Interview – Amy Dunlop is in the cloud

Amy Dunlop on abandoning gymnastics, overcoming a hip replacement, getting better at rock climbing, worse at competing, and climbing In the Cloud (V12).

Can you give us the Amy Dunlop 101?
I am a Sydney based climber/nurse. I have been hanging around the climbing community for close to 15 years, initially as a competition climbing teen in Canberra, then weekend warrior, now a rather obsessed Sydney cave dweller.

How did you get into climbing?
I had been forced to give up gymnastics due to a hip injury as a teenager and found myself with a lot of time and a lack of hobbies. A mentor and friend was coaching the local climbing squad in Canberra and encouraged me to come along. It was just the atmosphere I needed at the time: supportive, goal orientated and a lot of fun. I made some wonderful friends and was able to channel my years of training into a new sport.

What is it about climbing that attracted you to the sport, and is it the same reason that you’ve kept climbing?
When I started climbing, I admit I enjoyed the structured training and the group of people more than climbing itself. After high school, I continued to potter in and out of climbing but my participation in the sport was more about fun and fitness as I had other interests. My real passion for climbing only developed a couple of years ago when I made a decision to dedicate time to projecting outside. I always found projecting frustrating and if I couldn’t do a climb in one or two sessions I was not coming back. Once I began seeing success and harder and harder climbs were sent, I was hooked. Nowadays, I love all forms of climbing and can’t imagine climbing not being a big part of my life.

Amy climbing In the Cloud (V12), the Grampians. Image Pat Klein

Amy climbing In the Cloud (V12), the Grampians. Image Pat Klein

You recently climbed what might be your first V12, In the Cloud – what attracted you to the line, and what was the process of climbing it like?
I am drawn to lines I consider aesthetically pleasing: climbs that top out, aren’t contrived and look ‘pretty’. In The Cloud ticked all these boxes and also seemed to suit my style with small grizzly edges on a steep wall.

Also, the first ascent was by a woman, Dorothea Karalus, from Germany, and I believe it is one of the hardest, if not the hardest, first ascent by a female in Australia. Girl power is a huge inspiration.

I found the process of climbing this boulder quite frustrating as it all came down to one move. It was the kind of move that I could try a hundred times (and did!) and feel close every time, but still have doubts about whether or not it would ever work.

On Paratroopin (V7) at Frontline. Chris Firth

On Paratroopin (V7) at Frontline. Chris Firth

We know you tried In the Cloud over a couple of trips, how did you get stronger/better for it?
I practiced a simulated move on the Moonboard, but largely the difference between the first and second trip was leg strength and flexibility. The crux move requires a high, slightly awkward right toe. I had a right hip replacement in 2016 and initially struggled to generate power in this position. Rehabilitation has been an ongoing process, not only gaining strength and flexibility, but more importantly learning how to use it.  

Why did you have to have your hip replaced, and how does it affect or shape your climbing style?
I developed a condition as a teenager where I lost blood supply to my femoral head and it deteriorated over time. I had limited strength and range of motion due to the misshapen joint, arthritis and a slightly shorter right leg. I learnt to climb with hip issues so I naturally developed a stronger upper body and good core tension to compensate. I have also worked on being more dynamic. Luckily, my style works well for steep Sydney bouldering. Probably wouldn’t have quite as much fun in Font.

It’s often said that women use their hips better than men when they climb, does that mean that you’ve lost one of your superpowers?
I may have lost one superpower but I have definitely gained many others as a result. And now, since my surgery, I have the opportunity to fill these gaping holes in my climbing, which is super exciting. I am loving learning how to climb with my legs as they get stronger and more flexible. Hip replacement technology is advancing so incredibly that a younger, healthy person like me can be in and out of hospital in 24 to 48 hours, obviously with significant rehab, but I find this amazing. My experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I no longer have pain, I can move freely day to day and participate in the hobbies I enjoy. What more could you ask for?

Do you have other projects on the go?
L’Homme Obu, Fred Nicole’s classic Sydney boulder. I’d really like to send this line this season. I’ve done all the moves, it’s now down to putting all the pieces together.

Do you just boulder or do you also climb on a rope (and why)?
I enjoy all forms of climbing but have mainly stuck to bouldering simply because it’s easily accessible in Sydney and I can squeeze in a couple of hours around other things. Recently I have been enjoying weekend adventures to the Blue Mountains – I hadn’t climbed on rope much for about eight years and it was bloody scary! Why was I never this scared as a kid?

Competing at the NSW State Titles at Nomad Bouldering Gym. Image Tara Davidson

Competing at the NSW State Titles at Nomad Bouldering Gym. Image Tara Davidson

You also compete, what are some of your best results?
My competition climbing prowess has unfortunately dwindled over the past couple of years. Interestingly (and frustratingly), the better I get at climbing, the worse my competition results seem to be. Increased personal expectations appear to be the main issue. My best result was 2nd at Boulder Nationals in 2014. I made semi-finals and placed 19th in lead at Youth World Championships once upon a time as well.

A lot of people find competing unenjoyable, whereas others really thrive in the testing environment, what do you get out of competing?
The basic premise of being good enough, both physically and mentally, to get to the top of any climb that’s put in front of me is appealing. It’s a game, a puzzle to solve. Competition forces me to work my weaknesses which ultimately makes me a better climber both inside and outside. Most of the time I really enjoy it, except when everyone’s watching me flounder, trying to get off the ground, for four very long minutes. Hopefully, there will be less of that this year.

Amy on Cave Girl (V9) at Hollow Mountain Cave, Grampians. Image by Nick Ducker

Amy on Cave Girl (V9) at Hollow Mountain Cave, Grampians. Image by Nick Ducker

We know you’ve bouldered a lot around Sydney, can you give us your top five Sydney blocs?

  1. L’Homme Obu (V11) – a work in progress
  2. Sloper Dan (V5)
  3. Combat Wombat (V11)
  4. Paratroopin (V7)
  5. American Siege (V10)

Frontline is clearly my favourite crag.

Do you prefer to work things solo or swarm them in a pack to suss out the beta?
Multiple brains working moves out together always saves physical effort, so I will never say no to a projecting buddy. Hanging out in dark Sydney caves is always more enjoyable with friends. That said, if I’m set on completing a particular climb and can’t find a friend, I won’t hesitate to go alone (or drag my partner Tom out to power spot me).

Do you have any climbing mentors and if so how does the relationship work?
If you are asking if Tom Farrell is a climbing mentor, as well as my partner, the answer would have to be yes. I’d like to think it’s been a two-way mentorship, ha! We train together about 50% of the time, he helps me with movement and coordination and I make sure he hasn’t skipped ab day.

My original climbing coach has always been another great mentor. He imparted his sports psychology wisdom on us as kids, and despite not having a climbing background, helped create a tribe of little crushers.

Climbing at the Fear Factory. Image by Tara Davidson

Climbing at the Fear Factory. Image by Tara Davidson

Do you have a special diet that fuels the fire and ensures you have the power to keep cranking hard?
Trying not to gorge on the sugary treats at the nurse’s station is a daily challenge.

If you could choose between Puccio’s power, Margo’s resolve or Jain Kim’s technique, which would you go for?
Can I combine all three and be Janja Garnbret? If I had to choose, I would go with Margo’s resolve, because it will always get you there in the end.  

What are you into aside from climbing?
There’s not a huge amount of time for much outside work and climbing. In between, I do my best to spend time with my family and my non-climbing friends. The art of prioritistion and work/life balance is an ongoing juggling act.

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