Hazel Findlay

The climb on which Hazel Findlay battled hardest was Mosquito Bite, in the Wye Valley of England. She was 11, it was her first E1 (5.10a), and she could neither find gear nor bear to commit to pulling around an overhang on the second pitch.

By Rock and Ice | September 10th, 2010

Is it still deep-water soloing when the tide recedes? Findlay on Robertson’s Jam (5.9) at Cave Hole in Portland, south coast of England.

The climb on which Hazel Findlay battled hardest was Mosquito Bite, in the Wye Valley of England. She was 11, it was her first E1 (5.10a), and she could neither find gear nor bear to commit to pulling around an overhang on the second pitch.

“I was on it for about an hour, she says, crying the whole way up.”

Her father, Steve, a new-route activist who had taught her to climb at 6 or 7, belayed from atop the first pitch, laconic, his rollie cigarette in hand. He told her, “You can’t cry and climb.”

“I said, yes, I could,” she recalls, and I carried on crying.

Then she heard him say that his friend was coming up to rescue her. That got her attention: “No one wants to get rescued by their dad’s mate, so my dad finished his rollie and I continued to cry my way to the top.”

Findlay, now 21, is still carrying on. Visiting this spring from her home in Bristol, England, where she attends the University of Bristol, she notched the first women’s ascent of the exposed Air Sweden (5.13 R) and an adept flash of Ruby’s Cafe (5.13a), both in Indian Creek, Utah.

Hazel toproped Air Sweden, an extension to the 60-foot 5.12a crack Swedin-Ringle, for four days, then on her first redpoint try pumped out and fell from a slap, lobbing an airy 30 or 35 feet. She felt good, though, and charged back up, even as the sun hit the climb. “I got impatient,” she says, “and convinced myself there was a breeze.”

That time, just the Swedin-Ringle felt hard. Above, as Findlay describes it: “I felt tired, got cams stuck, messed up jams. Pulled out onto the areˆte, slapped and slapped, got to the slot, [and] tried to do some new weird sequence with my feet.” She pressed on, slapped for the first good hold in the crack, “felt my fingertips opening because I was so pumped, and then did a drive-by to the jug — catching it. Not the most graceful ascent,” she says, “but an ascent.”

Says Will Stanhope, her boyfriend, who belayed her, “I kept expecting her to jump off — give up — but she stuck it.”

Findlay has onsighted 5.12d and climbed 5.13b on sport routes in Spain, but she is primarily a trad climber. Ascents on this side of the Atlantic, where she has visited before, include Pyromania (5.13a/b), the Needles of California; Leaving for California (5.13b), Cirque of the Uncrackables, Squamish, British Columbia, and a first ascent there: Hazel’s Horrorshow (5.12c/d R). She also climbed The Venturi Effect (V 5.12) on the Incredible Hulk, High Sierras. At home, leads include the very bold slate route The Rainbow of Recalcitrance, E6 6b (5.12b R).

She is particularly partial to climbing on the sea cliffs of Pembroke, South Wales. “The motion of the waves underneath you makes you feel much higher up than the actual height. An easy route can feel really exciting in big seas. I also like the hidden nature of it. You can’t walk by and compare routes. You have to commit to a route before seeing it.”

In person, Findlay is initially shy, but warms up steadily. Says Sonnie Trotter: “She speaks with a soft, gentle voice, but she’s got that British humor that makes you think you’re being made fun of all the time.”


What do you get out of your study of philosophy?

The western philosophy I study isn’t what people usually think of as philosophy; you aren’t going on some spiritual quest nor do you start believing that the table isn’t actually there. Philosophy is simply an extremely academic subject that plays with concepts and ideas. Instead of teaching you anything tangible, it only really teaches you how to think. I like philosophy for that reason and I like school, but I like climbing more.


Have you had any climbing epics — and what did you learn?

I dropped my shoe off Half Dome. I learned from that never to drop shoes. I dropped my mate’s lucky chalk bag in the ocean, and he insisted on retrieving it. From that I learned never to drop chalk bags. My friend Jen and I had to get rescued by two Squamish locals because we started late and didn’t bring head torches. From that I learned that having a Blackberry to call the local Canadian rescue team/beer supplier is the way forward.


Why trad?

I’ve always been a trad climber at heart. The thing that made me fall in love with climbing trad and more specifically climbing at my limit on trad, was taking my first big trad fall. It was like a mental switch flipped and I decided that trad climbing does not have to limit how hard you climb.


Do you have to make an effort to keep a cool head, or did that come naturally?

I am not naturally bold or reckless, but I’m probably quite rational. When there’s a runout or bad gear or something, I guess I just try to be rational with the occasional last-ditch appeal to brute intuition. Be scared when you should be scared and not when you shouldn’t, and if you really don’t know, keep climbing. My problem is that sometimes I can be indecisive.


What would you like to do when you come back to North America this summer? And in the U.K.?

I’m quite secretive about my specific plans. I think ambition is quite a personal thing. No one ever comes out and says, I want to be Prime Minister, they just have the internal dream and sneakily work their way up the ranks.

I would like to do a lot of onsighting, or at least ground-up stuff, in the places I haven’t explored yet, like the sea cliffs of Ireland and Scotland. With so many places to go in the world, you often miss what is right on your doorstep.

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