Making Molehills of MountainsFrom The Field
In Conversation with Anna Taylor
Written by Joe Phelan // Photography by Marc Langley & Neil Gresham
One of climbing’s greatest talents, Anna Taylor is not like most people. It becomes clear, almost immediately after we begin talking, that she is driven by levels of determination and ambition that are as admirable as they are rare.
‘It sounds sadistic, but I enjoy pushing my mind and body to breaking point. I think a certain amount of suffering can be good for you,’ she tells me. ‘I like figuring out how much I can take, especially when it means going beyond my own expectations.’
Anna fell in love with climbing when she was 10 after her dad took her to a wall in Kendal, a small market town on the edge of the Lake District. She was drawn in, she tells me, as much by her love of problem-solving as the physical challenge, and has never looked back.
‘I fell for the sport quickly, and what’s always kept me coming back is the variety. There are so many different styles to pursue – bouldering, trad climbing, and winter climbing to name just three – so it’s almost impossible to get bored.’
At just 23, Anna, now a full-time professional and sponsored by Berghaus, has achieved more than most climbers twice her age. In addition to many climbs throughout the UK, at the age of 21 she became the first woman to successfully ascend Mount Roraima, a daunting mountain wall inside the Guyanese rainforest. The climb, headed up by the indomitable Leo Houlding, captured the imaginations of climbing enthusiasts from across the globe, and led to Anna becoming an overnight sensation.
‘I was completely shocked to be invited on that particular expedition,’ Anna says. ‘I didn’t have any experience of jungles, long trips, or big walls, I was the only girl on the team, and I was younger than everyone else there by at least a decade. Agreeing to go was the most frightening decision I’ve ever made, but it was also undoubtedly the best.
‘I learned so much about climbing and life in general in the weeks we were out there. Looking back, I feel immense pride at what we managed to do, and huge amounts of gratitude towards all my incredible teammates, particularly Leo, who not only believed in me from the start, but opened my eyes to so much that I otherwise would never have seen.’
Despite receiving widespread praise and acclaim for her phenomenal achievement, Anna tells me that her first foray into the limelight was not entirely positive.
‘When I got back from the Guyana expedition I received some incredibly sexist comments online, with people saying I surely must have been dragged up the wall by the guys – in reality I led the hardest pitch. I’ve learned to ignore stuff like that, but sadly anyone even remotely in the public eye these days is liable to be subjected to some amount of rubbish online, as people can spout whatever they like behind anonymous usernames.’
Anna is, however, resolute and resilient, and has not allowed other people’s ignorance to quell her adventurous spirit. She hit the headlines once again this year after becoming the first person to complete a self-powered Classic Rock round. The achievement required her to tick off the 83 greatest climbs as defined by Ken Wilson, one of the most influential voices in British climbing, and was a challenge she’d had her eye on for a while.
‘I decided it would be fun to try linking them all together by bike, creating a journey that took me all the way from Penzance in Cornwall to the Isle of Skye, over 700 miles away! I initially planned to give it a go in 2020, but since COVID was still a big issue in the UK back then, it wasn’t until this year  that I could finally set off. The trip took me two months to complete, and I think the hardest parts were cycling while carrying all of my equipment, food, and clothes, and getting the climbs done in what were often abysmal conditions.
‘There was a lot of suffering involved, but I would definitely do it again, or at least something along similar lines. The only thing I would do differently would be to train on a bike more before setting off, as this time I just relied on getting fit along the way – it worked out in the end, but made for a pretty miserable first fortnight!’
Despite her fearless nature, and though she is routinely enticed by the difficult and the dangerous, Anna tells me that she is by no means immune to feelings of apprehension and worry.
‘I definitely get scared,’ she readily admits. ‘I do a lot of free-solo climbing, which can be highly treacherous, and depends on mental strength as much as physicality and endurance. I’ve become adept at shutting down my brain when I climb in this style. I try to focus only on the moves in front of me, rather than my surroundings, but the fact that I might only be one mistake away from dying or getting seriously injured is always in the back of my mind.
‘I don’t think fear is a bad thing. I won’t attempt to solo a route if I’m genuinely scared, because the presence of fear often means that something isn’t quite right. When it’s crippling and unjustified it’s an awful emotion, but in many situations it’s the one thing that prevents you from crossing the line.
‘The most important thing I’ve learnt from my climbing career is how fragile humans are. I think being reminded of your own mortality allows you to pursue more risky endeavours with a greater degree of safety. You’re under no illusions as to what can happen if things go wrong, and you make your decisions accordingly. It makes me appreciate life that little bit more.’
So, what’s next on Anna’s agenda?
‘I’d like to travel more once the world opens up again, and do more expedition trips to remote, far-away places. In terms of upcoming ventures, there are a few more firsts I’d like to get my name attached to, but I’m not going to make them public knowledge just yet! You’ll just have to watch this space.’