Mina Leslie-Wujastyk On Success And The Vulnerability of Failure

Mina Leslie-Wujastyk On Success And The Vulnerability of Failure
Tetris V12 Wild Basin, Colorado, Photo: Dave Mason

Tetris V12 Wild Basin, Colorado, Photo: Dave Mason

Mina Leslie-Wujastyk is prolific, consistently climbing the best lines in the V11-12 range in any area she visits around the world. In her native England she's climbed some of the hardest sports routes, including the testpieces Mecca Extension and Bat Route both 5.14b. Based in Sheffield, she's also climbed classic highballs on the Peak District's famous gritstone including the first female ascent of the towering arete Careless Torque V11. 

Hard limestone routes, hard sandstone bouldering, grit high balls - you name it you've pretty much succeeded on the rock type. It's easy to be good at one style of climbing, how do you train and prepare for so many different styles and rock types?

I guess I've been really lucky for a number of reasons. For a start, I began climbing very young (age 8) and so I've had a lot of time to gain experience. I've also traveled a lot for climbing which means I've had the opportunity to build skills and confidence on varying rock types. I think starting climbing young is really good for developing technique and it's that technique building that allows you to move well and transfer more linear skills like strength and power onto the rock.

You've spent a lot of time over the last few years at some of the best bouldering spots in the world, are there any that you've found you needed to adapt your training and preparation for?

To be honest there are a lot of places that I've been to once and haven't returned to. Usually though, my limiting factor is always strength and power so the more basic training methods give me the biggest gains. I know how to climb, I'd say I'm good at moving on rock and I'm flexible - I love a good heel hook. What lets me down is raw strength and that is across the board on all rock types really. Whether it's limestone, grit or sandstone you still have to pull hard to climb hard! For example, boulders in Rocklands that I have failed on and plan to return to, I need to have better one arm pulling strength and finger strength, a stronger core for compression and bigger guns basically!

Midnight Lightening V8, Yosemite, Photo: Dave Mason

Midnight Lightening V8, Yosemite, Photo: Dave Mason

You teach yoga, do you think flexibility is neglected by a lot of climbers? Has it played a big role in some of your best ascents?

Yes definitely! I think I often get around hard moves by using my flexibility, whether it's the obvious flexibility associated with a heel hook or high step or just the ability to keep my hips close to the wall. I also think yoga can be really beneficial for injury prevention and maintaining a healthy posture. In terms of particular ascents, Careless Torque springs to mind - there is a very high step at the beginning of the boulder and you need the movement to come from the hip as the holds are very directional.

When you're going through a project like Careless Torque how do you keep yourself motivated? Do you ever have moments when you feel like giving up?

To be honest Careless Torque wasn't something I went through that process with. I did it on my second session so it was just very exciting. I have experienced that in other things though but I'm pretty bloody minded. I do get frustrated but I generally push on 'til it's done, or go away with a plan to come back stronger! There are things that I haven't gone back to (yet) but that feels more a case of getting distracted along the way by other things or knowing a big step up is required so time away is needed.

It's pretty common to see just success stories in the media, it's rarer to hear of failure - but to get a project done at your limit you have to fail - a lot. 

Ah man, I totally agree and I think the success culture in the media makes it really hard for people. I think authenticity and vulnerability of climbers (and all athletes) being portrayed more in the media would be so wholesome and helpful to the community at large but it takes a lot of bravery from those people, especially as it is so rare. At the moment I have a project that I'm working on that I really don't know if I'll ever be good enough to climb. It makes me feel very vulnerable and it's been a really interesting process grappling with that. But that's also why I really love climbing and pushing myself in climbing - it requires so much more than just physical strength, it's character building

social media has really put the power back into the community which has enabled more stories to emerge that otherwise wouldn’t have. And within that far more female voices have found a platform within the sport.

Do you think that vulnerability you're feeling is solely internal or also due to external factors such as that media environment?

I think it's a combination. There are certainly external pressures that play a part but I think more and more people are starting to embrace vulnerability. I do think there is a slight shift going on and that will help enormously. At the end of the day we can't wait for a shift, we have to create it with our own behaviors and I guess that's what I'm trying to do to a certain extent. But in answer to your question, I think social media and the culture it creates isn't always very forgiving and it leaves people very exposed to criticism and public opinion which in turn cultivates the overly success-orientated stories to emerge on top. Public failure is a tough order.

How do you break down something like that - from preparing to getting it done? And what advice would you give to people going through that process at any level?

I guess you have to start by checking it out so you know what doing it would entail. Then it depends, for me it's a route, so I can break it down into parts; the difficulty of the crux boulder problem and then the difficulty of the other sections. Then you ask the question, what kind of difficulty? Endurance? Individual moves? Power, strength or stamina? How do my current strengths and weaknesses compare with what is required? That will inform how you might train for it. It really helps me to break it down as the parts seem much more doable than the whole, but at the end of the day, the whole is just a case of stitching together the parts

The Amphitheater V12, Rocklands, Photo: Dave Mason

The Amphitheater V12, Rocklands, Photo: Dave Mason

Aside from putting pressure on those at the higher end of the sport, do you think social media has had a benefit in the way climbing is perceived?

Yes I think social media has really put the power back into the community which has enabled more stories to emerge that otherwise wouldn't have. And within that far more female voices have found a platform within the sport. It's great, I love going on Instagram and seeing awesome pictures of women doing adventurous climbs in the outdoors!

With that in mind, who currently inspires you? Both inside and outside of the sport?

Hmmm. It's more the general wave of psyche that a lot of people are surfing at the moment. My friends inspire me, anyone who is working hard and putting their whole self into something inspires me. Whether it's 6b or 9a+. I guess inside the sport is more relatable for me but outside of it too for sure. I went to see Cirque du Soleil the other day for the second time and I always come out of that totally inspired and invigorated. They aren't climbers (although I'm sure they'd be pretty good if they tried) but they have tremendous dedication and prowess in what they do.