22 year old Hazel Findlay has become the first woman to climb an E9 with her ascent of Once Upon a Time in the South West (E9 6c) at Dyer's Lookout in Devon.
Hazel climbed the route on the 28th of June 2011, just two days after Charlie Woodburn made the second ascent. The route was first climbed by Dave Birkett in 2010.
Charlie and Hazel had been working the route together.
"I went down there with Hazel Findlay last Thursday and worked it a bit and then got shut down by bad weather for 3 days.
We had a savage storm on Friday night, and the forecasters lied to us about how great the conditions were going to be on Saturday, but alas we spent the day waiting in a damp foggy cloud. The crazy weather then went to the other extreme on Sunday - it was full burning 27 degree sun, way too hot to climb in and the route was well soggy anyway.
Eventually after hiding in the shade of the van all day, we headed over to the wall at about 7.30pm and had a sweltering top rope go each. I set off on the lead at sun set and duly fell off on about the 3rd move. It looked like it was just not going to happen, but I gave it one last go and battled my way up it with a considerable fight. It was almost total darkness when I topped out. In fact 2 of the small bit of gear fell out because it was too dark to see which way to put them in.
The route is superb. I can confirm the grade of E9 6c, even though it's lost a few holds."
Hazel stayed down in Devon with her dad in order to complete the route and commented:
"Classic British summer heat waves / rain storms finally gave in to our determination. Thanks to Dad for the belay, Dave Birkett for putting her up and Charlie for putting up with me!"
Hazel, who has amassed a world class ticklist in the last couple of years with hard ascents in the USA, Canada and at home in the UK, is at the forefront on British women's traditional climbing.
Hazel's ascent is a significant step in British climbing history, as this is the first time a woman has climbed E9. Other super hard female ascents include the 8c/+ trad route of The Meltdown by Beth Rodden, as well as Lynn Hill's famous ascent of The Nose of El Capitan. Ascents by women of routes of E7 and above are very rare in the UK, but some recent ones have been Karin Magog and Mary Jenner's ascents of Bleed in Hell (E8) in Borrowdale in the Lake District (also a Dave Birkett route!) as well as Lucinda Whittaker's ascent of End of the Affair (E8) at Curbar in the Peak District.
Also in this list is Hazel Findlay's recent success on the steep and pumpy Pembroke E8 of San Simeon.
Whereas San Simeon is steep, physical and solid, but with fairly good protection, Once Upon a Time in the South West is a long, just off vertical wall climb on slightly friable rock with very small wires for protection. Dave Birkett commented after his ascent that:
"The meat of the gear is tiny wires and cams, quite a lot of them, but spread out. You have to go for it and it is always in the back of your mind if the piece below blew you'd go a long way. It's bit of a fight. You've got to stay positive as you are climbing for a while. I had to make a lot of the moves up. It was on-off a lot of the time. It was quite a fight up there, what with the rope drag. It's a big pitch."
Charlie compared Once Upon... with James Pearson's nearby route The Walk of Life:
"It's obviously a similar route in style, but for me, it felt a little bit easier due to the fact there is a fair bit of fixed gear and the majority of the hard climbing is lower down. Although the crux is a bit harder than WOL, its less sustained with a couple of good rests in between the hard sections where you can get your head together. The top groove is trickier than it looks though!"