Jacob Hadley - E7 at 13 Interview

© Jacob Hadley

A forum post recently cropped up featuring a video of 13 year-old Jacob Hadley cruising up My Halo E7 6b in the Dinorwig Slate Quarries back in May this year. What's more, he described the route as "soft"! It's unusual to see such a young climber going for hard trad ascents, so we thought we'd ask Jacob a few questions about his climbing and motivations.

Jacob on The Moon E3, Gogarth  © Jacob Hadley
Jacob on The Moon E3, Gogarth
© Jacob Hadley

Jacob, now 14, lives in Dinorwig - just a five minute walk from the Llanberis slate quarries and a 40 minute walk from Llanberis Pass. With some of the best trad climbing in the UK just a stone's throw away and a local area rich in climbing history, it's easy to see where his inspiration might come from. Having onsighted E5, headpointed E7 and built up an impressive slate resume in just a few years, the future looks bright for Jacob. Add to this the fact that his UKC wishlist contains some of the UK's hardest trad routes up to E9, it's clear that ambition isn't a weakness for this up-and-coming North Wales trad talent...

"Make sure your motivation is right! Because if you only climb to get to the top, you should seriously question why you climb!" - Jacob Hadley, aged 14

How long have you been climbing and how did you get into it?

I have been climbing for three or four years now, though it only became a main hobby in January of 2014. I was introduced when I went to my little brother’s friend’s birthday party at the old Beacon where we did some top roping. The climbing instructor suggested to my parents that I join the Saturday morning bouldering club. At first I was intimidated by the people at the bouldering club. Really, I was always intimidated by them up until a year ago. The reason I really got into climbing was that I had been up Tryfan North ridge with a friend, and the rock texture, cracks and the atmosphere were so new and amazing. It was really the position of being on a random point on a mountain I liked being in. But the winter came and I could not go walking/scrambling. I realized that climbing was similar and I could climb it as if it were a mountain. But really for the next six months mountaineering was what really inspired me.

It's unusual to start trad climbing so young and to progress so quickly - what made you want to learn to trad climb? When and how did you learn?

I started out not wanting to trad climb but to be able to do harder scrambles, and get to more interesting places. I went on a one day scrambling course on my birthday in June 2014. We did a couple of scrambles on Tryfan and I managed to lead Little Tryfan Arête, and on little Tryfan arête I got to a point where I couldn’t place gear and my instructor told me to carry on. That feeling of stepping out in a runout position, in control, not scared but alert really did it for me. A week later, I went back out on Tryfan to do North Buttress V.diff with my mate Jasper after only climbing a grade 3 scramble! We had an epic, went off route really badly and got scared, but it was the funniest, funniest thing I had done. Shortly after that, I realised that there was some trad climbing in Bus Stop Quarry just down the road after I got a guide book for my birthday. I lead Equinox VS 4b which is probably the most spiritual experience I’ve ever had! The gear I placed was so bad, probably looked like a joke to the trained eye! It just went on from there really.

flashing slug club special E4 6a  © JSH
flashing slug club special E4 6a
© JSH, Sep 2014

Do you do any other forms of climbing - sport, bouldering, competitions etc?

I do like bouldering, I recently just managed to climb my first outdoor V7. I do dabble with sport climbing, however, I really need to work on it! I am not a competition climber at all, but I might go to some casual boulder comps. The reason I don’t do competitions because I find them stressful, you hardly do any climbing and makes it competitive which is not what I’m looking for.

Your parents aren't climbers - what do they think of your climbing!?

Though they aren’t climbers they do fully understand the risks I’m taking, they are very supportive and my dad often belays me (he belayed me on My Halo) and sometimes my mum does too. I have started climbing with Calum Muskett and he sort of informally “mentors” me.

What is your best trad onsight grade? 

E5, I have onsighted three E5s, two being E5 6a and one being E5 6b. Though I reckon my hardest onsight would be the Gorbals (E4) which was my first hard onsight which was a real mental battle; the 25m route took well over an hour to do! As for the E5s, I found that they were not as scary even though a couple are a lot bolder. I am now a lot more experienced than I was when I climbed the Gorbals.

 "I would like to think that maybe one day I could onsight an E9 …but that’s farfetched!"

Why did you choose My Halo E7 6b? What was special about that route in particular?

Last summer I went on a course in Plas y Brenin and on the last day we went to Serengeti where I lead Seamstress and almost fell off and I had a go at top roping My Halo. I got to the big ledge (only 5b to this point) and could not do any of the other moves; I dogged up, tried some more but couldn’t do it. Then I set myself a challenge to only top rope the route this year. This took me 5 or 6 sessions! But eventually I could top rope it easily. This was around December 2014. Then later on in 2015 round about April or May, after I had climbed my first E6 and had onsighted a few E4s, I remembered I could top rope this route in December. So it would be significantly easier now. I kept saying to myself I was going to do it but never got round to it!

At what point did you think you could go for the lead?

It was on a Saturday at bouldering club and I was talking to the famous Saturday bouldering club instructor Ifan (who once taught Wiz Fineron) that I was planning on doing it. I had been telling him this for a while now. He said to me go and get it done! He was suggesting I go and try it that day! Anyway we had some jokey conversation and I told him I was going to go there that day and climb it without practice or preparation for the last 5 months. This seemed very plausible as I had top roped it so much in December that I could remember the sequence and gear as if it was yesterday. Anyway I got there and it was wet! So I abbed down and dried it and top roped it to the half way ledge and lowered off and lead it!

You mentioned in your forum post that thought it was 'soft' - was it too easy for you?;)

It is a soft route anyway; its only f7a to top rope and there is a decent shallow IMP/RP at the crux. It was a lot easier than expected, and I was actually quite disappointed that there was so little challenge. My Halo would be top end E7 when on sighting though, as the gear is fiddly and hard to spot. It is definitely not my hardest lead as the fear aspect was equal to onsighting an E3! Scare City E6 6a felt a lot harder and bolder and was a real fight, but that was done with minimal practice; though I have talked to people about it and they think scare city is harder too! I have climbed one line at Bus Stop Quarry called Walking Out, and that was the hardest climb I have ever done; the scariest too! I haven’t given it a grade yet but is about 6c but I don’t want to give it a massive grade until it’s repeated.

Where's your favourite climbing area or crag?

All of them! I love them all as much as one another! Especially the intimidating and atmospheric ones, though I haven’t been up to Cloggy yet!

 "The main aim is to have fun, whether I’m climbing or not!"

What advice would you give to young climbers who want to get into trad or improve their grade?

First of all if you’re my age and you trad climb, contact me I’d love to climb with you! I’d say progress through the grades, not necessarily slowly, if you feel fairly comfortable at the grade below you, then try something harder. If you’ve climbed twenty five E3’s onsight but you were scared/pumped/almost going to fall off on all of them, then you should not go and try an E4. Start climbing some bolder or physically harder E2’s! What I did was in the first 8 months of my trad climbing, I climbed only 3 “extremes”! An E5 and two E4s! I couldn’t onsight an E1! I could have progressed to almost that level in onsighting in that time! It was only in January this year that I decided to try onsighting things, and my head point grade went up as well, fast. So yeah, don’t get caught up with the hard climbs! And also make sure your motivation is right! Because if you only climb to get to the top, you should seriously question why you climb!

Jacob on Central Sadness E5 6a, Dinorwig Slate Quarries  © Jacob Hadley
Jacob on Central Sadness E5 6a, Dinorwig Slate Quarries
© Jacob Hadley

Do you have any climbing heros who inspire you?

A lot of climbers really, the normal lot like Johnny Dawes, Neil Gresham, John Dunne etc. but I find people like John Redhead inspiring too, I also really like his art! Some lesser known people like Ben Heason, Patch Hammond and Neil Dickson are impressive. I also get really inspired by the world famous climbers especially the ones my age! Also the people that surround me and my climbing instructors!

What's next for you? What are your ambitions in climbing?

I would like to onsight some classic E5’s around the UK and N.Wales especially. Maybe do quick headpoints here and there; maybe bump my onsight grade before I’m 15 but we’ll see about that! As a whole, I think I would like to think that maybe one day I could onsight an E9 …but that’s farfetched! I’d also like to go and do and some winter climbing in Scotland this winter and maybe go to the Alps. I would also like to become sponsored! But the main aim is to have fun, whether I’m climbing or not!

Watch Jacob's video of My Halo below:

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15 Sep, 2015
I think I met Jacob at Bus stop quarry on the day he led Equinox, I was learning to use a shunt on Fools Gold. I seem to remember his mate had to leave early to continue working on a painting he’d started, so I gave him a belay on a couple of the easy sports climbs behind the pinnacle. I distinctly remember his mate saying to watch out for Jacob’s name appearing in the press because he was going to be very good; low and behold he was right. What a great little story to feature on UKC.
15 Sep, 2015
Great interview!
15 Sep, 2015
no way yea i think it was you! did you get 1000 tons done?
16 Sep, 2015
Hiya Jacob No I never did get on it - yet another one to go back for. Great to hear you are doing so well - keep on crushin!
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