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Interview: Margo Hayes on Becoming the First Woman to Climb 5.15a

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On February 26, 2017, Margo Hayes made history as the first woman to climb 5.15a with her ascent of La Rambla in Siurana, Spain. We talked with the 19-year-old Boulder, Colorado native about her experience working the route and breaking the 5.15 barrier.

What drew you to La Rambla

I’d had my eyes on La Rambla for over a year. When Jon Cardwell and Matty Hong invited me to join them in Siurana, I knew what my goal would be.

Did you train specifically for the route in any way?

I didn’t train specifically for La Rambla, because my training was focused on the Open and Youth ABS National Championships, which I competed in just before I left for Siurana. [Ed. Margo took 7th in Open Nationals and won the female youth junior division] However, I felt well-prepared because I had spent the last year climbing a diverse set of 5.14s.

What did you think the first time you saw the route in person? 

I was in awe of the route and the El Patti Wall the first time I laid eyes on it, and my wonder never faded. On my first attempt, I knew that the route would be the hardest line I had ever climbed.

How many attempts did it take you?

I climbed on the route for seven days with about 17 attempts total. I knew that I was capable of climbing the route after my first attempt, because I was able to do all of the moves. I believe that if you can do the moves, then you can do the climb.

The day before I sent, I fell above the crux two times. At that point, clipping the chains became a test of mental strength and determination.

You planned to stay in Siurana for less than two weeks, did that help motivate you to send quickly or was it daunting to have such a short period to work on the route?

There is always a little bit of pressure when you want to send a climb in a fixed amount of time. I extended my trip by a few days, and ended up sending on my original departure date. I appreciated the extra time to explore and climb other routes.

What went through your head when you reached the anchor?

When I clipped the chains on La Rambla, the flood of emotion surprised me. I immediately started to weep. I think it was a combination of joy and disbelief. I will never, ever forget that moment.

How did you celebrate the send?

I took Matty, Jon, and Greg [Mionske] out for burgers at El Cafè del Goma in Cornudell.

What does being the first woman to climb 5.15a mean to you?

Climbing La Rambla gave me a great sense of liberation. Lynn Hill broke through the 5.14 barrier for women in 1990 and was quickly followed by climbers such as Robyn Erbesfield, Susi Good, and Mia Axon. Twelve years ago, Spanish climber Josune Bereziartu became the first woman to climb 5.14d/5.15a with her ascent of Bimbaluna. More recently, in 2015, Ashima Shiraishi pushed the barrier when she climbed Open Your Mind Direct and Ciudad de Dios, both 5.14d/5.15a, in Santa Linya, Spain, at the age of 13. I am honored to have become the first woman to climb a confirmed 5.15a and to stand alongside these women and others who have pushed our sport forward.

You’ve talked on social media about how the support of your family and the greater climbing community has helped you succeed. Could you elaborate on that?

I have always felt the support of the climbing community. I am fortunate to have grown up with Team ABC in Boulder, Colorado, and to have been coached and supported by individuals such as Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou, Obe Carrion, Garrett Gregor, and Elliott Bates. My parents have always taught me to believe in myself, and, most importantly, to be the best human I can be.

La Rambla was the first climb that I tried with Matty and Jon. It was motivating to watch, learn, and support them on their attempts. La Rambla brought us closer as friends, and I look forward to the next time we can take on a challenge together.

Do you see yourself as a role model for other women and younger girls?

I hope that I can be a positive role model for women and men of all ages. I have many role models in the climbing community. I would be honored if I could inspire other people as they inspire me.

What’s next?

We will see!

Want help sending your own project? Join Climbing’s Sending Fitness online course with pro climber Madeline Sorkin today.