Young Success

Meet the 20-year-old revolutionizing rock climbing for women

How this 20-year-old rock climber sponsored by The North Face is breaking...

Margo Hayes is a soft-spoken 20-year-old who loves gardening and beekeeping. She's also an elite athlete, with the track record (and muscles) to prove it. 

Hayes is one of the top climbers in the U.S. She's excelled at the sport since she joined Boulder's Team ABC climbing squad at age 10, but she started grabbing attention when she became the first female athlete to "send" (successfully climb from the bottom of a route to the top without falling, in climbing-speak) one of the toughest-graded climbing routes in the world. In February 2017, Hayes reached the top of La Rambla, in Siurana, Spain.

Margo Hayes training at Movement Climbing and Fitness in Boulder, Colorado.

The highest grade in climbing is 5.15, with c being the toughest. There are currently fewer than five routes in the world rated a 5.15c. La Rambla is a confirmed 5.15a grade. No women before her had ever climbed a 5.15 on the record. It took her nearly seven days to figure out how to reach the peak.

Seven months later, she made news again, climbing her second 5.15a and becoming the first woman to send Biographie/Realization in Ceuse, France, one of the most coveted climbs of its grade. Hayes was only the 15th person to climb it.

"To be one of the women who helped open the door to those possibilities, that's an honor," she tells CNBC Make It.

Hayes tracks her workouts, progress, travels, gratitude and "manifestations" in a bullet journal. She's been writing down her goals since age 6, when she dreamed of becoming an Olympic gymnast (she eventually abandoned the sport after suffering a series of injuries.)

"I think that one of my strengths is believing in the fact that hard work can lead to success," says Hayes.

Hayes typically trains six days per week, climbing for two to five hours per day both indoors and outdoors, and complementing her climbs with running, strength-building and stretching. Her go-to food is sweet potatoes — she has celiac disease, so they help her get fast carbs and energy to fuel her climbs.

Today, Hayes is sponsored by The North Face and four other companies: La Sportiva, Petzl, Friction Labs and Dogeared. They all afford her the opportunity to climb professionally, travel and mount the gear she needs to get her work done, from leggings to chalk.

In September, Hayes competed in the International Federation of Sport Climbing World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria. She finished 1st in bouldering among American women – but 10th generally – and didn't make it on to the finals.

Sport climbing will join the Olympics for the first time at the Tokyo Games in 2020. It's too early to tell whether or not Hayes will qualify, and she avoids discussing the topic. "I think it's really important to focus on the process," she says. "If you are focused on the future or on a past moment, you're not able to perform at your maximum."

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