Last week Andrea Hah climbed Tiger Cat at the new ‘it’ crag of the Blue Mountains, Elphinstone.
The ascent was significant because it was Andrea’s first of the grade, making her only the second Australian woman to climb 33 – Monique Forestier was the first with her ascent of Fish Eye (33/8c) at Oliana in Spain. Notably, it is the first 33 climbed by an Australian woman on home soil.
We spoke to Andrea to find out a bit more about the ascent.
What was your process with Tiger Cat?
When I first moved to the Blue Mountains, someone said to me, “No female will ever climb 33 in the Blue Mountains.” At this time, I was nowhere near this level but it seemed a pretty good challenge.
On return from Mt Buffalo in January I decided to reprioritise my life and focus on my climbing again. Elphinstone is the current flavour of the year and after climbing Green Grass (29) I got on Tiger Cat. Lee Cossey had just done the first ascent, and was adamant that it would suit me. I began a training program with the long term goal of climbing it, but it seems my long term goal wasn’t so long term after all.
Due to the style of the route I made gradual progress each day, whether it be better linkage on the pumpy upper section or better percentages on the lower cruxes. This style of climbing enables a really exciting and rewarding redpointing process, making it easy to go back day after day. Each day, feeling fitter and stronger than the last.
How did the ascent go down?
The day started rather haphazardly. Julian Saunders was carrying in a 10L fire hydrant to clean his new route, and with all the excitement he forgot his harness for the rap in. So after I rapped in, he pulled up my extra-small, ultra-lightweight nonadjustable leg loop Black Diamond sport harness, and rapped in gingerly.
On my first attempt of the day I fell off on the last move (the third time I’d falling going to the top of the cliff, and where Lee fell off about 30 times last winter). The whole thing felt super easy with conditions feeling amazing – holds that I usually had to work on, felt like jugs. Before I realised, I was falling off the last move because I was way too casual.
Usually after an attempt you are distracted and entertained by belaying your partner, but not this day. Julian wasn’t climbing, though he was generous enough to belay me in between cliff hosing. So, after falling I spent an hour sitting around the base of the cliff, tormenting myself over the ridiculousness of falling off the last shot, and how I just blew my chance.
Second go, I crawled my way through the bottom cruxes, and screamed my way up the last move. I ensured there was no casualness about it at all.
What is the climbing on the route like?
The route is steep and about 30m long. There are two distinctive bouldery cruxes down low (actually three for me) which go at about V7. This leads into a good rest, then a race of about 20 consistent moves on average holds with no good rests to the top.
How did you feel?
Physically, it felt amazing. It was my fourteenth day on the route, and I had every move so physically engrained that my mind I didn’t have to process anything. Leading into the top section on redpoint I knew I had done it more pumped on “training days”, so there was no reason why I couldn’t do it.
Mentally, the feelings of doing that route, as insignificant as it may seem to everyday people, is one of the most rewarding, satisfying, euphoric feelings you can experience. It’s the equivalent of a World Record for a track & field athlete. Or an industry award for a business owner. When you dedicate so much of your life to anything, days like that are confirmation that you are doing something right.
We saw a photo of you on Facebook with red eyes – what was that all about? Tears of joy?
It’s not a very glamorous story. The embellished story of popping blood vessels with exertion seemed a lot more interesting. But the real story is, I have an eye infection at the moment leaving me with bloodshot eyes (which isn’t helping on the job hunting front).
You’ve had a tough run with injury in the last little while, but you seem to have come back bigger, better and stronger. What do you put that down to?
Time. Being unemployed and not studying anymore is a pretty good way to ensure I have the time and energy to put into climbing and training. Days don’t feel rushed, so I can get into bed each night feeling utterly exhausted from big days out, or training and running. I put on a few kgs while injured and studying last year, but I am now actually lighter than I have been in a long time. Not consciously, but just by moving lots and having fun.
Motivation was never a problem, but after five months off, and a new high quality cliff, my passion for climbing has been rejuvenated. This energy feeds onto other climbers, which feeds back onto me – it’s a lovely cycle.
You are the first Australian woman to climb 33 in Australia, normally the hardest routes are climbed close to home, why do you think it has taken a while for a 33 to be climbed here?
The style of harder routes in Australia is bouldery. So, if you can’t do the moves in isolation, you can’t do the route unless you specifically address those weaknesses. Or, if you can do those moves in isolation at 95 per cent, you need a fair bit in reserve to do it from the ground. So, you have to be strong and fit. In Europe, routes usually get long and pumpy which lends itself better to onsighting, and females. Usually, if you can do the moves, you can do the route. It’s just a matter of time.
Is there much more potential at Elphinstone?
There is someone out there bolting most days at the moment, whether it be on the Main Wall or Dumbo Love sector. There is a pretty motivated group (Rowan Druce, Lee Cossey, Julian Saunders, Emil Mandyczewsky) that have put together some amazing lines, but there is always more potential for link-ups in the Blueys.
And the question that everyone wants an answer to, what’s next on your radar? Are you ready to don the green and gold tracksuit and go to the Olympics?
As a gymnast, my dream was always to don the green and gold, but I retired that dream at age 16.
I have a pretty big radar at the moment, it spans from France to Spain to the US to Tasmania to the Grampians to Elphinstone. As a climber, my dream is to never retire. And stay motivated enough to continually set new challenging goals for myself which better me as a person, and a climber. Whether it be a new PB in sport climbing, or free a big wall trad route, or link a two move boulder.