Race To the Top: A Preview of My First Climbing Competition

This weekend I have the honor of competing with a group of fantastic climbers in what will be my first true climbing competition. Limited to bouldering rather than full on roped climbing, I can’t contain my excitement and my anxiousness as I take my sport to a whole new height and win or lose, i’ve already reached a pinnacle in my climbing career in entering the competition.

The idea of a climbing competition is foreign to many. Although it’s generally associated with feats and achievements in the outdoor world, indoor gym climbing has become a competitive sport in its own right. Bouldering itself has become so wildly popular that last year it was shortlisted for a spot in the 2020 Olympic Games. Having gained the competitive edge, professional climbing competitions have drawn crowds of thousands and spawned national teams of all star climbers to compete in World Cups of various levels. Although there are separate competitions for everything from sport to ice climbing, i’m going to focus on the event i’m going into this weekend, the ABS Bouldering Competition.

A week before the competition, the bouldering wall, a short wall not requiring the use of ropes, is left blank of its many colored routes and reset without competitors present so that they can’t memorize any of the routes that might give them an advantage. The new setup will only be seen on competition day. The competitors will be divided into categories based on their ability and the difficulties of the routes. As this is my first competition I will be competing in a group that will face boulder problems graded V0 (easy) to V3 (moderate).

The competition is one of skill and ability rather than one of speed. Climbers will be judged on their ability to send a route (to complete a route without falling or placing hands or feet on a different colored route) Each of the routes are assigned a point value based on its difficulty. Climbers who complete the route on their first try are awarded maximum points. They may retry the route if they fall as many times as they want, but the value of the points will be deducted with every climb up the same wall. Climbers are not bound to their categories. If a climber who is competing in the lowest category successfully sends a route above their grade and exceeds the expectations of their group, they may be moved into a higher category that matches their abilities.

One of the keys to going into a bouldering competition is going in with the proper strategy and mindset. Climbers are given a list of routes to complete and may do as many as they’d like within the four hour time limit. Every time a climber completes a route, under the eyes of a judge who serves as a witness, the judge will sign off on the climbers sheet and assign them the points. Successful strategy would dictate that a climber first complete the medium to physically intensive climbs first so that they don’t risk burning themselves out for successive climbs and can collect higher points while their bodies are still fresh. Having completed the tough routes, a climber can then concentrate on climbs that are less about physical strength and more about stretching and positioning.

At the end of the competition, the climbers have their top three scores averaged and a winner from each category will be announced. Post competition, the competition becomes a celebratory atmosphere usually featuring parties, raffles, and barbecues for the competitors.

I’m going into this competition with no expectations. Bouldering has never been my forte but i’m thrilled to be competing for experience and to watch some truly exceptional climbers on which I can learn from, improve, and come back with a bigger competitive edge. For me the joy of the competition is to be under the watchful eyes of my peers, my friends, and my family just to say that after months of practice, skill building, and sore fingers, i’ve finally reached a new level.

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