Within just six weeks, Hazel Findlay has successfully headpointed Magic Line 5.14c R in Yosemite Valley, a 35m crack which she describes as the 'hardest and most beautiful line' she has tried and equivalent to 'E10 for sure'. It can be hard to directly translate top-end American grades, but this is an 8c trad route. Hazel added, "To give you an idea of how hard this route was for me, the lower boulder crux is the hardest boulder problem I’ve ever done."
This morning, after a six-week battle with the snapping of crucial micro-footholds, a sore finger and windblown water from the nearby Vernal Falls, Hazel commented on Instagram:
"I worked hard for this one. I knew as soon as I tried it very briefly in November 2018 that if I was ever going to climb one very hard (for me) single pitch this would be it. Just because it was so beautiful to look at, so fun to move upwards on and in such a magical place. So I trained properly with the help of @davidmason85 all summer and I committed myself to these 35 metres for the whole valley season. It was stressful getting heartbreakingly close twice but in reality doing it on the last day of the trip meant that this route was the perfect challenge for me, testing me right to the end."
So how hard is the route?
Hazel told us: "The route is E10 for sure as it’s 14c/8c+ to place the gear. It’s not dangerous but you have to run it out as far as you can above ball nuts so the American grade 5.14c R is more appropriate. So yes this is not only my hardest trad route but hardest route full stop having only climbed 8c on bolts. It’s the coolest looking line I’ve ever seen. It’s my style but I knew I had to be stronger for it so it was a great motivation for me to train and really challenge myself. I’m heading back to Wales on Thursday for some much needed rest!"
Hazel is well-qualified to comment on the equivalent E-grade of a route like this: she was, after all, the first British woman to climb E9 (she has climbed two, Once Upon a Time in the South West E9 6c (2011) and Chicama on Anglesey (2013). She was also the first British female to climb 8c (she's climbed two, both in Spain). The BMC Ambassador was also the first British female to free-climb El Cap, and she has now done so four times: the first female ascent of Golden Gate in 2011, the first female ascent of Pre-Muir Wall in 2012, climbing Freerider in just three days in 2013 and ticking the impressive Salathé Wall in 2017.
"Just having this level of difficulty would make it harder than E9 at probably E10 7a, I guess" - James McHaffie
Hazel documented her progress on Instagram (you can click through below).
The BMC's James McHaffie, no stranger to hard grades himself, commented: "It's incredibly impressive, yes. I think it's meant to be 8c+ (5.14c), but in an extremely precarious crack style. Just having this level of difficulty would make it harder than E9 at probably E10 7a, I guess, although UK grades get slightly weird at this level where danger level may be very low. The safe E9s in the UK like Big Issue, Mission Impossible and Divided Years are all around 8a+, so miles easier than Magic Line.
"Hazel's the best climber I've seen on granite, having climbed Book of Hate and Pre-Muir with Hazel in 2011/12, and I think good climbers who have been on the endless, slippery cracks and laybacks with no footholds or handholds will appreciate how difficult the medium can be. Doing it in a month is impressive too, particularly with last-day pressure. If she'd gone for a second round next year I would have taken the piss out of the carbon footprint per metre forever."
A bit of background on Magic Line
Magic Line was established by Ron Kauk, one of the famous Yosemite pioneers, in 1996. He climbed it with pre-placed gear. Over the years, plenty of hard triers attempted to climb the route without pre-placed gear, and were spat off. Ron's name is familiar in Britain. You may not, however, have heard of Ron's son, Lonnie, who grew up running around Yosemite.
Lonnie has repeated several of his father's most famous lines, including Midnight Lightning (V8) and Crossroads (5.13d). However, when he first turned his eye towards Magic Line in 2012, he found himself daunted, and commented in Rock and Ice magazine: 'It was just way too hard. I wasn’t ready for it. I remember seeing Honnold — he had his rope up on it there first. I asked him about it, and he was like, “Yea, I tried that thing, and I got schooled by that thing.” So if he was saying that, I knew it was crazy hard.'
"How you stand on your feet is classic Yosemite style. You show up and you’re like, “Oh my god, I don’t even know how to climb” - Lonnie Kauk
Lonnie, who spent 2016 to 2018 focussed on the route - sometimes belayed by his dad from the comfort of a hammock - continued: 'For the most part it’s a lieback. So there aren’t really other climbs like that where you can practice that style. So to get to know the route you have to really be on it. How you stand on your feet is classic Yosemite style. You show up and you’re like, “Oh my god, I don’t even know how to climb.”'
Around 2012, when Lonnie first looked at Magic Line, he and Hazel met under Midnight Lightning, and she interviewed him for UKClimbing, delving into all sorts of interesting things including his Native American heritage (on his mother's side, he descends from Yosemite's Ahwahneechee Tribe).
In November 2018, when Kauk successfully climbed Magic Line, making the first ascent of the route without pre-placed gear, Hazel also tried it very briefly, and resolved to train and return the following season...
Hazel progressing on the route. Photo: Eliza Earle
Halfway through working the project, Hazel commented on Instagram:
'Super focused right before my foot pops off for the 10th time in a row. Hard not to get frustrated by how low percentage this climb is and yet I’m still under the spell of Magic Line. Unfortunately a niggling finger injury affecting both our index fingers has morphed into a semi-real injury and now we’re debating whether to keep trying it or preserve our finger health and leave it until next year. I’ve been injured enough in my climbing, and my heart breaks a little bit every time I’m forced to make the call between trying something more and being prudent. But hey ho that’s life hey. Thanks @madeleine_cope for being an ace climbing partner as always. And thanks @eliza_earle for the pics.'
And towards the end of her trip, Hazel commented:
'Yesterday I got to the last hard move on Magic Line and for half a moment I didn’t climb quite at my best, which was enough to spit me off. All at once I was heartbroken to have missed my chance and also more than excited to have got that far from the ground placing all the gear. At the rest before the final crux I reminded myself that although I didn’t know if I would do it or not, this unknown was not only OK but it was precisely why I was here. I was the only person responsible for what would happen in the next few minutes; it was entirely in my control and yet the outcome completely unknown. I just didn’t know what would happen. But the magic is in the not-knowing. How boring would climbing be if you always knew you were going to do it? - - It felt amazing to finally be at the upper crux on the lead having got through the nails lower crux."
Hazel is supported by Black Diamond, La Sportiva and Sea to Summit
WATCH Hazel climb Mind Control 8c on BMC TV:
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