My Hardest Route: La Rambla (5.15a)

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Margo Hayes’ take on her personal best, the hardest send by any woman. Ever.

I began thinking about La Rambla more than a year ago. After sending fourteen 5.14s in 2016, climbing 5.15 was a goal of mine, and my first one had to be one of the classics. I did research and watched many YouTube videos to find just the right one. The length, beauty, location at the El Pati wall, difficulty, and history behind La Rambla inspired me.

[Ed note: Alexander Huber did the first ascent in 1994 of a shorter line that he graded 5.14c. In 2003, Ramon Julian Puigblanque did the first repeat but added a 7-meter extension and claimed the line was 5.15a. After a dozen repeats by climbers including Chris Sharma, Patxi Usobiaga, Adam Ondra, and Alex Megos, the grade has stuck at 5.15a.]

I had been living in France since last September and studying French at the University in Aix-en-Provence, when Jon Cardwell and Matty Hong invited me to Siurana, Spain. It was the right time, and La Rambla was the right route.

Photo: The North Face/Greg Mionske

My first day on the line, I knew I could do it. I did all the moves individually, and for me that is the marker of if I can do a route or not. Over the course of seven days and about 17 individual attempts, I made progress with each session, whether it was linking some moves together or feeling more comfortable on a particular hold. Some days the breakthroughs were bigger than others, but each day I felt closer and closer to my goal.

And that goal was always to send. You can never be 100-percent sure that you’ll succeed, but if you set that as your expectations and then put your absolute all into it, success is much more likely. But while I was actually climbing, I could only feel grateful for being there. I always try to stay in the moment and not think ahead to the send. Thinking ahead is a distraction, and I never celebrate until I have clipped the chains.

La Rambla is a beautiful journey. It is a commitment with challenging moves that require intense focus and concentration to link. The crux is near the top, but it’s difficult throughout. [According to Jonathan Siegrist, who sent the route in 2015, there is 100 feet of 5.14 climbing to even get to the crux.] The mental demands are just as serious as the physical, and when I fell twice above the crux [the day before the send] I knew success would be a test of my determination.

Photo: The North Face/Greg Mionske

The incredible rush of emotion I experienced when clipping the chains was so overwhelming that I started to cry. It was part joy and part disbelief. I wanted to climb 5.15 to challenge myself and take my climbing to another level, and I had done it. I am honored to be one of the many women who have taken climbing to the next level. I have been inspired by the achievements of Lynn Hill, Josune Bereziartu, Ashima Shiraishi, among many others, and we will continue to build on each other’s accomplishments.

Margo Hayes, 19, finished second in the 2017 Sport Climbing Nationals in March, and she will be competing on the World Cup circuit this spring and summer, studying French independently and looking at options for school next fall.

As told to Julie Ellison.

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