This may seem a bit jaded, I swear it’s not.
Winter, you know that season where all this white stuff falls out of the air, it’s really cold, and generally always wet outside. Who would’ve thought it makes for bad climbing conditions? Most people go skiing and other silly activities out in the cold. That would be the easy thing to do, sucomb to natures not so gentle whispers and move on to a sport that embraces the cold. Unlike the rest of you reasonable folk, there are a few of us who are too stuborn to give up on climbing despite the misserable conditions outside. We move inside to where the cold can’t reach us. Being inside for so long wares on us though, so we do this thing called ‘training’ so we don’t go stircrazy. Training means doing things like lifting your body off the ground a bunch of times and possibly doing the thing that most climbers seem to hate the most lift things other than our own body off the ground in order to make yourself ‘stronger’. For some of us this means changing the very enjoyable act of climbing into something else that my friend Leigh describes best as the time of year when ‘climbing’s not fun, it’s serious‘.
I got pretty burned out on sport climbing last summer and changed over to bouldering for the fall. In my head that makes sense because I start training power in the fall anyways for the annual Full Gravity day compeition. I continue to train by bouldering through February for ABS Nationals (the biggest bouldering comp of the year). This year though I only made it until January before I decided that no matter what, I’m just not that much of a boulderer. So I switched it up again, and started training for rope season a month early. Rope season for me means SCS Nationals (lead climbing) in April, which conviniently comes right before Spring Fling (also lead climbing) at Spire.
I have always liked having specific events be the deadlines for my training. That way I can plan around it and know what I have to do when. That assumes that I’m psyched on the comp. For whatever reason I just didn’t have the psyche for ABS Nationals, I litterally couldn’t make myself sign up even after several attempts at visiting the registration page.
That’s how I found myself rope climbing at the start of February and after the fist week or so, I wasn’t doing terrably all that bad. Soon after I started doing bouldering workouts again; linking up multiple boulder problems or climbing for a fixed interval of time to get ready to the taller walls at Movement Climbing and Fitness (where the SCS Nationals have been held the last 3 years). Its really hard to judge where your at fitness wise when you do only bouldering workouts for sport there’s no route you have to follow and you make it as hard as you want it to be, not what someone else thinks it should be. Not to mention you never clip…
With this in mind it felt really good to go down to Saint George for spring break to see where I was at. I knew I could try and climb a bunch of stuff I’ve never done before that was all at least as tall as the Movement walls. The trip went so so at first. I didn’t fall on any 5.12s at all, which was new (I didn’t figure that out till after the trip), but despite trying a bunch of 5.13s something just wasn’t clicking… Every day I was doing a good warm up working my way through two or three 5.12s and then giving two or three burns on a new (new because we went to a lot of different cliffs) 5.13b or c. I couldn’t seem to manage any of them in a day, at best I was able to get one down to a one-hang.
On our 7th day of the trip, the day after our first rest day, we went back to the Black and Tan wall to try and finish up one or two of the 5.13s I was closest on. It was one of those days you just can’t plan, that comes straight out of the blue and knocks you over the head because you’d never expect it could happen. I didn’t fall. For the entire day. 5.10a flash, 5.11b flash, 5.12a flash, 5.13b 1st go of the day, 5.13c 1st go of the day, and 5.13a I’ll call it a flash but it was the closest thing to an onsight I’ve done of a 5.13. In other words the best day of climbing I’ve ever had. Period.
Coming back from spring break I felt a lot more confident and I thought I had much more stamina, but I still didn’t feel as solid as I wanted to be when doing my route climbing curcuit in the gym. It seemed like my workout wasn’t pushing myself hard enough and I didn’t know what how to make it harder with only two weeks left before the comp.
Finally mother nature blessed us with some unseasonably warm days that allowed us to go out at Natural Bridge and climb on some long routes. I returned to working on Isla De Los Locos 5.13c after a year or more hiatis. Despite not having been on it in so long I still made it into the crux my first try and then 3 hung it to the top from there, having Brandon, Alex, Nick and John there the first day was instramental in figureing out how to make the clip that had stiemied me so many times in the past. Alex also convinced me to get back on Monsters of the Deep 5.13c+. We figured out much better beta for the crux and redpoint crux deadpoint. It still felt hidiously hard but much more doable than last year. I came back the day after and put it down finally after sticking the sloper rail for the first time from the ground!
Wendesday the registration list for SCS Nationals came out. Last year there was a big change in the age of kids coming to the event. If I had to bet I think that was a herald for whats going to happen from here on. SCS Youth Nationals are alwaysheld out in July (unlike ABS nationals where adult and youth are seperated by two weeks at most) but it’s a great way to those kids who are 16 and older are trying to make the US Team to go to Youth Worlds to see where their at and get the exprience climbing with the big names like Daniel Woods, Carlo Traversi, Jon Cardwell etc. I’ve now realized that besides the pros that are my age not too many of the people who I competed with 3 years ago are still showing up and if they do they aren’t placing as highly anymore (for the most part).
At Adult SCS nationals I’ve placed 15th, 12th, 21st, and 18th respectively over the last 4 years. Last year when I came in 21st it was because I got blown out of the water by the young kids: Dylan Barks, Ben Tresco, etc. who showed up for their first time and kicked everyones ass. This year wasn’t much different, the kids came in increasing numbers. This year though, I wouldn’t give up as easily as last year.
Taking pointers from my comparitive failure last year, I paid a lot more attention to body position and foot work of everyone and how that played into their sucess or failure. I warmed up well for my first route and timed it so that I was rested when it was my turn to climb.
My first climb was very much a endurance oriented route with moderate but pumpy climbing up to two stacked boulder problems. I didn’t feel overly pumped getting to the sloper that was the start of the first boulder problem but pulling up into the underclings made it obvious I wasn’t as fresh as I wanted to be. I made the last clip that seperated the two boulders, but I had spent too much time making the clip. Once I made the clip I barely grabbed the undercling next to it and as I started to pull for the next hold my top hand exploded.
Here’s a Video of me on Men’s Route B at SCS Nationals by Aaron Hjelt
I took a lot of time off, made sure to eat, drink plenty of water, and watch as many people as possible before my next route, but I forgot to warm back up again, doh! By the time I finally realized it I only had time for a quick traverse before it was my time to climb again. The route was much more technical with bouldery moves mixed in. Getting to the roof wasn’t that hard, just plenty of moves to get you tired. Once in the roof though it was on like donkey kong; the setters had made a long pumpy section of crimps with very poor feet. Again the setters added a clip in the middle of the difficult section to add to the building pump. I made it to the lip of the roof but didn’t make the clip and fell falling into a minijug that would have lead to a bad rest before above the lip before the final boulder problem.
Aaron’s Video of me on Men’s Route A at SCS Nationals
Overall I did quite well on my first route being in the top 3rd of the field but I fell closer to the halfway point of the field on my 2nd route settling me in 18th place just over the 50th percentile the top in the 44 competitor field.
So now that SCS Nationals have come and gone, and I didn’t end up with a showy result, I’m faced with the question was it worth it? Was all last 6 months of training worth it all coming down to an 18th place finish…
I think a lot of people who don’t like competative climbing would say no it wasn’t worth it. I’ve been doing climbing comps since I was in high school placing anywhere from 1st to nearly last. Most people would be quick to point out I’ve had a lot of sucess in my career but the ones that stick out most in my mind are the ones where I was disapointed with my placement not the ones I was happy with.
What I’m trying to say is that this isn’t the end of the road. It was just a checkpoint along the way. While i’ve said that “I’m happy with how I did” so many times in the last two days it only sounds hollow to me, I really am excited. Not by my numerical placement but by who I beat and what that means to me for progression. Out of the people who I went to the world cup with two years ago only three beat me, where as I placed 13 of 14 americans in the world cup. The fact that I’ve been able to keep up with my personal growth is huge. And the fact that I’ve never climbed this many 5.13s, let alone hard ones, this early in the year is another huge indicator on where I’m at. I’m going to need all the fitness and experience I can to finish off the tick list I made for myself this year. I started it off strong by doing Monsters of theDeep but it’s only one of many. The time to start applying the winter’s worth of being ‘serious’ to what really matters to me is now, not the flashy comp result I missed this weekend.