Julia Wakeling Interview

Julia Wakeling InterviewAge?  29

Where were you born?  Harare, Zimbabwe

Climb ZA:  How did you end up in South Africa?

Julia:  I came to UCT and somehow ended up always coming back to study / work.

Climb ZA:  Do you often go back to Zimbabwe?

Julia:  Yip, I go home at least once a year, but try to get there more.

Climb ZA:  Where are you living now?

Julia:  Claremont in Cape Town

Climb ZA:  
How long you been climbing?

Julia:  I first put on a harness in 2001 (although apparently I top-roped some granite slab when I was about 8).  I only really became a climber in 2007.

Climb ZA:  How did you start climbing?

Julia:  The first time was at Legoland on a UCT MSC Climbing Freshers meet, but over the years a few different people really got me into climbing.  Bruce Spottiswoode taught me a lot about mountains and I dig his attitude to life.  Andrew Lewis took me on my first trad climb (Africa Crag), which blew my mind and was integral in inspiring me.  Then in 2007, Richard Halsey suggested I climb something that I felt was way out of my league (Goonie Goo Goo, the 22 at Oudtshoorn).  That single climb changed my life, and that’s when I felt like I really started to be a climber.  Then I met Clinton and I guess I owe a lot of who I am to him.

Julia Wakeling Interview

Julia doing her ‘not a real climber impersonation’ on Table Mountain during 2003


Climb ZA:  What did you study and what work do you do?

Julia:  I have an MSc in Plant Ecology and currently run an ecological research project at UCT.  It’s time for a change though.  I’m just trying to work out what that change will be.

Climb ZA:  So what do you want to specialise in (when you’re big)?

Julia:  Very good question!

Climb ZA:  What routes have you opened and are you opening any new routes at present?

Julia:  30 year old Camembert, a 4 pitch 23 at Rooiberg, that we still need to write up.

  • Batosaurus Rex, 20 A0 at Krakadouw.  We need to go back and free the second pitch, a rad but desperate roof crack.
  • A combo line at Krakadouw with Douw and Francie.
  • A bunch of stuff in India.  The big one was Shaadi Shuda (24…although I didn’t free the two 24 moves).  It’s 550m and 17 pitches.
  • Tim and I were lucky enough to be the ones to join Hector on his first free ascent of Blue Moon at Blouberg.
  • A few single pitch lines at Houdenbeck, southern Cederberg.
Julia Wakeling Interview

Julia on Seperate Reality (24), Yosemite – Photo by Clinton Martinengo

Climb ZA:  Do you train specifically for routes?

Julia:  Yeah, sometimes, if there’s a hard route I’m projecting.

Climb ZA: What training do you do and how often?

Julia Wakeling Interview

Julia on El Cap Photo by Clinton Martinengo

Julia:  I’m not that motivated to train on a wall, but that’s changing.  Otherwise, running, swimming, walking, cycling – at least some cardio basically every day (sometimes twice a day).

Climb ZA: This year you and a bunch of other local climbers went to Yosemite, was this your first visit?

Julia:  I’ve been there once before, with Clinton and Gosia in 2008.

Climb ZA: How long were you there for and how did the trip come about?

Julia:  A month.  It was kind-of a no-brainer.  We all wanted to go, or go back.  It was time for another Valley-fix.


Climb ZA:  What routes did you climb?

Julia:  Sheesh…

Mulit pitch:

  • Serenity Crack & Sons of Yesterday 5.10d / 21
  • Reed’s Pinnacle Direct 5.8 / 17 ?
  • Central Pillar of Frenzy 5.9 / 18
  • The Rostrum 5.11b / 23 (onsight)
  • Freeblast 5.11b / 23 – Gosia and I got the team free on this one

Single Pitch:

  • Lunatic Fringe 5.10c / 20
  • Stone Groove 5.10b / 19
  • Catchy 5.10d / 21
  • Separate Reality (5.11d / 24, 2nd go after a bit of working)
  • Fish Crack 5.12b / 26 (flash)

Big Walls:

  • NW Route Half Dome 5.12b / 26 in 17 hours with Gosia (I free’d the first hard pitches (24 and 25 ish), but I wasn’t fit enough yet and didn’t free the hard stuff above Big Sandy).
  • The Nose with Gosia, 3½ days, first all-female Southern African ascent.  Hurray! And it was SO much fun!  We free’d a bunch of stuff up to about 5.11b / 23.
Julia Wakeling Interview

Julia body jamming in Yosemite – Photo by Gosia Lipinska

Climb ZA:  What were your top 3 routes in the valley?

  • The Nose
  • The Rostrum
  • Separate Reality

Climb ZA:  Did you try Midnight Lightning?  How hard was it?

Julia:  Only as part of the human pyramid. It was hard standing on Hector’s shoulders and having Gosia basically standing on my head.

 Julia Wakeling Interview

Gosia at the top of the pyramid (Standing on Andrew Porter) – this was the first of a series of human pyramids that were attempted.  Photo by Toby TittleClimb ZA:  Did you come across any famous climbers while you were there?

Julia:  Yes. Do you want a list!? In order of appearance… Ammon McNeely, Mayan Smith-Gobat, Libby Sauter, Nico Favresse, Sean Villaneuva, Alex Honnold, Sean O’Leary, Jim Donini, George Lowe, Dave Turner, Timmy O’Neill… etc, etc…

Climb ZA:  Do you have any unfinished business in Yosemite?

Julia:  I have to free the NW on Half Dome.  I got so shut down by Tales of Power (5.12b/26).  I’d love to go back to it.

There are loads of really good routes I didn’t have time to get on… lots of shorter routes on the Cookie Cliff.

Julia Wakeling Interview

Julia on El Cap – Photo by Clinton Martinengo

Climb ZA: Are there other areas in the US and the world that you would like to visit – if so what places?

Julia:  Tuolumne – can’t believe I didn’t get there.  The Needles, Red Rocks, Zion, Smith Rock, the Bugaboos in Canada.  And of course Patagonia, the Karakorum, Mali, Ethiopia, Morocco, the Dolomites, the Alps, Greenland, Antarctica.  I mean really….you want me to write down everywhere???

Climb ZA: Did you climb any aid routes while you were in Yosemite?

Julia:  Yip, The Nose.

Climb ZA:  Is Seperate Reality as cool a route as it looks like in the photos ?

Julia:  It’s better!

Julia Wakeling Interview

Julia about to turn the lip on Seperate Reality (25), Yosemite.  Photo by Clinton Martinengo

Climb ZA: Did you have any technical hitches whilst climbing on the big walls?

Julia:  Just one moment on the Nose when Gosia and I couldn’t hear each other.  It’s tricksy manoeuvring the haul bag around a corner when you can’t communicate about it.  We thought a bit about the value of radios after that.

Climb ZA: I noticed that you taped your hands up for climbing in Yosemite.  How aggressive is the granite there (compared with Cape Granite) and how did your skin hold up during the trip?

Julia:  In general it’s much softer and smoother than the Cape granite.  (Half Dome is probably the roughest rock in the Valley.)  Initially my hands fell apart, but by the end I had super strong skin. I didn’t even have any holes in my hands after the Nose!?

Julia Wakeling Interview

Julia at Blouberg – Photo by Hector Pringle

Climb ZA:  Who are your two most favourite climbing partners in the Whole Wide World?

Julia:  Thanks for giving me two… because Clinton Martinengo and Gosia Lipinska are both amaaaazing partners 🙂

Climb ZA:  Did you and Gosia share a tooth brush whilst climbing the Nose?

Julia:  Yes sir.

Climb ZA:  Do you enjoy sleeping on a portaledge and why ?

Julia:  Ah, so much! It’s so comfy and the views are great.  I guess another bonus was that it was pretty much the only time we were on the wall when we weren’t missioning.

Julia Wakeling Interview

Julia doing the big swing thing on El Cap – Photo by Tom Evans (www.elcapreport.com)

Climb ZA:  How much fun is hauling and what was the average weight of your haul bag?

Julia:  Hauling was a mix for me.  On the Nose, it started at about 45 – 50Kg and ended up at about 25Kg.  It’s scary at the start of each hauling session, because although you’ve checked your system it’s still a little committing pushing yourself as hard as you can off the wall and towards the ground, which really is quite far away.  Once you’ve got going it’s a welcome emotional rest from leading.  There was always a race to try and get the haulbag to arrive before Gosia 🙂

Julia Wakeling Interview

Julia cleaning the Nose – Photo by Gosia Lipinska

Climb ZA:  How did the Yosemite locals take to the Vuvuzela being blown in the valley?

Julia:  I think they got into it.  Everyone on the wall responded with whoops and shouts when they heard it being blown from the meadow.  Tom Evans, the photographer on the bridge (www.elcapreport.com), loved it and we left one there for him.

Climb ZA:  How is the walk down from the top of El Cap and how long does it take?

Julia:  Ah, easy.  A stroll and 3 easy raps.  2 hours.

Julia Wakeling Interview

Julia and Gosia elated to be standing on flat ground!


Climb ZA:   You’ve been cranking pretty hard the past year, what does your local tick list look like?

Julia:  It’s not that impressive really.  Other girls around the country have been doing some seriously impressive stuff.  I’ve got work to do! Some of the harder things I’ve done are:

  • Sid Vicious 27
  • All that Glitters is Gold 27
  • Mischief & Thuggery 26 (on trad)
  • Thruster 26
  • Mercury 26
  • Paws 26
  • Sip & Fly 26
  • Sweet Plumb 25 (flash)

A bunch of trad 23’s (some of them onsights and flashes)

Climb ZA: 
You recently sent Mischief & Thuggery at Oorlogs Kloof on Trad?  How long had you worked the route and what was it like sending it on trad?

Julia:  I’d worked the route for about 3 or 4 days or so for the sport redpoint.  I had it dialled.  A few weeks later we were back.  I rapped off to see where the good placements were.  My rack was a little meagre back then and I had to work out how to protect the whole line with what I had.  I went up to figure things out and then quite easily found myself at the top, rather surprised.  (I went up again so Steve and Cobus could take some photos).   I dorked the sequence near the top and took a massive whipper onto a nut. Great for the head, but Steve’s still trying to forgive me for giving him a huge fright 🙂

Julia Wakeling Interview

Julia on Mischief and Thuggery (26) – Photo by Cobus Smith

Climb ZA:   What is the attraction to trad?

Julia:  For Mischief, it’s takes good gear and deserves to be climbed on gear.  It probably should never have been bolted, but that would mean that fewer people would climb it, and (even though Cobus refuses to believe it) it’s a great line!  No pressure Cobus.

In general, it’s another dimension to climbing.  You don’t just have to work out the moves, you’ve got to work out the gear too.  There’s a continual trade-off between placing gear and getting pumped.  I love the challenge of controlling the fear.  It hasn’t been a good day if you haven’t been scared.  Most of all, trad gets you far away from everyone and everything. I like being totally self-sufficient, exploring high mountains with a partner or two.

Climb ZA:  
What gets you psyched?

Julia:  Route descriptions; beautiful lines; the psyche of others around me.
Climb ZA:   What projects are you working (Boulder / Sport / Trad)?

Boulder… um, the mantle out of the pool!? I really should get into bouldering.

Sport… Daze of Thunder (28), Gift of Wings (29), although I haven’t put much into them as yet.

Trad… lots of stuff I’m keen to do, but haven’t been on.  I cleanly seconded “No Longer at Ease” (25). Just got to get the balls (ovaries?) up to do it.

Julia Wakeling Interview

Julia on Mischief and Thuggery (26) – Photo by Cobus Smith

Climb ZA: 
Do you have a 5 year (climbing) plan?

A big trip each year.

Dec 2012 Mali.  Then Patagonia, the Karakorum, Ethiopia, maybe back to the Valley.

Climb ZA:   Are you sponsored?

Yip, Black Diamond, Beal, Saltic and First Ascent.

Climb ZA:   
What are your expectations for the future of Climbing in SA?

Julia:  Everyone seems to be climbing harder and harder, I don’t see why it should stop.  Our little trad crew is awesome and I think we’re going to do some super fun stuff in the years to come.

Climb ZA:  
What is your involvement with the Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA)?

Julia:  I am the Chairman of the Rock Subcom of the Cape Town section.

Climb ZA: Should all climbers support the MCSA and if so why?

Julia:  Yeah for sure!  People don’t always realise the amount of time and energy that members of the MCSA put into things that we all take for granted.  Maintaining access is probably the biggest thing; the Anchor Replacement Fund (in the cape); the amazing selection of huts and properties we get to use; networking with mountain clubs around the world.

I wouldn’t have been on the trips I’ve been on, and therefore wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for the MCSA.  So, I guess you can blame the club then 😉


Julia Wakeling Interview

Julia jammin on Mischief and Thuggery (26) – Photo by Cobus Smith

Climb ZA:  Do you warm up?

Julia:  Hell yeah – the best warm up in the world! People often vie to get the Wakeling-shoulder-massage-finger-warm-up 🙂

Climb ZA: Do you follow a diet?

Julia:  Not really.  I try and avoid too much of the bad stuff.

Climb ZA:  
How much weight did you lose during your time in Yosemite?

Julia:  Probably a few Kg’s.  I put on a whole bunch when I got back though, as I carried on eating like I was climbing all day every day… except there was no climbing going on as I was resting my poor elbows.  I’m back to normal now though.

Julia Wakeling Interview

Julia on Mischief and Thuggery (26) – Photo by Cobus Smith

Climb ZA:  Top 5 routes this year?

Julia:  Now that’s hard!

  • Mischief & Thuggery
  • The Swan (Tafelberg)
  • Blue Moon (Blouberg)
  • The Nose
  • The Rostrum

(Pity I haven’t been to Krakadouw this year, else Coming of Age would be on the list for sure!)

Climb ZA:  What is your hardest onsight?  What enabled you to onsight the route (what was different about it)?

Julia:  I’ve onsighted a few sport 24’s.  I flashed a 26 (Fish Crack) in the Valley which was pretty cool for me.  I watched Sean and Gosia on it, then I went up, placed a bomber yellow C3 below the crux and went for it with Sean and Gosia screaming at me from below.  I totally got shouted up that route and wouldn’t have been able to do it without their encouragement!  Thanks team!

Climb ZA:  
Tea or Coffee?

Julia:  Hot water?

Climb ZA: 
What do you do on a rest day?

Julia:  Go running.

Climb ZA:  What are your top 5 favourite local climbing destinations?

Julia Wakeling Interview

Julia shaving her head during the 2010 Rock and Road

Julia:  Krakadouw, Tafelberg, Blouberg, Wolfberg, Table Mountain

Climb ZA:   Can you do a 1 arm pull up?

Julia:  Nope.

Climb ZA:  Do you have a significant other and does he climb?

Julia:  Yes and yes

Climb ZA:   What is the biggest Epic you’ve had?

Julia:  Mick (the Irishman)’s accident in the Black in 2008 (see SAMountain article:  A South African, a Zimbabwean and an Irishman head off to the Black Canyon in a Black Mustang)

Climb ZA:   Will you be growing your hair out?

Julia: Yip. Although it is very convenient short.

Julia was recently nominated for a Rock Legends Award in the Trad category:
No 33 on the 8a world trad rankings. No 4 on the SA trad rankings.

For her ascent of the testy Mischief & Thuggery (7b/26) and also Fish Crack (7b/26), and the infamous Separate Reality (7a/+/25), in Yosemite. Becoming the first South African woman to climb these routes and for been an inspiration to woman climbers in this country.

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7 Responses to Julia Wakeling Interview

  1. Margherita Introna Dec 12, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

    Nice one 🙂

  2. Toni Dec 12, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    Interesting! Keep cranking, Julia – you make us girls proud!

  3. Hector Dec 12, 2011 at 5:43 pm #

    Keep the climbing and the inspiration coming Julia!

  4. Brenda Dec 12, 2011 at 9:58 pm #

    Bugger what Cobus says… you’ll qualify for being part of the SWAC team anyday… even if I can only speak for the WA-part of it 😉

  5. Clinton Dec 13, 2011 at 7:33 am #

    Nice partna “keep cranking”

  6. Angus Wakeling Dec 13, 2011 at 8:21 am #

    Go (slightly crazy) little sis! lots of love

  7. Hilton Davies Dec 19, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

    Hot goose, lekker woman, great climber!

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