Gavel / Little Angie’s big climb to the top of the world

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Angie Scarth-Johnson scales new heights in Spain… “Climbing is unique, it’s out in nature, climbing rocks,” she says. Photo The North Face /

RARELY has there been a more inauspicious start to a sporting career.

Tim Gavel.

At seven years of age growing up in Canberra’s south, Angie Scarth-Johnson kept falling as she attempted to climb trees, door frames and walls around the house.

In a bid to solve the problem her mother Claudia took her to a climbing gym at Hume where her potential was soon realised. Seasoned climbers at the gym suggested she head outdoors.

Fast-forward six years and, at 13, Angie has emerged as the best under-16, female outdoor climber in the world.

Much has happened in that time with the family moving to Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains, although Claudia concedes that Canberra is still home. The family has traversed the world in support of Angie’s pursuit of greater mountaineering challenges.

That quest has included a climb in Kentucky graded at 34, in which she equalled the most difficult climb ever by an Australian female. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise given she completed a grade 31 climb at nine years of age and a grade 33 at 11.

Fear, it would appear, is not a factor.

Angie says: “I just push through it, climbing for me is all about the mental game of just thinking ‘I have just got to do it’. I have done this so many times. I just keep climbing because I love it so much”.

Judging by the hurdles she had to overcome in the Kentucky climb, her mental toughness extends to overcoming a considerable pain threshold. It was the most challenging, with her hands bleeding, her mental and physical energy sapped, but she kept pushing herself further. Claudia says: “Angie is extremely mentally tough and attuned to climbing”.

Simon Carter
Angie Scarth-Johnson… at 13, the best female outdoor climber in the world under 16 years of age… “I train on my own and make my own programs.” Photo The North Face / Simon Carter

So what drives her?

“Climbing is unique, it’s out in nature, climbing rocks,” Angie says. The solitary focus of rock climbing is also an attraction.

“I train on my own and make my own programs,” she says, likening her sport to a physical game of chess learning as much from life experiences as she would in the classroom.

While Angie is taking the climbing world by storm, to say her success has excited the Australian climbing community is an understatement.

Justin Ryan, from the Canberra Climbers’ Association, is in awe of Angie’s achievements.

“It’s exciting, she’s very inspirational for the whole climbing community,” he says.

“Climbing has this tradition where we have these young kids coming through and revolutionising the sport and we have seen it time and time again over the past 20 years, but they have mostly been Europeans or Americans. This is the first time we have had somebody like this come out of Australia.”

The profile of sports climbing is about to rise following its inclusion in the 2020 Olympic Games. Angie will be 16 years of age and old enough to compete in Tokyo but it’s not necessarily a goal.

Angie says: “I have definitely thought about it. My passion right now is outdoor climbing.”

The Olympic program for climbing will be indoors with the format yet to be released. For climbers, there is a significant difference between indoor and outdoor climbing.

Angie Scarth-Johnson climbing in Spain.  Photo The North Face / Simon Carter

She says she may look at pursuing the Olympics if it remains in the program in 2024.

For the time being, with an incredibly supportive family, Angie comes across as a regular 13-year-old girl who just happens to be the best in the world in her chosen sport.

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Tim Gavel
Journalist and ABC sports broadcaster

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