Cork woman reaches new heights in the sport of climbing and bouldering

For the first time ever, climbing will be a sport at this year’s Olympics. CHRIS DUNNE talks to a Cork woman who has fallen in love with the pastime
Cork woman reaches new heights in the sport of climbing and bouldering

Hannah Hayes trying a boulder called Northern Soul in Hepburn, Northumberland. She hasn’t

GLOUNTHAUNE woman Hannah Hayes is using brains and brawn to be her best self in her chosen sport of wall climbing.

“My favourite type of wall climbing is bouldering but I also enjoy sport climbing,” says Hannah, 25, who is studying in Scotland. The young woman is currently doing a PhD in physical organic chemistry in the Lloyd Jones group at the University of Edinburgh.

Bouldering requires strong fingers, a strong core, flexibility, and a penchant for technical problem solving, especially mathematical equations.

“I go to competitions frequently and train at an indoor bouldering centre called Eden Rock Edinburgh,” says Hannah.

“But I also love climbing outdoors. I have a big trip to Fontainebleau in France coming up in March/April. I am training hard at the moment and hoping to push my outdoor bouldering grade over the next few years.”

Hannah is a team player.

“I receive training with other members of the university climbing team in the performance strength and conditioning gym with coaches once per week during term time,” says Hannah.

“The hardest outdoor boulders I have climbed are La Super Prestat 7B+ in Fontainebleau and Pensées Cachées, 7B also in Fontainebleau.”

When was Hannah’s interest piqued by this physical, mentally challenging sport?

“When I studied Chemistry of Pharmaceutical Compounds at UCC, 2012-2017, including a study abroad year a UCI, California, I joined the UCC Mountaineering Club and I followed my passion for climbing from there. The outings were always really sociable and great fun,”says Hannah.

“We had great trips at weekends to cool places.”

There was an added bonus.

“I met my boyfriend back then, who is a climber too! It is great we can enjoy wall climbing, travelling to different locations together.”

She caught the climbing bug early near to home.

“I loved climbing at the Mardyke and I enjoyed social outings to Awesome Walls in the Model Farm Road. There’s a really nice environment there. You get to meet great people.”

Hannah was always sporty growing up. Her natural environment was the great outdoors, she loved to sail and also was an advanced gymnast with Douglas Gymnastics Club — winning three national medals.

She reached even greater heights recently in her new sport.

“I got first place in rock climbing as part of the female team for Edinburgh University at BUCS nationals, 2020, joint 11th place individual-held at the climbing works, Sheffield, and 4th place at the Scottish Student Championships 2020 held at Eden Rock, Edinburgh.”

Hannah also achieved 1st place in the Female Advanced Category at Irish Intervarsities in 2016 and 3rd place in the USA CCS sport climbing regional championships in 2015.

Hannah Hayes at the Scottish Student Championships held at Eden Rock. Picture: Mike Mullins.
Hannah Hayes at the Scottish Student Championships held at Eden Rock. Picture: Mike Mullins.

Hannah is also a qualified wall instructor.

“I help coach the advanced youth squad on Sunday mornings at Eden Rock, Edinburgh. I really enjoy that.”

Does she ever find herself between a rock and a hard place?

Hannah laughs.

“Bouldering is really a problem solving exercise, encompassing problems” says Hannah.

“The problems range in difficulty from one to 30. You navigate the wall, working out the best strategy using the pattern of climbing holds up along the wall.,” says Hannah.

“A climbing hold is a shaped grip that is usually attached to a climbing wall so climbers can grab or step on it. On most walls, climbing holds are arranged in paths, called routes, by specially trained route setters.”

Is there a lot of gear or special clothing required for Hannah’s favourite climbing pursuit, bouldering?

“Actually, bouldering requires less gear than other types of climbing,” says Hannah.

“All you really need for a successful bouldering session is a pair of well-fitted rock shoes, chalk for sweaty palms and a chalk bag on a waist belt.

“Also, you can use bouldering mats that you can carry to the crag whereas indoors there is already mating in the centres.”

Apart from having nerves of steel, Hannah has muscles of steel, amazing flexibility and massive upper-body strength. Her petite stature belies her superb physicality.

Is the adventurous world of bouldering male-dominated?

“Historically, rock climbing is more male- dominated,” says Hannah,

“But it is definitely becoming more gender balanced, which is great for females in sport.”

Wall climbing provides a great community of like-minded indoor and outdoor adventurers.

“All age groups, youngsters, students, and adults, can get involved in wall climbing,” says Hannah.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re short or tall. Wall climbing suits different strengths, and all different abilities. There are many outdoor locations in Ireland and in the UK. They are usually low to the ground, seven or eight metres would be a very high boulder, which most boulderers would not be as keen on as these are considered highballs.

“Bouldering is quite low to the ground but still really exciting, working through the hard moves, whereas highballs offer a greater mental challenge to the climbing. Of course, the mountainy terrain in Scotland is ideal for outdoor climbing.”

The sport can grow on you.

“It is a common ground, and people are surprised how much they get to like it,” says Hannah. “I really enjoy wall climbing with pals.”

“It is mentally engaging as well as physical,” says Hannah.

“You’d do your research and you evaluate the holds at the start of the climb. The bigger holds are not always the better ones.”

Would heights have to appeal to you to attempt wall climbing.?

“Not necessarily,” says Hannah.

“Boulder locations are typically low enough, seven to eight meters, considered high. The climb could take three hours to do as you work out a strategy at difficult points.”

But you wouldn’t want to suffer from vertigo?

“Definitely not!” says Hannah.

“Balance is an integral part of wall climbing.”

Friendship is an integral part of it too.

“There is great camaraderie among wall climbers everywhere,” says Hannah.

“Even in competition — competitors who have completed a climb will tip you off on which holds are dodgy and which holds are best to use to advance. There is great spirit of support among the climbers.”

Hannah is making strides in a sport where she has achieved great heights.

“This year, 2020, for the first time ever, competition climbing will be an Olympic event in Tokyo,” says Hannah.

“I am hoping to progress in my personal climbing in competitions and outdoors, but I think the Olympics is a next level!

“It is super-inspiring to see climbing, that hard though!”

“Athletes climbing in the event will compete in three different disciplines for single set of medals, speed climbing, bouldering, and lead climbing. Three disciplines, one goal.”

More in this section

Sponsored Content