Sunday, 3 July 2011

Bouldering World Cup & Weekend of Climbing

The world's best competition boulderers gathered in Sheffield over the weekend for the IFSC Bouldering World Cup. The competition took place in Millhouses Park, at the Cliffhanger Outdoors Festival, which has become a mainstay of the extreme sports calendar - with a cornucopia of activities to keep all occupied or bedazzled at the athleticism on show. Rock climbers seemingly floated up walls, pulling and pushing on the most unlikely of features, free-runners bounced between blocks and leapt for ledges, cyclists made their two-wheel transportation do things that shouldn't be possible, and many other sports vied for the attention of the crowds.

I was there for the climbing, however, and I wasn't to be disappointed with the show. As mentioned before, these are the world's best competitors at this particular niche of rock climbing, competition bouldering. Explosive power, flawless technique and a steely determination are all necessary to make a champion, and these qualities were in abundance in all competitors. The effort they put in was inspiring but what I found most enthralling was the enthusiasm of the crowd, who cheered and willed every climber to the top of their problems, irrespective of where they came from. Whilst the British climbers did elicit the biggest reaction in the semi-finals (unfortunately, none made it to the finals), the support on show for all those competing is something to be commended. And I don't know about everyone else's reaction to what they were seeing, but I immediately wanted to go climbing after the competition. It got me PSYCHED! to use the climbing lingo. Congrats to all those that took part, especially the winners, Kilian Fischhuber and Akiyo Noguchi.

My own climbing over the weekend was also great fun. After a pretty intense week of training, I decided to take it easy and only got out onto the gritstone once, on the Saturday, when I went to Stanage, one of the UK's best known bouldering destinations. It was a blisteringly hot day, however, which always makes for difficult conditions. I got stretching out on a few 5s and could feel the lack of friction, my hands sliding off the rock after more than a second's contact. I knew it wasn't a day for sending anything horrendously hard, so I chose one of my favourite 7s, The Green Traverse. The main reason for selecting this problem, however, was that the tree next to it has flourished into a mass of greenery, the branches and leaves providing a vast canopy, which left the rock in shade, increasing the friction factor at least 10 fold. 

After 15 minutes of warming up I wandered up to the Traverse and got brushing the holds. It has been a long time since I was last on it, so I had to find the starting sequence again. To begin with, two starting jugs and a couple of large footholds provide the perfect start, before shifting the left hand out to a nice sidepull. Throwing a heel onto one of the starting jugs provides stability enough to bring the right hand over to a large sloper. The left hand then moves along to a small crimp rail before the heel is released and placed on a greasy little nobble on the rock. The right hand is then brought over to match the crimp rail and the left foot is placed on an awful smear. A quick throw up and the left hand latches a sloping jug - that's the crux. The rest is rather more simple, just requiring composure and a little burly strength. If you've made it through the first section, however, the rest is easy. It took me about an hour to figure it all out and get the send - which I was rather pleased with, considering the heat. In the end, all it took was a change of shoes, from a really old pair I normally only use in the gym to a newer pair with infinitely better friction, due to the relatively unworn rubber.

After The Green Traverse I had a play on a problem called Captain Hook, figuring out all the moves but not having a hope of sending. Unfortunately, it was baking in sunlight and there are a series of quite slopey slopers where friction becomes a necessity. Happy with my progress on it, I left it for another day and went to check out a 6C problem (no idea on the name) that I had never tried before. Again, it was baking in the sunlight, but the holds were a series of large-ish crimps and pinches, so I thought I'd get away with it. It was another traverse and my first attempt ended with me getting a little too pumped, trying to figure out the moves as I went, and I came off one move from the end. My second attempt went better and I topped out, satisfied with a 2nd go send. Following this, I played around on another 7B (again, unsure of the name off hand), which I think will be a goer next time, and then completed a few easier problems before calling it a day. All in all, a great deal of fun.

Worth a mention: a group of kids came up together with what looked like brand new bouldering pads and a heap of enthusiasm. They first had a picnic under The Green Traverse tree before jumping on a few problems. The thing that impressed me was firstly their keen energy to get on stuff and secondly their camaraderie. They varied in age, from maybe 11 to 16, but were equally supportive of each other. It reminded me why I love going out rock climbing with friends - and for them to be out climbing together as they were at such a young age was inspiring to see. They jumped on The Green Traverse shortly after I finished and were helping each other out, finding new beta that I hadn't even conceived of, and having a great time. Hopefully they'll keep it up and one day I might see them competing in the Bouldering World Cup.