New British Dry Tooling record set by Emma Powell

Guardians of the Underworld becomes the first D12 graded climb completed by a woman

Read time 3 mins

Published Jun 23, 2022

Photographer Ryan Balharry

Hannah Mitchell BASE Digital Writer Hannah is a Lake District-based journalist and all-round outdoor lass with a particular fondness for rock faces.

Ice climber and dry tooler, Emma Powell, has set a new record by becoming the first British woman to complete a D12 graded climb in the UK, after she successfully navigated the ‘Guardians of the Underworld’ route at renowned dry tooling venue The Works, at Hodge Close Quarry in the Lake District.

Yorkshire-based athlete Emma Powell successfully ticked her ongoing project, Guardians of the Underworld, on Sunday 29th May after months of working the route. The climb, which is located at The Works, Hodge Close Quarry, is one of the hardest routes at the venue, and indeed in the U.K. In completing it Emma has become the first British woman to have ever climbed the grade D12 in the U.K.

Emma cut her climbing teeth on Yorkshire Grit with her Dad when she was seven, going from strength to strength, and over the past eight years transitioned into ice climbing and dry tooling too. Dry tooling is a form of mixed climbing, using specialised axes and crampons to gain purchase on often steep or overhanging rock. It requires a tremendous amount of strength and is also an effective means for training technique and stamina for arduous ice and rock routes. The once-esoteric climbing discipline has increased in popularity in recent years, and numerous indoor dry tooling venues and clubs have sprung up across the UK.

With numerous indoor and competitive climbing accolades to her name, including ranking 1st in Britain for Dry Tooling in the senior female category in 2018, placing 1st in the UK Mixed Masters dry tooling competition in 2019 and 14th in the UIAA Bern Ice climbing European cup in 2021, making her the highest British female placing at this competition, it is unsurprising that Emma is forging ahead with prodigious outdoor ascents too.

In 2019, Emma became the first British woman to climb the route Quick Release D10+, another testing climb at the same Lake District location. With her appetite for tough ascents not quite satiated, she soon returned to tackle Guardians of the Underworld.

Starting on a hanging arête and remaining horizontal for the majority of the climb, Guardians of the Underworld requires technique and explosive strength to reach its final moves. It involves a move known as a Stein Pull where the axe is used in a can-opener type motion, utilising opposing forces on the pick and head of the axe to keep it in place.

‘This route has been a project over the last several months and has taken lots of time and effort to manage such a difficult and technical route,’ says Emma. ‘My ascent of this route is special not just for my own personal achievement but also because it makes me the first British woman to dry tool in the UK at this grade. I’m excited to find the next challenge to drive me forward within a sport I love so much.’

Emma’s ascent was documented by photographer and filmmaker Ryan Balharry, in a film slated for release later this year, supported by Montane.

With her ascent of Guardians of the Underworld, Emma joins the burgeoning ranks of record-breaking women in the outdoors in recent weeks. For more news about women that rock, check out this article on Kristin Harila’s 8,000m+ ascents.

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