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Between a rock and a hard place

By Margaret Chrystall

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Anna Taylor.
Anna Taylor.

Maybe it should be no surprise that free soloing climber Anna Taylor will have some amazing stories to share when she speaks on Friday, May 13 at the Kendal Mountain Tour at Eden Court.

Anna has had her ups and downs with climbing, mostly ups.

In 2019, as the youngest person in the team, Anna joined a six-strong team led by Leo Houlding heading for Mount Roraima in Guyana. The summit is said to be the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World featuring dinosaurs, and over two weeks, they climbed The Prow, a 2,000ft wall.

Last year Anna completed a gritty challenge of stamina and courage when she set a record for becoming the first woman to complete a continuous round of every route of the 83 that feature in the climber’s guidebook Classic Rock written by Ken Wilson. Anna soloed most of the routes and cycled between each set, covering 2,400 kilometres and climbing over 10,000 metres, which took her from southwest England and after 62 days, finishing on the Cuillins on Skye.

Anna did start early, so perhaps her achievements should not seem so unusual.

From Windermere the 23-year-old said: “I grew up in a very outdoorsy family which is something that I am very grateful for now.

“I probably started being taken up mountains from when I was very – as long as I can remember really.

“I was carried up quite a few as a baby!

“Then when I was a kid, my dad used to take me fell walking – climbing, mountain-biking, kayaking, all that kind of thing. So I’ve definitely been quite outdoorsy from an early age.”

But Anna’s rapid progress as she grew up left room to reconsider.

“I got properly into climbing when I was about 10 and was totally obsessed with it for a few years and did competitions as a junior.

“But the competitive environment for whatever reason didn’t quite agree with me.

“I ended up quitting climbing altogether for about four years, I think, and went to college and did music – I had a total change of direction!”

But it sounds like even with a change of direction, Anna’s love for climbing hadn’t disappeared …

The young climber explained: “A band I was in – the other members were into climbing and I started going to a climbing wall with them, I was about 17 at this point.

“Then I just got rehooked and from there I started working at the local climbing wall full-time and – just very quickly – it snowballed and I got into outdoor traditional climbing which is one of the more popular styles in the UK - to climb while placing your own protection into the natural features of the rock with these little metal devices.

“I fairly quickly progressed through the grades and because of that I ended up picking up some low-grade sponsorship and continued for a few years before I started doing a lot of solo climbing, climbing harder routes without any ropes or gear altogether.”

It was during that time that Anna was invited to go to Guyana.

“It completely opened my eyes to the expedition side of climbing and taking trips and going into remote places and that is where I started straying away a bit and wanting to do things like Classic Rock.”

Anna wouldn’t have done it without Covid stopping her being able to travel abroad for an expedition-type trip.

Now looking back at last year’s achievement, over 1,500 miles, mostly alone, she feels she learned a lot from it.

“When you are up there on your own without anyone else to rely on it definitely adds another element that makes the whole thing feel a lot more serious.

“It was a big learning curve because the only other expedition I had done before in Guyana, was with a big crew of people to suddenly being on my own, it was very, very valuable to me.”

Now Anna has written a book about the Guyana expedition which she hopes to publish later this year. Anna may also be heading for the Alps and has places she would love to go, including Norway and New Zealand.

Ask Anna what is like to be known for being ‘the first female to …’ and as she speaks it turns out it can be no bad thing as a climber, despite what the non-climbing world might believe. For example, there is a mention about the Guyana expedition where having small fingers is mentioned and is an advantage when trying t find a hold on small ledges.

“That was in Guyana and the hardest moves or the hardest pitch on the mountain that we climbed involved matching your hands onto some really tiny little ledge.

“I was there with two other guys who were free climbers and their hands were about twice the size of mine so they were finding it a lot harder to do that.

“Climbing is a sport that is a lot more equal in some respects between men and women.

“We are different physically but we both have advantages and disadvantages.

“Women are generally lighter, are a bit more flexible and have smaller hands and that can definitely help you on climbs.

“With climbing, the closer you can get your hips to the wall the more weight you can take off your arms generally and that is definitely something we have as an advantage.

There are some photographs of Anna climbing with glasses on – can that be a challenge and are there specially-adapted ones for mountain environments?

She laughed: “My specs completely normal and I only started wearing them about a year ago. A lot of people have asked me this and I’ve never found it an issue whilst climbing.

“When I was cycling last year and it was raining and I was going downhill, the water on the road got thrown up on your face and every time that happened, the waterdrops would go all over the lenses and I’d be pretty much completely blind - which is not ideal!”

To focus on what is in front of you and not to let any fear take over.

Psycovsky’s Sequence, you said in climber online quote ’You still have to find the will-power to actually commit – and step off’

Anna Taylor will be talking at the Kendal Mountain Tour night at Eden Court on Friday (May 13) at 7pm.

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