Weekend Warm-Up: Findlay’s Tin Foil Tactics For Dangerous Climbing

Muy Caliente! is dangerous and terribly hard. On a good day. Then there’s the soggy, adverse conditions that provoke the off-base kitchen material used in Foiled.

That may make this outing sound silly, and in part, it is. But make no mistake — Foiled is not a trivial document. In it, there’s an opportunity to witness a warrior on the brink.

Muy Caliente!, the E9 6c climb at Stennis Ford, Pembroke, Wales, is famous for its unprotectable nine-meter runout, which begins 10 meters off the ground. Simple math indicates that if you fall near the end of it, you’d better get ready to pay dirt.

illustration of the muy caliente runout, wide angle shot

The ‘Muy Caliente!’ runout. Photo: Screenshot


(Add basic variables like rope stretch and it’s obvious that it would take a hero belay to keep a climber off the ground.)

“I don’t think it’s something to take lightly — I would say,” says climber Hazel Findlay in the documentary.

“You couldn’t survive that fall, if you didn’t have a rope,” she assesses in Foiled, then laughs. “It’s pretty high up!”

findlay laughing (collage)

Laugh it off. Photo: Screenshot


The act of facing death and/or mutilation is sometimes best cut by humor. And if there’s one person suited to coping with these particular pressures, it’s Findlay.

The Brit has established herself as a kind of latter-day zen paragon in the world of what some call heady climbing. She’s taken down numerous threatening and/or deadly routes all over the planet during her decade-long career, and even started her own academy that teaches climbers how to manage fear.

Will even she, with her bedrock mental calm, meet the challenge Muy Caliente! presents — in typically awful British weather conditions, with oozing holds?

If so, she will do it partly thanks to tin foil.

hazel findlay readying a roll of tin foil for a climb

Tools of the trade. Photo: screenshot


Comically meager hopes

Rock climbing acumen aside, there’s perhaps an especially twisted place one must access if they’re to believe placing kitchen products in holds can help them outfox death on climbs. Indeed, if there’s any tactic that conveys the woeful desperation common to British rock climbing, it’s that exactly: Stuffing wet holds with cooking foil in an unexplained effort to increase purchase.

I’m not overblowing the dearth of logic, either — there is no stated explanation for the technique.

“It’s an old Frankenjura trick,” Angus Kille, Findlay’s partner and belayer, says drily while the two pack up the roll for the cliff base.

Taking a stab at the dirtbag logic at play here, I picture foil conforming to whatever surface you press it onto, then holding that shape. Also, it should theoretically block any moisture coming from the other side.

foil packed into a hold on a rock climb

Technique. Photo: Hazel Findlay


But every climber knows there are plenty of moments when, if your grip shifts by a millimeter, you’re taking the ride. Aluminum foil is slippery or at least smooth to touch. And…what’s keeping it from jostling around while you fumble to grip down on it?

In short, I can imagine few efforts more stark in service of hold quality improvement. But it’s better than nothing, I guess.

Or is it?

Steel resolve

“The tin foil could break, it could [simply] not work, it could blow away. There’s lots of things that could happen to tin foil,” Findlay reasons. “So it’s not ideal.”

findlay puts foil into holds during route preparation

Photo: Screenshot


No kidding. But the way of the rock warrior is beset on all sides. And the task, for a climber of Findlay’s ilk, is to be undeterred.

So — into the breech she commits herself.

The outlook is bleak. While Findlay ties into the sharp end, Kille practices the way he’ll run backward from the cliff to eat up slack if worse comes to worst. The mood is dark.

“You’re giving me confidence,” Findlay jokes mirthlessly.

tied in at the base of the climb, findlay stares into the camera

Photo: Screenshot


In its essence, Foiled firmly grasps its utility as a document that captures a master at work. When Findlay’s on lead, the sequences are no less than riveting. Dissonant, vaguely automotive blaring on the soundtrack spirals endlessly upward as she battles through the un-protectable stone.

Her muscles quiver in their mortal coils. She balances between agonizing stimulation and animal fear. Piercing screams ring off the stone as she forces her way through the crux.

Yet, doing the job, Findlay persists. Want to know what a pro climber looks like — at least on this side of the walking heart rate inhibitor that is Alex Honnold? Then watch this.

Findlay on muy caliente!Photo: screenshot


And try not to think about what will happen if she yanks the foil out of one of those holds.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson spent his 20s as an adventure rock climber, scampering throughout the western U.S., Mexico, and Thailand to scope out prime stone and great stories. Life on the road gradually transformed into a seat behind the keyboard, where he acted as a founding writer of the AllGear Digital Newsroom and earned 1,500+ bylines in four years on topics from pro rock climbing to slingshots and scientific breakthroughs.