My First Bouldering Competition: A Whole New Level of Fun!

At the end of the day, I was pretty stoked!
Rather than venturing straight to bars or house parties to celebrate Halloween, my climbing partner in crime, Nina, and I "dressed up" as dirty climbers and competed in the Philadelphia Rock Gym's 15th Annual Midnight Burn comp, part of the Friction Bouldering Series. I had no idea what to expect, and no idea as to how the comp was going to work when we arrived. I learned a lot, although I'm sure each will be a bit different. Notice that last bit means I'm eagerly awaiting my next chance to compete!

The Midnight Burn went something like this:
  • The gym was divided into sections of 4-5 bouldering problems, and judge was assigned to each section.
  • Each problem was assigned a point value from 70 to 1200. Each 100-point increase essentially equated to a grade increase... I think. i.e. 235 point problem = V2, 490 point problem = V4+, 1200 point problem = V12. Grading is subjective, of course.
  • We were all given a scorecard to carry with us and had to hand the card to the judge for the section the problem we wanted to try was in. We had to wait until our card came up to try. If the line was long, it could mean a 10 minute wait between attempts - good incentive to get it on the first try!
  • The comp was an Open Redpoint Format, which means each competitor could try a problem as many times as they wanted without penalties for failure. A 10% scoring bonus was added if the problem was flashed (completed without failure) on the first try.
  • We had to enter one of four categories - Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, or Open (reserved for national-caliber climbers). The categories were based on the anticipated level of difficulty. I entered the Intermediate category, which was for V2-V3 climbers (V3-V5 for men).
  • Competitors had three hours to complete the five hardest problems they could. Those five were then added up to determine ranking. The top climbers in the Open category came back for a modified World Cup Format finals session.
  • In finals, the climbers were placed in isolation as the problems were set up. Each climber had three problems to try and had to get as far as they could, or finish each one. Each climber would work the first problem for five minutes, then move to a chair facing away from the second for a five minute rest, and so on.
Watching Nina crush it!
I was nervous for a good bit of the day, mostly because I have trouble dealing with failure, but tried to be reasonable in my expectations. It was intimidating being in line behind a girl cranking on a V8 when I'd only done V4s at best, but it was great motivation. I had to provide myself with little attitude checks several times, and remember thinking, "What am I doing here? I can't get up there and try the 459-point problem when everyone else is working the 690-point problem, I'm not good enough."

But I had the chance to try problems I thought were out of my realm of skill and expertise with

dozens of people I didn't know cheering for me, and I got to see some absolutely incredible climbers. And it was about fun anyway, right? My best moment of the day was completing a 480-point problem on an overhanging arete. I started it thinking there was absolutely no way I was going to finish it, but hung on for dear life and got it on the first try. The judge and a handful of others cheering me on certainly made a difference! It was a great confidence boost, although not enough of a boost to get me through the 560-pointer I tried next!

I firmly believe that climbing is an incredibly unique sport practiced by supportive and encouraging individuals. Even though climbing is an individual sport and can seem like a selfish pursuit, none of us could've gotten where we are in the sport without a little help. Unless you're free soloing, you need a belayer or a spotter, someone with whom you entrust with your well-being. And that's no small thing. The sport of climbing also encourages passing on knowledge. Whether it's in the form of route beta, technique tips for beginners, or exposure to an entirely new climbing discipline, the support from members of the climbing community is inspiring.

Action shot on one of my favorite problems.
I ended up third in the women's intermediate category with a total of 2301.9 points, which was a pleasant surprise. I was happy to discover my prize was something I'd make use of: the Black Diamond Gorilla chalk bag. It later became a perfect dirty climber Halloween costume accessory!

Nina and I stayed to watch the finals, and had front row seats to some of the most ridiculous climbing I've ever seen, short of The Sharp End and King Lines. But movies don't count. Watching girls attempting long V8-V9s and completing them was inspiring, especially considering the start of the first problem was a huge dyno to an overhanging jug... backwards! The sheer determination both the men's and women's finalists exhibited was nothing short of inspiring, and I'd love to be there with them someday.

I've already marked my calendar with the next comp I'll be able to attend, which is December 12th at Earth Treks Climbing Gym in Timonium, Maryland. There's a comp in Pennsylvania on November 14th, but I'll be happily scraping the skin off my fingers in Joshua Tree at the first-ever JTree Tweetup! It's going to be an incredible long weekend, and I know I'm going to want to stay. Also looking forward to reading everyone's trip reports when we get back!

Have you ever done a bouldering or rock climbing competition? We'd love to hear from you!


Anonymous said…
great post as always:). cant wait to try my first comp, sounded like a lot of fun!