First climbed in 2010, this technical, high quality line with a "very spicy!" 9-metre run-out has attracted Britain's best — as well as a few international climbers. Originally graded E10 7a, consensus has settled at around E9 6c. The most recent ascent before Hazel's was made by her partner Angus Kille (UKC News) at the end of May.
Hazel adds Muy Caliente to a long list of hard trad ascents in the UK and beyond: Once Upon a Time in the Southwest E9 6c, Chicama E9 6c, Tainted Love, 5.13d R, 8b+/E9, Magic Line 5.14c R/8c+/E10 and more recently Mission Impossible E9 7a (UKC News), alongside significant big wall repeats and sport ascents up to 8c.
We sent Hazel a few questions about committing to and climbing the spicy line — in suboptimal conditions as well...
How has it felt getting back into hard trad after lockdown, mentally as much as physically?
I guess I'm used to spending big chunks of time sport climbing after which I have to adjust back to trad. It's a bit slow to start and it's nice to try to build up to these things. In fact the biggest adjustment has been moving back to the UK and getting used to UK trad which is quite different to trad elsewhere, especially compared to what I had been doing in the USA and the Alps.
You said you felt uncertain about going for the lead. Describe how you felt and how you worked through it.
I was uncertain about it mostly because the conditions weren't great and I also didn't feel that great as I didn't sleep well the night before. Angus and I first tried the route briefly at the end of May. We came back a month later and Angus did it in bad conditions. There are a few pockets on the route that were seeping, two after the run-out where you're safe and one (which he doesn't need to use) is right at the end of the run-out. Unfortunately I needed that pocket at the end of the run-out to do the moves and it stayed wet. As this is somewhere you really wouldn't want to fall from I decided not to try it, which was a shame because otherwise I felt really strong on the route.
After such a dry June I really expected the route to be bone dry, however I abbed down it on Saturday and the pockets were still wet! The only thing we could think of trying was this technique with tin foil that Angus had heard of, apparently a Frankenjura thing. I really didn't expect it to work and I thought that doing a route like that with tin foil stuck in your holds was not ideal. But although the holds felt a bit poorer at least they were dry!
The other uncertainty was a move in the middle of the run-out. It's a move only short people (perhaps under 5 ft 4) need to do and it adds quite a bit to the route. For most people the crux is after you get the good gear but for shorties the crux is in the middle of the run-out which makes it scarier for sure; from here the fall would be massive but probably not unsafe. So I reasoned that with the tin foil I had no reason not to try it.
That said, I was really nervous before tying in. I told myself I'd just see how I felt at the start of the route. It was a bit too daunting to think about committing to the whole route. I used a lot of breathing and mindfulness techniques to calm the nerves and as soon as I started climbing it became easier to focus.
What's the gear like?
There is an easy beginning section with a few threads and a peg, then you get a massive rest and two big threads. You've climbed about 10 metres to get here and your next gear is about 9 metres above. At the end of the run-out you can place a mediocre small wire to protect you while placing a bomber cam (which I did) or you can skip it and just place the cam (which is what Angus did). A move or two higher you can then place another bomber cam off a mono. There is a thread too but it's behind a small piece of rock and the cams were good so I didn't bother to clip it.
Then, although it's a bit of a run-out to the next break (where you get a ledge rest and a thread) you're totally safe on some more hard and pumpy moves. It's such a cool route because it only just works. Any less gear and it would be a bit silly.
What do you reckon to the grade? How does it compare to other lines you've done around E9/10?
I think the consensus on this route is that it's E9. Being short does add some value but I'm not sure it bumps it up a whole E grade and shorties never win extra grades anyway. It's scarier than the other E9s I've done, Mission Impossible is basically a sport route but is harder climbing. A route like Once Upon a Time in the South West is more involved in some ways but overall I think Muy Caliente to be a bit tougher mentally and physically. And then Magic Line is a whole different ball park in terms of difficulty and would get at least E10.
I often think that when it comes to harder routes, maybe E7 and above, using french grades plus the American system of PG, R/X and X is more informative compared to the UK trad grades. The technical grade in UK trad grades don't make sense to me and the single hardest move never really tells you that much about the rest of the route; there could be one of those moves or there could be 10 in a row. So using this system Muy Caliente would be 8a+ R/X, Magic Line would be 8c+ R, Mission Impossible would be 8b PG.
What's next for you?
Not sure. I have a bit of a UK trad tick list this summer, some headpoints and some onsights. I'll be psyched if I tick half of them! Then fingers crossed we might be able to go abroad in the Autumn.
A film of the ascent will be released shortly. In the meantime, watch our film of Tim Emmett's first ascent in 2010: