Hazel Findlay nails Magic Line (5.14c/F8c+)
- Monday 9th December 2019
Dec 2nd; 2019
Hazel Findlay closes-out a month-long Yosemite trip with third ascent of Magic Line (5.14c/F8c+).
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Just some climbing geekery for those who care: - - History: Magic Line was first climbed in 96 by Ron Kauk with the gear already in place (pink point) he gave it the grade of 5.14b. His son Lonnie Kauk did a full red point ascent, placing all the gear from the ground in 2018. Kind of crazy how long it took for a second ascent. He called the red point 5.14c since it adds a lot of difficulty to place the gear on a route like this. On Monday I climbed it in the same style as Lonnie. - - - Although it’s a beautiful crack climb it doesn’t climb like a crack at all. But there isn’t much else it climbs like either. The style is completely unique. None of the holds face upwards. You climb the offset of the crack so in reality the route is a line of right facing gaston/lay back holds with the odd spot where the crack widens enough to gaston the crack the other way with the right hand (seen in the photo). The first few meters aren’t hard but it’s insecure tenuous laybacking and placing gear is scary. This leads you to a kind of rest under the crux from which you can place 2 ball nuts. You run it out as far as you can off these because it’s too hard to place the gear. - - - The crux itself might be V10/11 it’s the hardest boulder I’ve ever done at least. It took us a while to work out the individual moves of this crux and after a crucial foot hold broke we had to start all over again. The crux moves are super wacky/ interesting and powerful on bad feet. After the crux you keep going on some pumpy climbing to a no-hands rest. Then you have the finale: a long tenuous, insecure and pumpy lay back with slippy smears - probably around V9 - which also climbs above a ball nut. Then you get some glory jugs to the chains. Geekery over. - - Thanks @jacopolarcher for the only photo that doesn’t make this route look like a 5.12 finger crack. Cheers for all the well wishes. It feels like my birthday 🎁 Time to go home and rest my fingers 😬@blackdiamond @lasportivagram
The middle of October saw Hazel Findlay head west to the US to meet up and climb with Maddy Cope. By the end of October Hazel and Maddy were firmly embedded in Yosemite and doing battle with Magic Line, Ron Kauk’s 1996 famous testpiece. Following Kauk’s original ascent Magic Line had stood unrepeated until Lonnie Kauk, Ron’s son, got involved. After some considerable effort Lonnie repeated Magic Line in late 2016 in the same style as Ron had done the first ascent – ie, on pre-placed gear. Two years later, in last November, Lonnie returned to Magic Line and repeated it placing the gear on-route.
Hazel, a regular visitor to Yosemite over the last few years, has excelled at big-wall free-climbing having ticked Golden Gate, Pre-Muir, Freerider and Salathe Wall. During her last visit in fall 2018 Hazel tried Magic Line and seemingly fell under its spell.
As Hazel and Maddy got down to the business of projecting Magic Line Hazel shared that process on her social media; ‘If you’re going to embark on a really hard project make sure it’s cool enough to keep you psyched. I think @madeleine_cope and I have that part covered ✅ wouldn’t you say? So much fun putting this thing together. Sometimes it even feels doable until our feet pop off for the hundredth time and then it goes back to feeling impossible. But if it was easy it wouldn’t be hard would it?’
Although both Hazel and Maddy were making progress injuries were starting to appear and then Maddy had to leave. Although initially uncertain as to whether to continue alone or leave, Hazel did press-on and by mid-November she had lead all the way up to the last hard move. Despite more crumbling footholds, an incoming storm, Hazel topped out on Magic Line and her fourth tie-in of her last day on November 25th!
Climber caught up with Hazel as she was about to board a plane back to the UK to get the low down on her ascent and how she ‘kept it together’ to send her hardest route to date…
Congrats on becoming the third person to climb Magic Line. You’ve done a fair bit in the Valley over the years – typically on bigger routes – so what initially attracted you to Magic Line?
I’ve always wanted to do one hard single pitch trad route. I’ve done a lot of trad routes that are sort of hard but I generally don’t spend more than a few days on them. Basically I wanted a bigger challenge to really push me to climb harder, get stronger and experience the process of a big project. You can’t climb at the very top of your ability on El Cap because there is so much other stuff going on and you need to get to the pitch. But I’m still inspired by the bigger stuff so that’s probably what I’ll go back to next year.
Earlier in the year you did Concepcion, Dean Potter’s classic testpiece in Utah. Was that a deliberate plan to use Concepcion as a ‘stepping stone’ for Magic Line?
Haha not at all. They are like the opposite routes. Magic line is a crack but its not a crack climb because you don’t jam whereas Concepcion is almost all jams. So Concepcion didn’t prepare me at all For Magic Line. All the indoor bouldering and training I did over the summer was the prep for Magic Line. Also Concepcion is a lot easier than Magic Line.
You wrote at the time that Concepcion really challenged you mentally before you finished it off. Did your success on Concepcion really boost your confidence and did this help on Magic Line?
The process of Concepcion included learning but it wasn’t a confidence boost, I just knew that I wouldn’t be able to approach Magic Line in the same way. I wasn’t in a very happy place when I climbed Concepcion and I found it hard to let go of the end and focus on the process. I got in to that bad mindset of ’I should have done it already’. I had none of this mindset for Magic Line because I did a lot of mental training and reflection throughout the process and I’m also in a happier place in my life.
Let’s turn specifically to Magic Line next. Initially you worked it with Maddy during which footholds crumbled on you and developed finger tweaks. Then Maddy had to leave. What were the hardest aspects for you during the whole process?
Most of the process was very challenging. At first it was just fun and exciting when we were working out the moves and we were making fast progress. I was almost worried it would be too easy. But then I broke the key foot hold for the sequence we used. This was like losing two weeks because we had to start from scratch. The broken foothold left a new worse foot that didn’t work for us anymore. But then I found a new lower foot and another hold next to the crack (the only hold on the route that isn’t part of the crack). This was the key to unlocking the sequence. The problem was our feet kept popping off and we could only link the crux one in ten times. But then I guess my muscle memory or strength improved because I would get through it more often. However we both got finger injuries in our index and middle fingers I think from repetitively using that left hand as a Gaston with the joints torqued. This was the hardest part for me mentally because at one point I thought I’d have to stop trying the route because of my fingers. I’ve been injured so much in my life it really breaks my heart when I have to stop because of injury. But then I just kind of kept going but with lots more rest. I remember taking three and four days off in a row multiple times. This meant that I wasn’t on the route as much as I wanted to be which was stressful and not that fun.
Then Maddy left and this was hard mentally because I had to drag people up to the crag and it’s a 40 minute walk. It was also just hard to lose my route buddy. I actually thought about giving up a few times and bailing to Bishop mostly because I felt like I might do serious damage to my fingers and if I wasn’t going to do it anyway it wasn’t worth the risk. But something would happen on the route, a new subtle change in the beta or I would do a new link or my finger would feel slightly better and that would give me hope to keep trying. So glad I didn’t give up now!
You finally got the send in on your fourth tie-in of the last day!! How much mental strength did that take and how satisfying was that in the end?
When it feels like everything is lining up for you not to do it, it’s so hard to stay positive and I think this is what I’m most proud of; not climbing the route but actually accepting everything as it happened and not wasting mental energy moaning or resisting what is. I was also PMSing and I usually climb terribly the day before my period. I guess at that point I’d already got to the top twice so I knew that I was very capable of doing the route I just needed to make it happen. So I just kept going through the motions and being like ‘well I guess I’ll tie in again.’ You get a no hands rest at the top and in between trying to get the blood back in to my toes I really had to use all my mental training techniques to not let the pressure get the better of me. I knew I wouldn’t be up there again this year. Hard to think that the next few minutes of climbing will dictate the next year of your life.
Would you say that Magic Line is the hardest route you’ve ever climbed?
What have you taken from trying and ultimately doing Magic Line and would that have been the same even if you hadn’t succeeded?
I think what I mentioned above. The process is where you take all the learning. The send is nice to know that you completed the goal but it should never be the reason why you do anything. This is why it’s so important to be sufficiently motivated. You can’t be up there and be focused if you want to ‘have done Magic Line’ you need to be up there because you want to be ‘trying Magic Line‘ and therefore be capable of accepting all the things that come with a process like that. I guess I learnt from Magic Line what a process like this looks like: one where you start not knowing you can do something and then you grow enough as a climber to be able to do it. And I leant that I can do it and stay positive, whereas after Concepcion and some other projects I’ve had I haven’t stayed positive the whole way: I started to value the achievement over the learning and as soon as this happens performance drops and so does enjoyment of the process.
Are you heading back in the UK now for a well-earned rest?
Yep I’m in snowy Salt Lake City about to fly home. It will be nice to rest a bit and then I’m pretty excited to climb on some grips that face the right way up!
---Hazel Findlay is sponsored by Black Diamond, La Sportiva and Sea To Summit.