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Katy Whittaker Becomes Fourth British Woman to Climb 5.14

Katy Whittaker is one of the UK’s top female climbers, she recently became the fourth British woman to climb 5.14a with her ascent of China Crises at Oliana, Spain. She excels at indoor competitions, technical grit routes and hard sport routes. Born in Burnley, but grew up in Edale in the Peak District, she is base in Sheffield. Many know Katy’s brother, Pete Whittaker, for his role in the famed Wide Boyz series.

Katy Whittaker climbing Master's Edge, Millstone. Photo Alex Messenger
Katy Whittaker climbing Master’s Edge, Millstone. Photo Alex Messenger Source

Katy’s first lead was on an indoor wall at the age of eight and in 2007, she won the British Bouldering Championship. “That was pretty cool, it definitely put a big smile on my face and made all the hard work and stress of comps seem worth the while,” said Katy, “I went on a trad climbing course with Pete when I was about 13 and then just did a load of mileage in the lower grades.”

When Pete climbed his first 5.12+, Katy was inspired, “That was a big eye opener, I had never even considered or thought it was possible. Encouraged by Pete I went out and head-pointed Life Assurance, a 5.12+ at Burbage South. This was the start of my love for grit I think. I have obviously climbed it all my life but climbing hard techy smeary stuff was fun and you didn’t need to be strong,” said Katy.

The following years she climbed a number of hard routes such as Braille Trail E7 6c at Burbage South, Masters Edge, 5.13, on Millstone Edge, Desperate Dan, 5.13, at Ilkey, Narcissus, 5.13, and The Mint 400, 5.13, at Froggatt, Jumping on a Beetle, 5.13, with success on its harder neighbour, The Angel’s Share, 5.13+.

“Johnny Dawes inspires me, his technique and movement on rock is incredible but I am mainly inspired by the people I climb with. I really feed off their psyche and motivation and I love climbing with people who are enthusiastic. I think it reflects in my ability and successes when I have partners like this,” said Katy.

In 2013, she climbed the famous Gaia, 5.12d, at Black Rocks, England, one of the most emblematic routes on gritstone. Gaia was first climbed 1986 by Johnny Dawes, it takes a bold line up a shallow hanging groove before breaking out right to the psychological crux, a series of slopers and smears which lead delicately to the arete. The route was featured in the video Stone Monkey and became famous after the traumatic opening scenes of the movie Hard Grit when Jean Mihn Trin-Thieu takes a whipper.

Katy Whittaker on Gaia, Black Rocks, in fading light. Photo Dave Mason
Katy Whittaker on Gaia, Black Rocks, in fading light. Photo Dave Mason Source

“I like climbing best where you have to think and use technique and balance rather than your arms. I also love big days out in the mountains, testing your ability to just keep going. Not necessarily hard climbing but long days where you come back to the campsite totally done in,” said Katy. “In America I enjoyed the epics and suffering in a weird way, they have more of an impact/ lasting memory on me than say sending a hard boulder/sport climb.”

Katy Whittaker climbing Pressure Drop Photo Adam Long
Katy Whittaker climbing Pressure Drop Photo Adam Long Source

Katy spent four days working the moves before red-pointing China Crises on her seventh attempt, “It goes up the centre of a grey streak on perfect rock. Slightly overhanging on crimps, pockets and slopey dishes. You have to do quite a tricky boulder problem to start the route then it is sustained with two redpoint cruxes to tackle.”

Source: The BMC, DMM, UK Climbing