The Creamer of the crop

Lucy hanging out at Rylstone

I rely on my missus for many things, not least her ability to turn my drivel into something approximating to English.  So I thought it might be worth asking her what searching questions I should put to Lucy Creamer, into which nuances of the feminine climbing psyche we should delve.  What did she come up with?  “Ask her how tall she is.”  Well stand aside Jeremy Paxman, here comes Mrs H.

So I ignored her advice and pursued my usual ruthless line of questioning.  “WHEN did you begin to climb?!”  “Did you like it IMMEDIATELY???!!!”  As you can see, I use the good cop/good cop routine.  But then who needs tough-guy tactics in this game?  Interviewing climbers is usually a piece of piss, simply light the blue touch paper and relax.

And so it proved with Lucy Creamer.  Asking the obvious questions opened the floodgates.  British climbing nearly missed out on a superb talent.  Her first attempt was an unmitigated disaster and her second, abseiling, ended with her being hauled ignominiously back to the top of the crag.  Thankfully, at college she fell under the spell of the inevitable evangelising climber and her eureka moment soon followed.  Belaying a friend in the Avon Gorge, she realised instinctively that careful foot placement was the difference between success and failure.  Climbing was a language she understood and she took to it like a gecko.

Creamer hails from a sporty family.  Mum played basketball for England while Dad is a golf pro and her choice of college course reflected that influence.  Leisure and Recreation studies led inexorably to stints at outdoor centres in Birmingham and Northumberland.  She describes herself at this point as little more than an instructor who climbed a bit, but her nascent enthusiasm survived serious injuries sustained after falling 45’ while soloing in the States.

And perhaps that would have been it.  Perhaps Lucy Creamer would have dabbled in climbing for years, never fulfilling her potential, had it not been for the Bristol Climbing Wall.  Here she discovered a nurturing environment in which she could flourish, a group of like-minded enthusiasts and debutants who would provide the encouragement, experience and competition that would help to make Lucy Creamer the climber she is today.  And that’s not overstating the case.

Creamer firmly believes that women in particular thrive at climbing walls.  Within a year she had progressed from HVS to E5.  Women are inherently less strong than men, therefore the opportunity for them to train intensively is crucial.  Walls have succeeded where the clubs have often failed in the past.

However, few make the transition as smoothly as Lucy Creamer.  Her rapid progress through the grades was accomplished with strictly traditional ethics.  She is somewhat mystified by her adherence to the on-sight ethic.  “Many of my original climbing partners were top-roping everything, but I just love doing stuff on-sight.  I hate being given beta on a route and blokes are always eager to hand out advice.  I know they mean well but I just want to get on and have my own adventure.”

Creamer is highly motivated, driven even, yet touchingly unaffected by her success.  She’s aware of the status she enjoys in the climbing community at large but is still taken aback when climbers treat her with deference.  “I still just think of myself as a climber like any other.  Sometimes it goes quiet at the crag when I’m doing something hard, but more often than not that’s just a reflection of British reserve. Climbers don’t like to make a fuss and encourage people too much, particularly in the Peak and Yorkshire.  They’re men of few words.”

And then it just pops out, like I’m pre-programmed or something, “How tall are you?”  Lucy gives me a funny look, and replies that she’s five foot two inches exactly.  5’2”!  5’2”!!  She can’t be, must be some mistake.  Whenever I see Lucy Creamer at the wall, she looks at least 5’8”.  But that could be something to do with the fact that she’s normally powering up routes where telescopic arms are de rigueur.

Which just goes to prove that appearances can be deceptive.  Creamer is just 5’2” yet appears taller, a traditionalist from a non-traditional background and one of Britain’s most recognisable climbers who shuns the limelight.  She recently contributed an article to Summit magazine entitled “Live and Let Live” which did exactly what it said on the tin.  Creamer avers that climbing is a broad church and we should be less judgemental about those who follow a different path to our own.

Of course the usual suspects crept out of the undergrowth and denounced this as heresy.  Apparently on-sight trad is still king and those who frequent climbing walls or climbing competitions are a lesser species.  Well, Lucy Creamer is largely a product of the climbing wall explosion and a British team member.  She is also traditionalist right down to her rock boots.  So, who’s talking out of their chalk-bag?