Quickfire questions with pro climber Hazel Findlay
Hazel is a professional British climber, with a huge list of achievements including being the first British woman to climb a trad* route at E9, and free* El Capitan in Yosemite, which she has now done three times. She has red pointed* 8c and onsighted* many 8as. She's known for her super-steady head, and her interest in the mental challenge of climbing led her to become a Mind Coach. For anyone wanting to know more, we'd seriously recommend reading her Blog - one of the best we've come across (check out Let the Body Climb, and Irrational Fear for starters) - it will seriously help you improve your own climbing - or encourage you to start!
We caught Hazel for a 'quickfire' interview after her trip to Sri Lanka...
Did you always want to do this, or was there a point when you decided to try and make climbing your full-time profession?
I never planned to be a pro climber. I didn't think I'd be good enough. But I really loved climbing and kept chasing it, and soon enough I climbed hard enough to be noticed by brands.
You suggested (in a previous article) that you deliberately learnt to shake off competitiveness - why, and how?
I don't remember saying that! I would say that you have to work out what is useful for you. If competitiveness brings fear and too much comparison to others you won't be able to focus on what you need to focus on, which is climbing.
Your perfect climbing day?
Trying hard, being challenged, feeling flow, with good friends.
If you weren't a climber you would have...?
A ‘proper job’ in law or something similar, in something I cared about and used my brain more.
You spent a long time struggling with your shoulder - how is it now? My shoulder is all better now, but I do have a finger injury right now unfortunately.
How do you manage an injury, and not being able to do your sport 'fully', when it's so tied up in your identity and happiness? Do you have any advice for those experiencing this?
I try to take these challenging times as learning. I do something else, think about things from a different perspective. These times are never easy, but hard times are usually valuable in some way.
How do you commit fully to something (e.g. a big move) and train your brain to block out voices of doubt (e.g. 'you might fall', 'you won't reach that')?
First you have to notice that you're having certain thoughts and not just be 'in' the thoughts so to speak. Then you can ask yourself if they are useful to you or not. If they are not you can come back to your senses, so connect to the breath, or feel the rock under your skin, or listen to the ambient noise, anything that is happening right now, and in doing so you root yourself in the present moment.
Are there specific exercises or 'brain drills' you do to train for this?
How do you manage fear? How do you stretch your comfort zone so you get less scared?
You can incrementally expose yourself to the thing that scares you. Learning happens just outside the comfort zone, so put yourself in situations that feel uncomfortable but not necessarily stressful and certainly not panic-inducing. This is the basic process of learning.
Your top climbing experience of 2018
I think climbing the Walker Spur on the Grandes Jorrasses in Chamonix.
Hopes and dreams for 2019?
I have a list of routes to do and places to visit but I need to recover my finger first! I also want to buy a house.
Favourite climbing food?
Trad climbing - rock climbing where the climber(s) place all gear required to protect against falls (nuts, cams etc.), and remove it once the section in complete.
Free climbing - Where the climber(s) only use protection and ropes to protect from injury upon falling, not to aid climbing (as in aid climbing).
Red pointed - A clean ascent (no falling) of a climb, but after one or more attempts.
Onsighted - A clean ascent of a climb first time (no previous attempts).