How Isabelle Faus Broke All the Rules and Sent Wheel of Chaos V14

How Isabelle Faus Broke All the Rules and Sent Wheel of Chaos V14
Photo: Caroline Treadway
Scaling a V14 puts you among elite company -- only five women have ever climbed the grade: Ashima Shiraishi (USA), Alex Puccio (USA), Tomoko Ogawa (JPN), Shauna Coxsey (GBR), and Isabelle Faus (USA).

So now that Faus has reached the peak of the female climbing community not once, but twice after sending her second V14 this week, how is it possible that she's managed to stay under the radar?

Perhaps because Faus spends more time in the woods and on the rocks than she does indoors or on social media. Or maybe because there's a lot of truth to her refreshingly rebellious attitude towards the high-profile life of the heavily sponsored climber.

In reality, it's a little of both.

"When it comes down to it, sponsorship companies would rather put money into cookie-cutter Barbies and CrossFitters. I'm a rock climber, and I don't fit into their box, so they simply aren't interested," Faus said in a recent interview.

But it may be hard for her to stay off of the grid much longer. On October 2, her second V14 send, Wheel of Chaos in the Upper Chaos section of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, catapulted her to legendary status.

It was a labor of love. Faus's friend and photographer, Caroline Treadway, strolled onto the scene just moments after she completed the arduous send, and later said she'd never seen Faus so happy.

Last year, she tackled her first V14, the famous Amandla testpiece in South Africa's Rocklands, which propelled her onto that elite shortlist. Since then, she has been on a tear -- Faus sent multiple problems at V13 and even established a few of her own at V12/V13.

Faus recently spoke to FloClimbing about her remarkable accomplishment--check out the interview below.

Tell me about the Wheel of Chaos. What drew you to this particular line?

It's a really, really cool line. It revolves around three boulders stacked on top of each other, with a decent rest between the second and third. It starts in a roof, goes to a 45-degree or maybe steeper wall, and then traverses right on a slightly overhanging section. It's 25 moves long, sits at 11,000 feet, and you have to walk four miles to get there… mostly uphill. It's an overall fitness test for sure. It's very powerful in the start and very technical in the end. The fact that there are so many variables that make it hard to climb is what got me most psyched.

How many session days have you put into this one problem? Attempts?

I'm not exactly sure, but last year, I tried three days I think, and it took me that long just to be able to do the moves.

This year, it went faster. By day two or three, I was making it to the rest and feeling ready to send. Then, I started to have lots of issues with conditions. The boulder is so long, and the altitude was so high that I couldn't keep my hands warm. No part of my body would sweat even if the sun was pretty warm. Most of the time, cold and dry is what you want, but it was the opposite of what I needed.

I fell at the end of the boulder maybe 20 times over six days. It was frustrating, because the first two-thirds, which is by far the crux of the boulder, seemed so solid. I never really fell on the first two parts after doing it the first time. Basically, I'd go up there every other day, climb up a V13 at least three times, and fail on the end for every single reason you can: foot pops, dry skin, and being too tired after failing a few times before.

I definitely was about to just quit for the year and let it win, but that's pretty hard when you're so close. My boyfriend, Chad, kept me motivated, and in the end, I got my warm, humid day and it went down flawlessly. I definitely put in a lot of work, so it was really nice to flow up it with no hesitation or mistakes.

With your ascent of Amandla last year, as well as your sending spree over the last two, it seems like you are more focused and prepared for harder sends. Have you changed anything to push yourself to that next level?

I grew up in Chicago and went to college in Massachusetts for a few semesters. Being in a city without climbing and then in a place that has climbing, but only a couple months out of the year, I felt like I had to do competitions. That was my way of setting goals and getting psyched. It was fun when I won, of course, but I never really liked them that much. It just seemed so contrived. The glorification for climbing on plastic was just too much for me. When I moved back to Colorado (I had lived here for a while when I was 17/18) competitions just didn't seem necessary, and neither did the gym. Basically, I just started focusing on the things I like. Climbing outside full-time and barely climbing in the gym is how I got strong.

Any thought to your next project?

I've got a never-ending amount of projects in Colorado. I'd like to try Aslan since my power endurance is pretty high right now, and once the alpine season ends, I'd like to try Midnight Express and Flux for Life -- maybe do some routes too!

Editor's Note: Aslan and Midnight Express are both V14s, and Flux for Life is a V13 -- none have seen a female ascent.

Faus is a rare breed in the climbing community, but she knows exactly what she wants and how she will get it. Stay tuned to see what comes next for this Colorado native.

Check out these amazing photos that Treadway took of Faus during her Wheel of Chaos send:

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