Visiting US climber Anna Hazelnutt has repeated Once Upon a Time in the South West E9 6c at Dyer's Lookout, Devon. The bold line was not only Anna's first of the grade, but one of her first trad routes full stop. On the same day, Tom Randall also repeated the route.
Born in Illinois, Anna is a freelance video editor and has been climbing for eight years, with sport ticks up to 8b+ under her belt. She told UKC:
'I bouldered almost exclusively for six years, but then two years ago, in a quest to diversify and get out of my comfort zone, I decided to start sport climbing. Just a few months ago, I thought it would be fun to learn how to trad climb as well!'
Anna spent a week top-roping in Indian Creek, finishing her trip with her first trad lead at 5.9. She then spent a week in Yosemite and led a few more 5.9s and some mixed multipitch lines on bolts and trad gear.
Anna visited the UK to meet up with a friend to go bouldering ahead of travelling to Spain for a sport climbing trip. The decision to try Once Upon a Time came about following a YouTube collaboration with Tom Randall. She commented:
'I met up with Tom pretty randomly to film some YouTube videos, and because I'm a solo traveller without a concrete plan, when Tom said he was going to Dyers to climb his slab project my ears perked up (I love slab) and I decided to join!'
With time running out before her trip to Spain, Anna chose to extend her UK trip to enable further attempts. She explained:
'Although I've only done a handful of easy trad routes, Once Upon a Time instantly became my obsession. It's this magnificent, impressive sea cliff that looks totally unclimbable. Slab has always been my favourite style of climbing (my Instagram bio even says, "slab is sexy") so I knew I had to extend my trip to play on the line.'
Due to her limited experience in placing gear, Anna spent plenty of time figuring out the fiddly gear in the seams of the slab. She told UKC:
'The working process was a bit unusual, seeing as it was the first time I was placing the majority of these gear sizes. Having only really placed gear on 5.9s, these micro sizes were completely new to me.'
Anna had made a clean attempt on a shunt and descended the line with Tom and her friend Ian to find the best gear placements, before going for the lead. She said:
'I actually ended up using a few different pieces to what Tom used in the end because we climb so differently. On my first attempt I fell pretty low, but it was really exciting because it was my first fall on gear! It took two more falls - each higher than the last - until I managed to send on my fourth lead attempt and third lead of the day! It took a month, but Tom and I hopped aboard the send train in one of the best climbing days for us both!'
Tom's ascent inspired Anna to get back on the line, but the successful go was 'less than ideal'. She explained:
'Although spirits were high, so was the humidity and the wet. It actually rained a bit before my final go, but Tom was optimistic, having just sent the climb, and I couldn't argue with the psyche. Funnily enough, I feel like I made every beginner trad mistake on this climb! My knee knocked off the crux RP on my way up, I fumbled my way through placements, and I crossed my lines creating a pretty bad rope drag. I finished the route with determined concentration, in part because I didn't want to find out what falling on the runout would feel like, and in part because I felt like it could start raining at any moment. I somehow managed to flop my way up the grass mantle and then immediately cry at the top from pure relief.'
On the big day, the team also enjoyed sharing the cliff with group who were carrying out a sponsored abseil down the slab to raise money for a local cancer hospice charity.
The experience of headpointing a hard trad line at her limit has opened Anna's eyes to new possibilities in climbing. She summed up:
'I didn't know my mental game would be strong enough to do something this intense - less than a year ago I was crying out of fear on a friendly-bolted 5.13a sport climb. I'm excited to fill out my pyramid by trad and sport climbing in all of the climbing styles, and to embrace the chaotic, beautiful discomfort that climbing has to offer - and definitely more sketchy (and sexy) trad slabs.'
On Instagram, Tom Randall commented: 'Freaking great effort @annahazelnutt doing this as her first E9 after just a few weeks of trad climbing. Once again, I was reminded how much those who really excel beyond expectation have a good work ethic, good energy, attention to process and the willingness to be uncomfortable. Very cool!'