5 Things You Didn't Know: Hazel Findlay
[all photos by Jack Geldard]
When I was young, I learned most of my climbing skills on a door frame in my house. I would make up boulder problems for myself, set a high point and try to beat it. I would pretend to be in competitions against people like Lynn Hill and of course, I would pretend that I would win. I also spent 12 hours of my weekend climbing alone at my local climbing gym hoping to win competitions against other girls my age. Later in life I learnt to shake off this competitiveness, as I felt that competition never improved my climbing nor made me happy. I love the fact that if everyone else stopped climbing tomorrow, climbing would still feel the same for me.
I grew up climbing with my Dad on the sea cliffs of Pembroke, South Wales. Back then, and still now, my Dad is dedicated to an onsight trad ethic. Even this summer, age 58, he is putting up new routes on the sea cliffs. Wanting to instill a similar ethic in me, at aged 11 I put up my own new route in Pembroke. I say 'my own', but really it was a gift from my Dad and his friends who had spotted the line. Of course it was a pretty easy route, but it was no sport route, nor straight up crack; it was a UK sea cliff climb, directly above the sea, with awkward moves, sea sprayed rock and an obscure line through layered limestone. Although I have now climbed all over the world, I still come back to climb on the sea cliffs in the UK, and they still feel like home. James Mchaffie, a good friend of mine, and an even better climber, says that climbing by the sea feels good for the soul. I have to agree with him.
I don't really have the best build for a climber. I am particularly small at 5' 2" and not massively light for my height. When I was at high school I wasn't really in to athletics, having already dedicated myself to climbing, but I still remember the day I won long jump for my class on sportsday. Obviously I am not built for long jump either having exceedingly short legs, but the girl who was meant to do it fell ill and I had to step in. The other girls were all really tall, but they didn't seem particularly good at committing to the jump, nor getting their pace right. Somehow, I managed to do OK at these two things and I won, despite my height. I always remember this when I think I'm too small or not strong enough to do something, There are a lot of components that go into making someone a good climber, and it's a lot to ask to be good at them all.
Just recently my first car died. It was a Citroen Saxo 'Desire', which not so surprisingly got named 'The Desire.' Although I learnt to love this car, mainly for all her quirks, she was anything but desirable. The ignition barrel went at some point, so essentially I had to hot wire her every time I wanted to start the engine. People would look in horror, or humour each time I got out a piece of wire instead of the key. The boot decided not to open after I crashed her into a tree in Spain. And then there was the exhaust. The exhaust fell off at some point and because I was in France with not a lot of money, 4 of my girlfriends and I decided to fix it ourselves. Armed with metal wire and tin foil from the local hardware shop, but no knowledge of cars, we managed as good a botch job as any. Fortunately, or unfortunately (depending on how you look at it) we never really got to test it out, as the head gasket blew out the next week. Watching her get towed away by the local French scrappy was a sad day indeed. This car had lasted less that a year, but she took me up and down the UK, to Spain and back and to France (and not back) and I slept in the back of her for close to a month. This wreck of a car was primarily my transport and secondly my home, but in years to come perhaps she will represent more than that. Perhaps she'll represent the life of a climber on the road with minimal baggage, maximum freedom, but also with an epic round every corner.
When I was 19 I went to Yosemite and I struggled to climb a 5.8 hand crack at the Cookie Cliff. I did everything I could to stay in the crack and not knowing how to jam, that included lay backing, slapping, flailing and the old 'elevator door' technique whereby you furiously gaston each side of the crack with each hand. At the time 5.8 was far below my warm up grade—I was onsighting 7c on bolts and E6 trad routes in the UK. I started climbing at too young an age to ever remember feeling like a beginner, but on that day I did, and it rocked my ego like nothing else. Since then I made it my mission to learn how to crack climb. I spent two summers in Squamish and a spring in Indian Creek. Last year, age 23 I went back to Yosemite and freed El Cap by a route no other woman had previously free climbed (Golden Gate). The same place that had revealed such a lack of skill 3 years before, was the same place that I managed to do something that for me I never thought was possible.