How Anna Hazelnutt Went From Being Terrified on a Rope to Sending R-rated Lines
Hint: She loves being uncomfortable.
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In Anna Hazelnutt’s video, The Pursuit, it’s clear how upset she is. While attempting Bona Jeia (7c+/ 5.13a), in Catalonia, Spain, she falls repeatedly. After pulling back on, she freezes in position, too scared to move, too scared to let go. Then comes that phrase all of us are guilty of at some point or another: “TAKETAKETAKETAKETAKETAKE!”
But fast forward a year, to the fall of 2021, and she’s bravely taking on bold trad lines in the UK. She bags Once Upon a Time in the Southwest (E9 6c/ 5.13b/c R) and then, in June of this year, gets the first female ascent of the line’s neighbor, Walk of Life, also E9 6c. A month ago, she sent another scary one, Spank The Monkey (Full) (5.13d R), in Smith Rock, Oregon.
Naturally, we had to ask: What enables you to keep pushing past your comfort zone?
Hazelnutt, who’s last name is actually Hazlett (Hazelnutt is a fond nickname based on the proper pronunciation of her last name), began climbing at a gym nine years ago, while in high school in her native California. She thinks it was a date—she wasn’t sure, but she also didn’t care. While they were climbing, he asked if she wanted to go out to dinner afterwards; she declined; he left; and she just kept climbing. A fairytale romance—with the sport—quickly blossomed. She committed to a gym membership that very first day.
Hazelnutt’s first love was bouldering, which she did both at the gym and local crags in Southern California. After graduating, an impulse decision led her to Barcelona. “I was working a normal job after college, you know, a nine-to-five. And then I was like, ‘Oh my god, what am I doing?’” Hazelnutt realized that despite having a comfy job, she couldn’t bring herself to settle into it. So one day she put in her three weeks notice, applied to teach English abroad, and bought a ticket to Spain.
If it sounds dreamy, Hazelnutt will be the first to tell you it both was and wasn’t. The job fell through, she didn’t speak the local language, she knew no one, and then, of course, there was the pandemic and widespread political unrest across the U.S., which, despite being on the other side of the world, deeply affected her emotionally.
“I just basically learned that I can really stick it out,” she says. “I’m really stubborn. … My optimism, and basically the bigger idea that everything was going to work out in the end, carried me through the hardest year I think I’ve ever lived through.”
During that time, Hazelnutt began learning how to edit videos; she started a now widely followed YouTube channel and began embracing the things she knew she was bad at, including some forms of climbing.
“I thought while I was at rock bottom, I might as well try the things I’ve been avoiding like, overhanging climbs, because I was already low in self esteem,” she says. So she got on Bona Jeia, a short, steep tufa climb with a nasty intro boulder. It was the complete opposite of the slabby boulders she loved and excelled on. She tried the route, shed some tears, continued wrestling, and, eventually, sent. And that, she says, was the catalyst for everything else.
Hazelnutt became interested in trying all types of climbing, including off-width climbing, ice climbing, and, eventually, trad—all of which can be uncomfortable and just plain scary, no matter how experienced you are. She got physically stronger, too, sending her first 14a in Ten Sleep, Galactic Emperor, in July 2021. Months later, she was in the UK taking whips on unsettlingly small gear.
Her fear of falling? Her fear of failing? She had essentially squashed them out by sheer persistence. Speaking of her time in the UK, she says: “I just found out my mind is so powerful. And maybe it’s something that I’ve learned to harness. I’m not really sure, but it felt like I was damn close to fearless, because it was just so much fun and it just seemed attainable.”
Hazelnutt went to Smith Rock this past fall in hopes of tackling the historical line To Bolt or Not To Be (5.14a). After realizing it was too hot—the route bakes in the sun—she took a week to feel out the area, climbing mostly in The Marsupials until the iconic Monkey Face caught her attention. She met some people who had been projecting Spank the Monkey and they invited her to try the line with them on TR.
“I was like, ‘That sounds great!’ I love me a top rope,” she says, laughing.
First sent by Tommy Caldwell in 2003, Spank the Monkey zig-zags up a sharp, airy arete with widely spaced bolts. Fearing a sheath-cutting fall, Caldwell tied in with two ropes, but after extending a few draws, Hazelnutt opted for just one—a decision helped by the fact that her newly made friends had already taken more than a few test whips themselves.
After 85 feet of 12a, the line kicks back and immediately shifts to sustained and tenuous climbing. “There are really technical, difficult movements, like lock-offs on crimps, on the other side of the arete,” she says. “You’re kind of in the no-fall zone, which makes it a bit spicy.” Then comes monos and the crux, where Hazelnutt says you either dyno to a hole or do a hand-heel match, clip a bolt, and then go for the hole. Either way, if you fall there without clipping, you’ll go for a 40-foot ride. Hazelnutt opted for the high-heel beta, since making the clip sooner felt less risky. Technical moves continue on from there. “Crimp after crimp after crimp,” says Hazelnutt.
She needed only eight sessions—five to rehearse it on top rope, and three lead attempts—before she clipped the chains. But the send go wasn’t pretty, she says.
“I remember sitting in this awkward rest and I was shaking desperately between really bad crimps thinking, ‘Oh my god, this is so terrifying.’” She stayed in that rest for a few minutes, psyching herself up with positive affirmations, “convincing myself that I was powerful and strong.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Hazelnutt hopes to keep pushing the limits of her comfort zone in the coming year. She has plans to go to Austria for some single-pitch trad climbing in Bürs, and in general she has a few 5.14 trad lines in mind to try.
“I’ve done so many 13d’s now, and I feel like I’ve done them relatively fast—like a week to three weeks generally,” she says. “And it’s really awesome. It’s such a great feeling. It’s such an ego boost. But I really think it would be good to get on something that’s really going to shut me down, whether or not that’s a harder grade, just something that’s not going to be that perfect ending. I think I’m really craving that.”