Margo Hayes doesn’t always climb outdoors, but when she does, it tends to catch the attention of those who wonder just who this quiet crusher is.

Over two weekends in Rifle last summer, the 17-year-old  comp climber from Boulder flashed Cryptic Egyptian (5.13c); redpointed Double Rainbow (5.14a) and Zulu (5.14a) in the same day, then quickly dispatched Waka Flocka (5.14b) on her fifth try. Not bad for someone who had never climbed much in Rifle before.

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Margo on Waka Flocka (5.14b).

She climbed Waka Flocka wearing a helmet, too, bucking the stereotype that just because you’re born and bred in a gym setting, doesn’t mean you can’t approach the outdoors with a respect for safety.

“Climbing outside for me comes and goes in waves, when I have a lot of competitions going on I don’t get out a lot,” she said. “Living in Colorado and having the Flatirons in my backyard is a privilege. I try and take advantage of it.”

Despite having spent little time on real rock, Margo is calculated, remembering intricate sequences and detailed foot beta—the things gyms don’t teach you.

Growing up in Boulder, Margo started gymnastics at age 6, found climbing at 10, and continued with both sports until she was 13. Ultimately, she decided to solely focus on climbing—and soon found herself training with Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou on Team ABC, a gym that’s gaining a reputation for churning out some of the most talented young climbers our country has seen.

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Margo has competed in both routes and bouldering events at the SCS Youth Nationals and ABS Youth Nationals every year since for the past 6 years. Highlights include a first place victory in both sport climbing and bouldering at the Pan American Championships in Mexico City in 2014. This year she placed second at the SCS National Championship and first in the SCS Youth National Championship.

In total, she’s stood on the podium 11 times.

I sat down with Margo to find out more about her recent string of successes, and what’s next.

 

You seem like you have had a breakthrough year, climbing well in both comps and outdoors. Why is climbing clicking right now for you?

Over the past year, I have started believing more in my own ability. As in many sports, mental strength is just as important, if not more so, than physical ability. Climbing is “clicking” because I am enjoying myself and trying not to set any limits.

Last year, I injured my back in a competition. The silver lining was the realization that I shouldn’t take climbing for granted. I missed climbing so much while I was recovering that I vowed to get outside more and climb. I also wanted to go into comps with no expectations, besides climbing my best and enjoying the boulder/routes that the setters created.

I am trying not to set limitations, so that frees up a lot of energy to just have fun and enjoy the process.

 

Do you think your gymnastics background was essential to your climbing success today? What’s harder: climbing or gymnastics? 

Yes, I owe a lot to my gymnastics background. Gymnastics gave me a strong athletic foundation. I learned air awareness, how to fall, mental strength, balance, and commitment. Although climbing is my passion now, I will always love gymnastics as a sport.

I don’t know if the two are comparable. In gymnastics, one strives for perfection in four events and the routines are a constant. Climbing encompasses so many different aspects—bouldering, routes, speed, mountaineering, ice, trad, gym and multi-pitch.

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Your dad and your grandfather are both climbers, Have they ever given you any advice about the sport that sticks in your head?

Yes, my grandfather, Dr. Jim Morrissey, is a mountaineer. He has taught me to dream big and follow my passion. My dad, Tom, took up climbing when he was in college. He used to take weekly trips to Yosemite. He has taught me to appreciate and respect outdoor climbing. Sometimes, he shows me up on slabs, too.

 

Do you think climbing is an equal playing field for both men and women? Do you think sexism is an “issue” in climbing?  

Historically, there were not as many women climbers as men, but that has changed. The playing field has always been a constant, because the climbs themselves are the test pieces. I believe that women can, will, and do climb as hard as men. I think that more climbs will be put up by women in the future as well. I think that there is sexism in our society, so there is sexism in climbing as well.

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What are your plans after high school?

I am going to take a gap year after high school. My plan is to travel, compete, and climb outdoors within the states and abroad. After a year-long adventure, I want to attend college. I am interested in art, science, and technology. I do not know where I will attend yet, but I plan to study somewhere where I will have access to climbing.

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