and have those days where it’s just like an adventure. You get to go to places where you wouldn’t normally go to. I think there’s something overall more satisfying about trad climbing.

And what’s your favourite crag?

There’s too many! In the Lake District, I know I’ve not spent much time up there, but it would probably be between Dove Crag and Scafell. I’ve spent a little time at both. Neither of them are a short walk in! I think Scafell has good memories for me because I camped out there and did a couple of routes and the views were amazing. If it was Wales, probably the Cromlech or Gogarth. But Cromlech has so much history and then Gogarth… well Gogarth has lots of history too, but there’s such a wide variety there.

Do you have any advice for women climbers?

I think, basically, the only person who sets your restrictions is yourself. I find, obviously being a woman, you’re going to have your hormonal patches where you’re going to climb s**t, just accept them and embrace them for what they are. You’re going to have good sessions after that. Just make sure you keep the positivity going.

The main word I hate hearing ... is ‘can’t’. As soon as you say that, that’s it, it’s game over.

I think the main word I hate hearing - and that’s not to say I’m exempt from saying it, because I do say it - is ‘can’t’. As soon as you say that, that’s it, it’s game over. But just go out there and experiment and play around with your comfort zones. I think guys are much better at risk taking, being aware and not caring so much about the other people around them or the consequences or what people might think or what they might then think about themselves.

I hate to stereotype, but I think we overthink things too much and we think about the outcomes of failure. And how that makes us feel. I always try and sandwich failure. Start off warm up, failure in the middle, feel good warm down - do a couple of boulder problems in your style or easy routes. But I think sometimes the fun goes out of the sessions and it is about making it as fun as possible.

Emma climbing in Kalymnos © J Bunney

it is about making it as fun as possible

By Caitlin Ripley

Emma is sponsored by DMM, Patagonia, Scarpa, Friction Labs, Climbskin, V12 Outdoor and Sea to Summit.

Check out Creative Climbing on Instagram: @CreativeClimbing 

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