I step out into the daylight, eyes taking a little while to adjust to the relative brightness after the cool dark of the Stickle Ghyll barn. The bustle of the 2023 Arc’teryx Climbing Academy Lake District contrasts with the calm, quiet of the virtually deserted former barn. Arc’teryx sponsored climber, Mina Leslie-Wujastyk, is attending, leading clinics and showing a new film about climbing and motherhood. We thought it was a good opportunity to catch up with her to find out more about her life, and why durable, dependable gear is the cornerstone of climbing in the UK; especially in the unpredictable Cumbrian weather.
Our chat felt more like yoga for the mind than a conversation: stretching, stimulating, calming, reassuring even. It’s not just what she says, Mina speaks with a degree of mindfulness that it’s impossible not to be influenced and inspired by.
Ironically, we actually start our conversation on the subject of yoga. Mina had led an open session for Academy attendees that morning. “I like starting my mornings with yoga when I can. Nothing crazy – I’m not actually particularly flexible – but I use it like a quick mental and physical once-over. It is time for myself, no matter how busy the rest of my day is”.
Time is something of a commodity for Mina at the moment. Her son, Isaac, is now two and every parent in the world will understand what that means in terms of finding enough hours in the day for the mundane things in life, never mind anything else. Finding time for climbing is even more challenging at the moment, but before we talk about now, we rewind to what brought Mina to where she is now.
(Photo by Tom Hill)
Like a stick of rock
“If you were to cut through me, it would say climber in the middle”.
Climbing has been part of Mina’s life for almost as long as she can remember. “That’s a phrase I borrowed from Katy Whittaker (fellow climber, and also the organiser of the Arc'teryx Climbing Academy). I climbed as a kid, and other than a couple of years as a teenager, it has been part of my life ever since. It has always been something that brought me joy and is central to the way I live. I guess my relationship with climbing changed slightly when I began competing, with an inevitable emphasis on structure and training, but I’m just a climber through and through.”
Through injuries, through pursuit of every corner of the sport – competition, sport climbing, bouldering – through whatever else, Mina was and is a climber. Climbing is also how the outside world defines Mina, and when she isn’t climbing, she works as a climbing coach for Lattice Training. Yet, for the last couple of years, her priorities have changed…
“Motherhood definitely took some adjusting to and it still is. There’s almost this split identity of the old me, Mina the climber, and my role as a mother. I absolutely love motherhood and fully embrace everything that comes with that. But, I strongly believe that to be the best mother that I can be, I need to retain what makes me, me.
“Some weeks, I get the opportunity to climb lots. Things work out, and I get a good run. Other times, I just won’t get the chance for a fortnight. It has changed my relationship with climbing, but in a really positive way. I don’t want to just return to how things were. I’m enjoying finding balance.”
(Photo by Charlotte Bull)
Let’s return briefly to how we define professional climbers. Look at any summary or interview, one of the first things that you’ll read is their tick list. The highest grades, the most impressive routes or problems they’ve climbed. (For the record, Mina has an immensely impressive record across most climbing disciplines). Even much, much further down the ranks of ability, there are few climbers that can claim they are not even remotely interested in grades or tick off their climbs somewhere. At the start of our athletic careers, we improve, get stronger, learn, develop, improve, until we eventually plateau, finding smaller incremental gains. Finally, at some point though, whether it is through age or injury or maybe parenthood, our performance drops off, at least for a while. It may be frustrating for the amateur but what impact does that have on someone who makes at least part of their income through climbing?
(Photo by Tom Hill)
“There is so much that I love about climbing that isn’t just trying to tick the hardest stuff I possibly can. One of the things that drew me in in the first place, and continues to sustain me is the social side of climbing. Friendship and community is so important to me. Regardless of any frustrations, or tiredness, or any of the hard things that life inevitably deals you, the support of friends and my wider community is valuable to me.
“Then, when it comes to actually climbing, I have always loved the process and movement of climbing. That doesn’t need to be goal dependent really. I love the sense of flow that climbing gives me. I love that when I’m in the moment I can find that state where I’m focussed on nothing and everything. I’ve really enjoyed exploring more locally. I live in the Peak District and there is enough climbing on the doorstep to more than last a lifetime.
Given everything that we have spoken about, it's clear that the windows of opportunity to climb are even more important to Mina than ever before. The reality of climbing in the UK is that the weather dominates our every decision; where to climb, when to climb, what to wear… and more often than not, we have to be prepared for the exact opposite of what was forecast.
“I’m so lucky that I have access to all this amazing clothing that Arc’teryx offers, but ultimately, if the rock is wet, then there’s no climbing. So you carry all these layers as insurance. You hike out to the crag, full of optimism, you warm up, start working the route or problem. Then you stop and rest and you get cold, so you pull on all these warm clothes. And good clothing just means it's something you don’t worry about. As climbers, we train hard, we try to optimise every part of the process of climbing a route. Having the right clothing is a part of that. If you get cold, or you end up rushing because you don’t want to get cold then part of the jigsaw is missing. What’s worse is it’s an easy one to fix… it’s not months of training, it’s packing the right jacket.
“And then, there have been so many times that I’ve been at the crag and you can see the black clouds approaching, but you climb and climb until the weather turns and you end up fleeing only when it starts to pour down. Having a dependable GORE-TEX jacket is so important. Having something that is durable enough to get thrown between packs, sat on, pulled over other layers and just keep working is one less thing to worry about. In fact, I’ve got my waterproof with me here today; I’m making the most of the Granger’s wash service to get it washed and reproofed and ready for the worst weather the Lake District has to offer!”
(Photo by Charlotte Bull)
Walking the tightrope
Mina follows me as we step outside, and a few minutes later, I spot her at the other side of basecamp, with Isaac in her arms. Later on in the day, she’ll be leading a climbing clinic. It would be glib, and almost certainly untrue to paint this as a picture of perfection… you CAN have everything, all the time! Life doesn’t work like that. For the moment though, the tightrope is well and truly being walked; life in balance.
(Photo by Charlotte Bull)