Two days ago, Hazel Findlay had her best burn yet on Magic Line, the infamous Ron Kauk thin splitter in Yosemite. She was reaching for the jug that marked the end of the difficulties, only to have one of the route’s micro footholds crumble beneath her toe. After working the route for over a month this fall, she had only one day left to try to get it done.
And yesterday, she did. As so often happens, seemingly so improbably, Findlay managed a last-day-best-day redpoint of Magic Line, placing all the gear on lead.
[Also Watch VIDEO: Concepción (5.13) With Hazel Findlay]
Findlay reported late last night on Instagram, “Today I climbed Magic Line fourth try of the day, on the last day of the trip with the pressure on and an emotional roller coaster of (more) breaking foot holds, a sore finger, numb feet and wind-blown water from Vernal Falls.”
Magic Line, first freed by Ron Kauk in December 1996, is one of the hardest cracks in the world. Kauk’s first free ascent was done on pre-placed gear. He graded it 5.14b.
And then the climb remained largely untouched—not forgotten, but revered and feared.
Then, in 2016, Ron Kauk’s heir, Lonnie Kauk, began projecting Magic Line. He had tried it briefly in 2012, but 2016 was when he committed to the process. Almost exactly 20 years after his father’s pinkpoint, Lonnie sent the route in the same style, leading it on in-situ protection.
[Also Read Interview: Lonnie Kauk on Magic Line (5.14c R)]
Lonnie felt as though his work with Magic Line was unfinished, though. So he went back in 2017, and began working towards a full redpoint in which he would place all the gear on lead. The next fall, on November 14, 2018, he freed the line again, but this time placing all the pro on lead, making the first redpoint of Magic Line. In the year since, Lonnie has gone on to re-send the climb at least twice more.
After his redpoint, Lonnie upgraded the route to 5.14c. He told Rock and Ice in an interview, “The placement after the crux is totally blind. So it’s like an extra move. Once I figured out how to do that I knew it was going to be redpoint crux. And I knew that would be the moment of truth.”
Lonnie also told Rock and Ice, “When I first started going to the route, there was this story that all the footholds had broken. But there are only micro-footholds anyway.” And that was one of the major themes of Findlay’s own experience on the route this fall.
Findlay was working on the route with fellow brit Madeleine Cope (who sent her first 5.14 trad route earlier this year when she sent Prinzip Hoffnung). A week into their Magic Line journey, Findlay wrote on Instagram that they had broken a “crucial foothold.” In a follow up post she elaborated, “Things are a lot harder for [Madeleine Cope][ and myself now our prize foot hold has broken.”
[Also Watch VIDEO: Hazel Findlay With the First Female Ascent of Once Upon a Time in the Southwest (E9 6C)]
As if footholds breaking wasn’t enough, Findlay and Cope both also developed finger injuries as they worked the climb, much of which is powerful and delicate laybacking. “Hard not to get frustrated by how low percentage this climb is and yet I’m still under the spell of Magic Line. Unfortunately a niggling finger injury affecting both our index fingers has morphed into a semi-real injury and now we’re debating whether to keep trying it or preserve our finger health and leave it until next year,” Findlay wrote on Instagram. “I’ve been injured enough in my climbing, and my heart breaks a little bit every time I’m forced to make the call between trying something more and being prudent. But hey ho that’s life hey.”
Cope’s time in the Valley ran out before she could piece Magic Line together, but Findlay kept soldiering on.
Just a week ago, she had a breakthrough. She climbed to the last hard move before falling off. It was going to be a race against the clock, her finger and the weather: Would she be able to do the climb before she had to go home? Before her finger gave out? Before the winter storms rolled in?
Yesterday, finally, she kept it together and climbed to the chains, becoming the third person to free Magic Line, and just the second redpoint it after Lonnie Kauk.
Findlay concluded, “It was stressful getting heartbreakingly close twice but in reality doing it on the last day of the trip meant that this route was the perfect challenge for me, testing me right to the end. To give you an idea of how hard this route was for me – the lower boulder crux is the hardest boulder problem I’ve ever done.”
Hazel Findlay has consistently been one of the best trad climbers in the world for a decade. She first made waves when she became the first woman to climb the British grade E9, with Once Upon a Time in the South West (E9 6c), in 2011. Since then she has freed El Cap via the the Pre-Muir ((VI 5.13d), the Salathé Wall (VI 5.13b), Golden Gate (VI 5.13a) and Freerider (VI 5.12d).
She has continued to climb at the highest level despite persistent injuries. In 2015, she had shoulder surgery, and was back climbing 5.14b sport just 22 months later.
A monumental effort and a historic send! Keep an eye on Rock and Ice for a longer interview with Findlay soon.