Interview: Inside Hazel Findlay’s Redpoint of Magic Line (5.14c)

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Hazel Findlay on the notoriously difficult Yosemite crack, Magic Line (5.14c).

Hazel Findlay on the notoriously difficult Yosemite crack, Magic Line (5.14c).

The UK climber Hazel Findlay is no stranger to hard climbing. She is one of the strongest trad climbers in the world, and made a huge statement by redpointing Magic Line (5.14c) in Yosemite on November 26, 2019. The 100-foot, offset tips crack next to Vernal Falls has a fierce reputation, and has repelled many suitors over the years.

“This is a lot harder than anything I’ve done in the past,” Findlay said in a phone interview. “I trained really hard for it.”

Magic Line’s history starts with the Stonemaster Ron Kauk, who made the first ascent of the Yosemite crack on pre-placed gear in 1996 at the grade of 5.14b. It wouldn’t see a redpoint ascent (placing the protection as you ascend) until his son Lonnie Kauk climbed it in that style in 2018 (though the younger Kauk had pinkpointed it in December 2016)—the same year Findlay had her first look at the route. Magic Line has two distinct cruxes: One is a V11 boulder problem protected by Ball Nuts (aka Lowe Balls) and the other is a V9 sequence near the top of the climb. Top this with thin gear, technical placements, horrible feet, and continuous climbing, and you have a 5.14 behemoth of a route.

Interview

So first of all, congratulations on your send!

Hazel Findlay: Ah thanks!

How was Magic Line different than some of your other hard ascents in the past?

It required me to train and get stronger versus other climbs I’ve done. Even some of the 8c [5.14b] sport climbs I’ve done, it was just about getting fit on the route. I didn’t have to go away and fingerboard for three months. This demanded that I get stronger. I first tried it in November of 2018. I only got about 15 minutes to try it, but it was enough for me to realize how cool the climb was and that it was really hard. But then, shortly after that, I blew my A2 pulley in my ring finger so the whole start of this year I was just rehabbing my finger. In the back of my mind, I was wondering if I could get back in time for Magic Line.

Did you speak with Lonnie or Ron Kauk about the beta?

I saw Lonnie a bunch at the crag—he gave us some beta—and also Carlo Traversi came up with me a few times and gave me some beta. The main beta we got from those guys was to use the Ball Nuts for the two crux sections. I think Lonnie used triple zeros [cams], but the Ball Nuts go in way nicer, I think…I fell onto both of the Ball Nut placements a bunch of times and they held every time. But I climb it so much differently than they do. Every day Maddy [Cope] and I had so much to do; it wasn’t like we worked it out really quick and it just took practicing it. Part of the crux really was learning how to place the Ball Nuts. When they get a bit bent, they don’t go in as well and are very strenuous to place. I climbed it once, and put one of the nuts in, and I was, like, “Ah that doesn’t seem like it’s in very well.” And when I climbed past, it just dropped out. I took all gingerly on the other [Ball Nut] and had to come down.

So you sent the route on the last day of your trip, on what seems to be the last attempt of the day. What were your thoughts leading up to that last climb?

With rest days and everything scheduled out, I knew I had only two climbing days left. I didn’t want to have to do it on my last day of the trip. I was hoping to do it two days before the end of the trip. But that’s when I got right to the top, literally setting up to get the last jug, and I had my right foot on a small crystal and just couldn’t weight that foot enough. And I fell off. It was heartbreaking, and I knew now the pressure was on. I knew I could do it my last day, but being realistic I know things have to go right to send on my last day. I also did a lot of mental prep before that last day.

What mental preparation did you do then?

I did a lot of meditation, kept reminding myself to not be to end-orientated, to just do my best in each moment and let the outcome happen. If we’re too obsessed with the send, then we are totally distracted. I arrived at the last day thinking, “Isn’t it cool that I don’t know what will happen with this climbing experience?” And I didn’t dwell on what would happen if I didn’t send.

So what’s next now that you’ve sent Magic Line?

I think I need to rest my fingers. I’m just gonna go sport climbing in Spain.