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Climbers Like Me: Hazel

Updated: May 10, 2021

Tell us about yourself - who are you and what do you love doing?

I'm Hazel, I'm 64 and a retired water and sanitation researcher (previously disability consultant, previously special ed teacher, previously French teacher - logical career path eh!) I'm a trad climber - I especially love sea-cliff climbing and multi-pitch mountain routes.

I was brought up to enjoy camping and the outdoors, and started climbing in my 20s. That was in the 1980s with a local climbing club, all male then, who taught me the ropes. They were supportive, but I always felt they were being kind to let me lead a Severe before I belayed them on their next E1. So it wasn't really until another woman joined the club that we got together and decided to do our own thing on borrowed gear, starting on Diffs and working our way up to harder routes. We were learning together and pushing ourselves and each other.

I then left to work in overseas development for many years and only picked up climbing again this century after a 20 year gap. It was harder to find people to climb with this time around; the whole climbing scene had changed - especially clubs and gear, and I felt like a beginner again! I'd always done most of my climbing with other women, so I did the best thing I could have done - I joined the Pinnacle Club. This gave me a sociable and supportive community of women, all enthusiastic about climbing (and who 'advised' me to chuck my knackered 80s harness, rope and slings!) In the past 15 years I've enjoyed more climbing than ever, in more varied locations and countries, and climbed as hard as I ever did.

Most friends I climb with are around my age, so to be climbing in your 50s, 60s and even 70s seems to me quite normal - I don't consider myself unusual or too old to climb. The wonderful thing about climbing is that you can enjoy it at any age at any grade.

Give us three words that you identify with most?

Not sure... indecisive!

What brings you the most joy outdoors?

Being in beautiful places with good friends. There are times when I've been sat on a belay ledge halfway up a sea cliff or mountain, with only a seagull or seal for an audience and think - there's nowhere else I'd rather be right now. But the day also doesn't feel complete without sharing the highs and lows afterwards with friends, whether in the pub, tent or hut.

What has been your biggest challenge to date?

In the '80s, pysching myself up to walk into a strange pub, and introduce myself to a bunch of men I'd never met before, because climbing clubs used to meet at the pub and this was the only way to contact them. As a woman, and complete beginner, it was pretty intimidating. A different kind of challenge was getting back into climbing as I approached 50.

But the biggest challenge was self-imposed, so a bit artificial. At 58 I'd just led my first HVS this century, so I set myself the goal of leading my first E1 before I turned 60, which gave me 20 months. I trained quite hard (for me), which was often a struggle, but I gained confidence from seeing myself making progress and getting stronger, in spite of regular elbow injuries - one of the hazards of getting older! I achieved my E1 goal, which I was happy with. The main satisfaction though was knowing that it is possible to get stronger and fitter when you're older, even if like me you've not been particularly 'athletic' or done regular training before.

If you could share a core value or abiding principle with others, what would it be?

I feel really privileged to be a climber so it feels only right to give back in some way, by encouraging others to give it a go, accepting that they may not get it right first time, or may do things differently. Simple actions such as smiling, or friendly chat at the wall or crag can make the difference to someone feeling welcome or feeling excluded.

Tell us one small change we can make as individuals to help our community?

As lovers of the outdoors we should all be more mindful of the wider impact our activities have on the environment and people. Actions such as picking up litter, sharing transport, reducing flights, and behaving respectfully to local communities where we go to play, all make a difference.

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