She’s an Australian Champion climber, a bouldering champion, and an international athlete who cites Spain as her favourite place to climb. She’s the youngest person to ascend a grade 31, and a grade 32/33: she conquered ‘Wrong Movements’ in the Blue Mountains age eight, and in March she’s jetting off to America to climb again in Red River Gorge. She’s Angie Scarth-Johnson, and she’s twelve years old.
Interviewing athletes and adventurers usually requires much back-and-forth to arrange a time when you’re both in phone range while they’re off on a mountain-top somewhere, or when a five-minute window with adequate internet can be found in corresponding time zones. Arranging a time to speak with Angie was just based on school times.
So yes, the Blue Mountains climber is twelve years old - but she is equally an athlete and deserves the respect she has earned for her dedication, professionalism and sheer talent. It’s easy to see why The North Face sponsors Angie in her inexorable pursuit of the best climbs, the next challenge.
Angie talks about climbing with deep enthusiasm and confidence, but it wasn’t always this way. She only began climbing when she was seven years old, following a fall from a tree. As part of recovery, her parents took her to a climbing gym in Canberra to learn in safety. It didn’t take long before her eagerness to learn about the finer details of climbing was noticed by fellow climbers, who helped her find her feet in the sport.
“The most satisfying thing for me in rock climbing probably is … just hanging around really nice people that get you psyched,” Angie says. “I guess I love climbing because of the excitement it gives you when you send a climb, and because you’ve pushed yourself - it’s really exciting and feels so nice.”
A combination of distance learning, school and travelling means Angie is always learning something new - just not necessarily in the classroom. “You learn a lot of stuff outdoors so it helps replace all the things you haven’t learned,” Angie says of the experiences gained in travelling across the world with her parents to hunt down the next climb. “You learn different cultures and history and a learn a lot of science - stuff that you don’t need to be in a classroom. You learn more outside than sitting inside a classroom, so it can be hard getting back to school.”
Every time Angie climbs, she’s working on her confidence, her precision, patience, wrangling through the best ways to reach her goal, rehearsing a climb in the gym before tackling it on the rock face. If she’s tackled a climb before, then she gives herself the challenge of finding the hardest way up it when she returns. If she’s preparing for an entirely new climb, then it’s back to the gym to set up the problems, rehearse, prepare, and only then get outside. But quite often the rehearsals don’t necessarily match to the reality of the problems halfway up a cliff. “That happens a lot,” she says, laughing.
It’s a unique lifestyle, combining schoolwork and normal family life with training three or four days a week, climbing on the weekends and travelling internationally in pursuit of the best climbs, the next challenge. But for Angie it makes sense: this is what she is good at, and with the support of her family she is going far. Her parents are very encouraging - “we make a good team”, Angie says.
Next year Angie will head to America, to the Red River Gorge. She’ll be accompanied, as always, by her parents, and says she’ll probably meet up with other climbers during the trip. “I’m really looking forward to that, I’ve been there before so I kind of know what to expect. It’ll be exciting to see, I can’t wait to see what I do there.”
Rock climbing can be dangerous, a singular challenge of human determination against unrelenting nature. For Angie, though, she is not put off by the challenges. “My biggest challenge probably is when I fail, and sometimes I don’t achieve all my goals on a trip but I learn it’s okay to not always succeed,” she says. “The whole process makes me a better climber because I know there’s always next time. Failure makes you want to try harder.”
Wherever Angie goes, and whatever she attempts next, it’s clear she’ll do so with support, and courage - a true athlete.
Story by Lucy Stone
Angie Scarth-Johnson: Climbing Her Way
A Kin Things Production