MINI INTERVIEW: Hazel Findlay on USA Super-Routesby Jack Geldard - Editor - UKC Dec/2010
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Two other significant ascents from Hazel came earlier in the year when she ticked the Free Variation to the Original NW Face Route on Half Dome (kind of onsight-ish, see below for details) and the scary Bachar-Yerian in Tuolumne, onsight.
The Original NW Face Route is a long and difficult granite route in Yosemite Valley, finding an intricate line up the steep face of the unique Half Dome. It's 23 pitches long and the crux is solid 5.12, which translates roughly to E6 in UK grades.
Mick Ryan, UKC's Senior Editor wrote about the Bachar-Yerian back in 2008:
"Many would agree that the Bachar-Yerian (5.11c R/X) on Medlicott Dome in California's Tuolumne Meadows is one of the finest routes in the world, on the most perfect sheet of golden granite, in one of the most beautiful alpine areas in the world.
The Bachar-Yerian takes a stunning and knee-trembling line up this vertical 500ft face, protected by 9 bolts (a #4 Friend and slings over knobs), all placed on the lead by John Bachar. The climbing is characterised by pulling on a sea of chicken-heads or knobs, often the size of peanuts, that stick out from the rock.
The route was first climbed by John Bachar in 1981 when he was at the height of his powers as a fierce proponent of ground-up climbing. He set off up this imposing wall with some slings, skyhooks, some bolts, a hand drill and a willing partner in Dave Yerian. The bolts were hand drilled whilst hanging off skyhooks.
The Bachar-Yerian has drawn climbers from all round the world since 1981 but only the best succeed on a much coveted onsight ascent of this testpiece and it has spat off such luminaries as the late Wolfgang Güllich who famously took a 60ft tumble and landed on his belayer. A crystal broke on Güllich at the third bolt on the second pitch whilst attempting the second ascent. Several Brits have made onsight ascents including Tom Briggs, Nic Sellars and John Dunne amongst others. One of those others is James McHaffie who told us that the route would warrant a 'UK E6 6b grade, but the climbing is blind and technical'"
I caught up with Hazel very briefly and asked her a few questions about these two iconic routes:
Jack: Can you describe the route?
Hazel: It follows a prominent black streak up Medlicott Dome. It's a really beautiful, gently overhanging wall covered in knobs, made especially beautiful because of the contrast between the orange rock and the black streak. John Bachar and Dave Yerian put it up, in the early 80's I think. Bachar hand drilled it from hooks. The bolts are pretty spaced and it has a reputation for being scary, made worse probably because a few people had bad experiences on it with snapping knobs and what not.
Jack: Do you know of any other women who have onsighted the route?
Hazel: I think Lynn Hill did.
Jack: It's multi pitch isn't it? Did you lead all the pitches?Hazel: Yes it's 4 pitches. We swung leads. Will got the pitch with the crux move on it and I got the supposedly scarier pitch above.
Jack: Who did you climb it with?Hazel: A lanky Canadian named Will Stanhope.
Jack: Was it scary? Would you do it again?Hazel: I thought it was quite scary. The route has a big reputation for being scary because of the run-outs and the fact that the knobs might snap. There are run-outs but the knobs didn't feel like they would snap. I also found it hard to see the bolts because I had very old contact lenses in, this was worrying at times considering the bolts are the main thing stopping you from going off route. The final 5.8 pitch actually felt the scariest because the knobs are snappier and it's 60m with no bolts and we only had 2 cams. I would probably do it again if a friend wanted to do it.
Jack: Did you think that kind of climbing suited your strengths?Hazel: Possibly the face climbing aspect, although I think confidence on that route is largely dependent on your experience with knobs and we hadn't really climbed on them before the route.
Jack: What UK grade would you guess for the route?
Hazel: It's hard to say, because it's bolted. That being said, the run-outs are kind of big and the falls not that nice in a lot of places (although a few of them could be made OK with a set of cams). It's quite comparable to a lot of slate routes in that respect. E6 probably.
Jack: Which route was it that you did?Hazel: We did the free variation of the Regular Route, up the Northwest face of Half Dome.
Jack: Did you onsight the whole thing?Hazel: A friend and myself went up there 2 years before with the intention of French freeing it. We got to pitch 9 or something and it's a long story involving a 'forced bivy' on a little ledge and a dropped shoe, but without going into too many details, we bailed. So I didn't get to see any of the hard free pitches above the chimneys (or the variants below), which I then onsighted this summer. Technically I can't really claim the full onsight because I had french freed the easier lower pitches previously. It was also really helpful to climb it with Will, who knew the weird way that the free variation goes (it's not obvious at all)
Jack: What grade does it get?Hazel: I think the slab gets 5.11d/12a and the hardest Zig Zag pitch is maybe 12b or something. I'm not really sure. I thought they felt hard.
Jack: What was the hardest pitch like?
Hazel: The hardest Zig Zag was really pumpy undercut/lay-back crack. On the slab I had to really concentrate to stay on. I tried really hard on both pitches. Climbing the whole thing is a big day.
Jack: How did you get in shape for a route like that?
Hazel: I wasn't in shape. I was really tired the whole way up and then we got lost on the way down.
Jack: Any other ambitions for climbing in Yosemite?Hazel: I want to go back next autumn and climb on El Cap.