In 2014, Hazel became the first British woman to climb 8c with a redpoint of Fish Eye, also at Oliana (UKC News Report), in addition to her list of hard trad routes up to E9. Following Fish Eye, her injury worsened and Hazel tried everything from diet to chiropractic treatment to physiotherapy, until a surgeon finally revealed that she required surgery after an MRI scan.
Reporting the news on Instagram last night, Hazel commented that the successful redpointed marked the end of her 7-year shoulder saga. In a UKC article on the mental and emotional effects of injury last year, Hazel wrote about her shoulder:
'Over the 20 years I've climbed I've had a fair few injuries but none of them very major until I tore my labrum (piece of cartilage) in my right shoulder. It happened in 2010 on a route called Air Sweden. I have pretty flexible joints and this route had a few slappy/stretchy moves between a crack and an arete. Since you have no foot holds your foot usually slips and your shoulders take the strain. I loved the pitch; it's still one of the coolest single pitch trad routes I've done, but it did mess up my shoulder and my climbing for the next 5 years! So before you ask...no it wasn't worth it.'
Commenting on the learning process of dealing with her injury, Hazel wrote:
'I guess what I really learnt was how to accept the way things are and how to be patient. You can't shape the world to fit you all the time. Hoping for the best or loving climbing more than the next person won't fix a broken shoulder. But you can choose to be happy nonetheless, with whatever you have. Even though I haven't been able to climb like I've wanted to this year or really the last 5 years, I've experienced a lot of happy times, achieved a lot and that hasn't been through chance or positivity, but through a bit of effort on my part to be OK with it.'
We sent her a few questions to find out how she's feeling now after climbing her hardest route to date...
It's always important to smile at your boyfriend mid way through the hardest route you've ever done #mindcontrol This is the only route I've ever really thought about or trained for. And it's not because it's the best route I could find (although for a sport route it's pretty good) it's because I knew if I could do this route then I knew I would be over all my injury troubles. (The crux is a giant cross over move using all the shoulder stability you can muster.) It's been three years since I was at this crag and three years since I last climbed hard. Climbing hard is important for me because I learn things I wouldn't learn otherwise. I can't complain though I've learnt lots from being injured too. Mega psyched: feeling ill and right before the rain! Time to say thanks: to everyone who's helped with my epic shoulder troubles, the current crew at Oliana (best so far), @blackdiamond for making me look good and keeping me safe (two things I struggle with), @lasportivagram for making my feet STICK, @sterlingrope for making it feel like I didn't have 50m of rope hanging off me. And mostly J Baker for photo and everything else. Psyched for some real climbing now. Any suggestions?
It's been 3 years since you last 'climbed hard', you say - was your injury the reason for this or were there other factors too?
Yeah the injury is the reason I haven't been climbing hard but that's not to say I wasn't to blame. I made lots of mistakes during my recovery and it took so long to fix. But in the end it was a chronic pain problem, not that the shoulder hadn't actually recovered physically.
What kept you positive and motivated during recovery? How did the mental recovery compare to the physical?
Climbing kept me motivated. It wasn't an option for me to give up, climbing is what I love most so it was just a question of time. That said, I've had some very low moments over these last few years when I thought I was destined to be injured and in pain forever.
Why Mind Control?
I tried Mind Control right after I did Fish Eye 3 years ago and this was just before my shoulder got really bad. I really loved the route and knew I could do it. This year I thought it would be a good first challenge for the shoulder and a good thing to focus on in my bid to get back in shape. Also, it would be full circle: right back to the place it had last been good.
You had some help with training for the route - tell us a bit about how you prepared physically?
It's the first route I've ever trained for (real training indoors with a structure). I was out of hard climbing for three years and I knew I needed help so I asked Lattice Training. It was quite up and down at first because my shoulder was still giving me problems and also I don't think they realised how weak I was/am! But in the end I learnt loads and I think I probably value and understand physical training more now.
Tell us a bit about working it - how long have you been at it? What's it like?
We first came to Oliana in January and tried it a few days, then we left for a while. I could do all the moves fairly easily and although I knew it was more about trying to link them all in one I was pretty confident. When we came back it was wet at the top (it finishes up a tufa which seeps). I worked out as much as I could and then it was just a waiting game (for all of February!). I tried other routes at the crag and went to other crags to keep fit. I also practised the start a lot so I knew I could do it as soon as it dried. It finally dried at the start of the week and I went to the top and worked out the moves that had previously been wet. On Wednesday I tried it twice but my feet popped off the crux move. Yesterday I woke up with a head cold and I wasn't feeling too confident, but when I got on the rock I knew my arms were still working OK and I felt good.
The route is amazing. It starts off with a 7b+/7c to a good rest. Then you have a few powerful moves to a headwall of beautiful flowy climbing on small holds. There is a good section of 8 metres of climbing without anywhere to shake. Then you get a pretty good rest, more climbing, then a worse rest. After that you have a few moves leading you into the crux which is one of the coolest moves I've done on a route. If you're small it seems really improbable because you take an undercut and do this giant cross over to a gaston. Your body wants to barn door off massively so in order to cut the swing you throw your palm out onto a nearby tufa. Then you have another 8 or so metres of pumpy hard climbing to the chains where you really have to keep your head together. It's an apt name for an awesome route.
How did it feel to top out?
It felt really nice to top out. Mostly because now we're free to travel to other places and climb other things. I was hoping for a bit more of a fight if I'm honest; power screams and skipped clips, but it was all quite calm. Now it's had time to settle in I'm super psyched, mostly because this marks the end of all my injury worries. It's been a really long road and I've been ready for it to end so many times. I also feel very equipped to deal with any future injuries since I've learnt so much.
We're going to be in Spain until April. Enjoying climbing and I'll be coaching a bit. Then hopefully in April I'll get to go and do some more adventurous climbing. It's great to finally have to freedom to climb without always being worried about my shoulder.