In September this year, SCARPA athlete Emma Twyford made her own piece of history when she became the first British woman to climb 9a having completed her project – the Big Bang at Lower Pen Trwyn. Talking on the ascent Emma said ” I’ve worked hard for this, that happiness is going to take a lot to beat”. Read more below.
Lower Pen Trwyn has always been pretty special to me, it may not necessarily be the best crag in the world but there is so much history surrounding this place. This crag was at the front of the Golden Era of sport climbing. It was the place that Moon and Moffatt came to, putting up iconic hard routes like Statement of Youth (8a), Liquid Ambar (8c/+) and Sea of Tranquility (8c/+). In 1996 Neil Carson put up the first 9a, Big Bang. It took until 2011 for it to get a second ascent from James McHaffie.
I first visited LPT in 2011 on a trip from Sheffield, I instantly felt at home here. With quick ascents of Bad Bad Boy (7c+) and a flash of Statement of Youth (8a), I knew this crag suited my technical style. Since I moved to North Wales it has been one of my favourite crags to visit, it feels like my second home. In 2017 I decided to put myself on the line and push my personal limits forward. In 2014 I had a bad van/car crash that I was lucky to walk away from, mostly uninjured. I had been using it as a bit of a psychological excuse and focusing on trad climbing because it was less physically intense.
I wasn’t sure how my first sessions would go, but perhaps unsurprisingly I found the route absolutely nails. This didn’t stop me from enjoying the climbing and I remember having great fun and just being happy to do the moves up to the crux. The crux though was desperate, and I was struggling to pull on or even link any of the moves. This felt impossible, it was a pipe dream and I knew I had some serious work to do if I ever wanted to stand a chance of doing this route. Secretly I was hooked, and the obsession was starting to creep in ever so subtly.
I walked away having made quick progress through the lower sections and linking from the ground through the roof which is about 8a+. I started to train a little more specifically and came back in March 2018 to see if the training was paying off. After speaking to James McHaffie, I knew there was one key link up to do before this route would move into the realms of being possible. This was to link from the pocket at the start of the final crux on the route to the top.
The crux is about a V9/10 boulder problem right at the top onto a slab with some tenuous moves. I surprised myself by doing this link on my first session back on the route, the slightly more specific training was paying off and I knew then that I stood a chance of doing the route. I found by late Spring/early Summer that I was starting to hit the crux but it was also getting too hot, so I started to hit my trad projects. In some ways this was also training for these routes and with some new-found fitness I was getting them done quickly which kept my motivation rolling.
By Autumn it was cooling down enough to try Big Bang properly again, I had been trying it in the Summer but more to keep my fitness high up to the crux. I found I was nervous on the route because I knew I could do it, I came so close in November falling off the last droppable move, five moves from the top. It became too wet to climb and my setting work kicked in, I knew it was over for 2018 but I had to try and keep my motivation high to return in 2019. I couldn’t come that close to realising my dream and walk way – I had put in too much hard work for that to happen.
It was hard work coming back in 2019, I got injured badly at the beginning of February whilst setting for a comp, pulling all the muscles around my shoulder. This made me uncertain, I felt like I would lose everything I had worked for. But I surprised myself by still being able to do the crux and now I just needed to get stubborn. The year before I had many other goals, but I had decided if I really wanted to do this route, I needed to make it my priority. This became a challenge when I found my psych waning for the route, the thought of falling off the same moves repeatedly became less appealing, but with this I also think I learnt to let go. I became calm, the route was flowing but I just had to find fight mode for the final section.
In August I headed to the Dolomites for a change of scenery and an Alpine project, some time away was just what I needed as it was too hot and humid for LPT. With success in the Dolomites I returned with some new-found psych, ready to fight I just had to get a couple of hard weeks of work out the way. I wanted to be down at LPT this time instead of forcing myself to go. I would be finding any chance I possibly could to try and make the stars align. On my first couple of sessions I was getting high in to the crux but it was just some reacquainting sessions, game on! The session before my successful attempt I warmed up by going from low down on the route through all of the crux, I’d never done that before. In my head I was starting to really question why I just couldn’t do the route when it felt this easy doing the moves. It threw me. My nerves got the better of me and I came off the hardest crux move, again. I stayed calm, I’d messed up, but I still had another good go in me.
This time I was less nervous, I was a bit more tired, but I climbed well, I was through the hardest moves again. All I had to do was get my left foot onto a micro foothold on the slab, I knew I would be in with a fighting chance if I did this. I was so tired by this point, I’d really had to fight to stay on and suddenly I was ejected off the route again. This time I swore a lot and kicked my legs around in the air like a petulant child; on the one hand I was happy I had tried hard but on the other I was frustrated I didn’t climb better on my first go. For some reason I just wasn’t translating my climbing on the route to success, maybe I was struggling with the idea of letting this route go but surely, I was ready to move on.
After three days’ rest, I had a last day of effort on this route before I would be comp setting, I was starting to get worried that work would take over from my opportunities and that time was starting to run out quite quickly. I knew I would be grabbing for chances, but it would be pot luck, little did I know that the weather was about to turn really bad a week later and the good season could end up being a very short one.
I planned to pick Angus Kille up, bribing him with some homemade Macarons to come to his least favourite crag – in the end I forgot them but gave them to him the next day. As I was warming up, I felt ok, not the best but good enough. I popped the clips in Big Bang but stopped at the crux to chill out and not put too much pressure on. The rock felt a little slippy with no wind and no sun, Angus went up Wild Understatement commenting on the conditions not being great. I stood at the bottom thinking liquid chalk will help definitely for today. As I geared up to go I realised I’d left my liquid chalk at home, but I was just here to climb with a mate, it oddly didn’t faze me.
For some reason I felt calm, it was just another day at the crag. The only difference this time was no one else was here to watch, it was just me and the climb. I set off, up the easy part of the climb to my first shake out and compose for the first section. Ok, I feel good it’s time to set off through the boulder problem into the roof. Lock out right into the shoulder press, get under the roof and make the scary clip. Now I can relax and just climb, through the burly moves and cut loose, swing like a hero and stab my feet back on. I’m at my only shake out on the route.
The climbing up to it felt easy so now how long do I rest for? I go with my routine, just chill and breathe, have a minute or so, then set off. Straight away the moves get hard again but I’m quickly into my happy place on good crimps. Into some slopers, just keep the tension, some hard moves and I’m at the pocket. That’s the 8b+/c section out the way and I still feel good. It’s just the hard section to go, the bit I always drop. I get a quick flick and chalk my right hand, it’s time to go, just move confidently and quickly. Turn the pocket, long lock to a non-hold crimp, flick into the backhand, keep those hips close in and breathe. Right foot high, is the inside edge on? Yes, it is, now tuck in and lock to the crimp. Flipping heck, I’ve got it and I’m not pumped, left hand to another crimp then pull up and stab my left foot on the micro foothold on the slab. Wait, this is the moment I always drop it, even though it should be in the bag. I stab a couple of times on the foothold just to make sure I’m on, yes, it’s actually on the foothold, don’t mess up now. I rock through to the slippy crimp holding on for dear life, into the next and then the dreaded micro crozzles that are so sharp. But I’m not dropping it here, I want this so bad.
It’s the moment I’ve dreamt of for ages, the one I’ve sleep crimped my boyfriend for. Right foot up on to a good edge but make sure you’re on the front of your shoe or you won’t reach. Long stretch to the finishing crimp and engage like I never have before, make sure it’s a vice grip so I don’t let go. I’m suddenly at the top clipping the draws, I swear and let out some high-pitched screams that only dogs can hear. I shout down to Angus asking if that really just happened. I think he was in disbelief that I made it onto the slab, my head had finally won against the route. I lowered off in a state of relieved excitement, still not sure if I had actually done the route.
Dave Evans being an absolute legend brought a bottle of Prosecco to the Orme which I sensibly took home and then proceeded to drink along with the other two and some good friends, I was suitably hungover the next day. I have so many people to thank for their patience and keeping me grounded on this route, this was wholly a team effort and without some invaluable friendships I wouldn’t have made it through this process. I’m pretty sure I talked a lot of people to death with this route.
The realisation that I have climbed the route is only just starting to sink in, it’s a bittersweet feeling. I enjoyed every moment. I remember every move, they are ingrained and it’s like saying goodbye to a very dear friend. Inevitably the question of what is next is starting to loom. Will I have a project that engulfs me body and mind, wholly invested once again? I hope so.
What an achievement Emma, we are extremely proud sponsors and can’t wait for your next big project!