Dangling from a few millimeters of steel, swinging her leg over the crook of one elbow and then the other, the Czech climber Lucie Hrozová was, after 25 minutes, only halfway up a severely overhanging mixed route. When she finally clipped the chains, 50 minutes after leaving the ground at the Vail Amphitheater, Colorado, Hrozová claimed the first ascent of Saphira, grading it M15-, or the single hardest pitch of mixed climbing in the United States.
The modest, genial 27-year-old Hrozová is one of the strongest mixed climbers in the world, not only among women, but of either gender. Last January, she traveled from her home in Prague, Czech Republic, to Colorado to compete in the annual Ouray Ice Festival. Winning the women’s competition and coming in third overall, Hrozová used her prize money to extend her stay for a month and sample other climbing in the state. In Vail, she sent Will Mayo’s testpiece The Mustang P-51 (M14-) on her first try, although not onsight because she had covered some terrain while trying Saphira.
Q&A with Lucie Hrozová
When did you start mixed climbing and dry-tooling?
When I was like 18 or 19, I decided I wanted to try something new. My dad owns a climbing gym, and the gym had a dry-tooling competition. So I was just like, “Let’s compete.” They gave me some ice axes and shoes, and actually I broke my teeth. I didn’t know what I was doing—I just put the axes on the route, but I didn’t set them hard enough, and the axes popped off and hit me in the face!
And now I have half a tooth that is fake.
What was it like to climb Saphira?
Saphira is really long, so you can spend like two hours on it in the beginning. And you get really cold. Everything is frozen.
I was kind of scared because, if you want to climb it, there are some spots where you can’t clip the quickdraws because it’s too hard. So you have to skip some quickdraws.
How did you decide on the grade of M15-?
It’s always hard to grade something, you know, because everyone feels differently about different climbs. I just graded it compared to how hard other things were for me. It felt harder than Ironman (M14+), and time will tell, I guess, if people agree.
Have you had any close calls climbing?
In 2012 I climbed Illuminati (M11+) [in Italy]. It was [my] first serious mixed climb. My fingers and toes got really, really cold. It was stupid, but I didn’t take big boots to change into. So I was just wearing small, light mixed climbing shoes. It was getting dark. I could barely see anything on the last ice pitch. I climbed to the top, and couldn’t find any place to belay my partner up. I was freaking out, thinking, “We’re going to die here!” And then I found a tree with an anchor, and brought him up. When he came up, I felt like I was done with winter climbing. I never wanted to do it again. I almost cried. I figured I should just go play beach volleyball or something.
Longer-term goals, hopes, dreams?
I have crazy dreams—I’d like to try to live in the rainforest. But also more normal dreams. I’d like to go to college and study psychology. I’d like to get better at cooking. Maybe learn to play piano.
This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 239 (January 2017).