For me, the beginning of a new academic year always feels like an extra January 1st, halfway through the year, where I can make a whole new set of resolutions and enjoy a “fresh start” with new goals. For most of my climbing years, I have always imagined that “at some point in the future” I want to commit to training hard and do well in a lead climbing competition. This summer I decided that that time should be now! Especially with starting my clinical years of studying medicine, it would be the last easy opportunity to dedicate a lot of time to climbing.
So I decided to enter the British Lead Climbing Championships (for my first ever time as a senior, and my first lead comp in 8 years!); I had 3 months to get strong! For those 3 months, I managed to go to Ratho about 2-3 times per week as well as climbing at my local wall. It was quite tiring to do the 140 mile round trip after a full day of hospital work, usually getting to bed after midnight. I focussed on long steep stamina routes. On my first trip to Ratho, I was struggling to get up 6c and it was quite demoralising! However, gains came quickly and I worked my way up through the grades, eventually managing my first 7c and becoming quite consistent at onsighting 7b’s. I was feeling really good, definitely the fittest I have ever been.
Arriving at Awesome Walls in Sheffield, where the BLCCs were taking place, I was super nervous! I quickly worked out which routes were for my category, and was a bit disappointed to see that they were not on the steep sections of wall, instead they were quite technical with lots of slopey holds. The final, however, was a steep line through the massive overhanging wall, and I was really determined to qualify because I thought it looked right up my street! I gave it 100% in the qualifiers, but unfortunately my best was not good enough, coming 7th (with the top 6 making finals). None-the-less, it was a great experience and I was inspired by the other competitors and the high standard of climbing.
Since I had travelled so far for the event, I decided I should get the most out of the day by entering the speed climbing competition. I had only once climbed a speed wall before (and at no great speed!!), but I figured I would just go as fast as I could. I completed the various practice+qualifier rounds, and suddenly found myself in the final! By this point I had started to get the hang of the movement and was hopefully getting a bit faster each time. I ended up finishing in 2nd place. I think the BMC are trying to increase the popularity of speed climbing, and so we were included in the prize giving alongside the main difficulty comp. For me, this was a novel opportunity to get to stand on a podium at a national competition and receive a medal. Although it was not what I hoped to stand on the podium for that day, it was certainly an uplifting consolation, and I am actually quite excited to improve at speed climbing now!
Heading to victory in the final. Photo:Richard J Richards
The following weekend, I was VERY excited to head to Buxton for the “Thunderdome” drytooling competition. This was a selected-entry event, taking place as part of an open day at the Buxton campus, University of Derby. It was organised by Andy Turner and James Mitchell, who went to extraordinary efforts to put together a completely epic climb, which worked its way up a series of plywood blocks hung from the ceiling of the dome. This was inspired by the ice-climbing demonstration event which Andy had taken part in at the winter Olympics in Sochi. He did an incredible job; the route was absolutely amazing and terrifying!
In the female category there was myself, Katy Forrester and Emma Powell from the GB Ice Climbing Team, and a Dutch climber Marianne van der Steen. Emma is only 13, but because she is ridiculously strong + talented, she was competing as a senior. In the afternoon, we all got a practice shot at the route where we could rest on clips, pull on beams, and work out the best technique. I had not actually held a pair of ice-axes for 9 months, but clearly all my steep-route training at Ratho had paid off, because my stamina felt really good. In the qualifiers we had a 5 minute time limit, and I climbed far too slowly!
My time ran out long before I was tired, and I came 2nd place. Starting order for the finals was drawn from a hat and the time limit was increased to 8 minutes, which I was very happy about! Marianne was the first female out to climb. She cruised along the route, passing the first 3 hanging blocks before timing out whilst matched on a hanging log. I was super impressed, and to be honest my prime objective for the final was to keep hold of my 2nd place, because I considered her to be unbeatable! However, when it was my go to climb I was feeling really good, and just kept working my way up move-by-move. It was only when I found myself hooking my first tool onto the log that I realised victory was actually possible! I matched the log, wrapped my legs around it, and just managed to reach the next block before my time ran out. I was absolutely over the moon to come first. Tim Emmet took the male title, as the only person to top the route all day (but not without a few power-screams!). He left his axe firmly planted in the foam-ice on the last hanging block, which proved entertaining to retrieve.
This competition has improved my confidence and I am so happy that all my stamina training has been put to good use. A massive thanks to the Buxton campus, University of Derby for facilitating this completely epic event! The British Tooling Series starts next weekend, and with my renewed motivation I am going to try and attend most (all?!) of the rounds.