COMP: Not a Four Letter Word

Ok, technically comp is a four letter word.  Four is also a four letter word.  It’s the only number to have the same amount of letters in its name as the number it represents.  Wrap your head around that for a second.

April was a good month for the comp side of climbing in the Twin Cities.  The annual Best of the Midwest bouldering comp (BOTM) was hosted in Northeast Minneapolis at the one year old Minnesota Climbing Co-op (MNCC), relocating after nine consecutive years in Rochester.  A little further south, the new Vertical Endeavors in Minneapolis (VEM) hosted its first climbing comp, Jug-or-Not, an SCS sanctioned rope climbing event.

The MNCC has been a blessing to the bouldering community and proved its worth again when the board of directors (it really is a co-op) voted to take on the responsibility of hosting what would be the 11th annual BOTM.  The BOTM is an annual fundraiser for the Minnesota Climbers Association (MCA) and for the past nine years has been a collaboration between the MCA and Prairie Walls, a privately owned climbing gym in Rochester.

In January, it became known (outside of the MCA) that Prairie Walls was opting out as the host location.  The BOTM traditionally took place at the end of February, giving everyone interested precious little time to put a backup plan in place.  The MCA finally approached the MNCC about hosting the event and after a long, slow, and sometimes painful conversation unfolded, the event was rescheduled for April.  While the MCA went about announcing the new comp date and location, the MNCC rallied its volunteer base and setting talent.  By the time the April 14th comp date rolled around, the entire co-op had been stripped and re-set with 60+ delicious new boulder problems ranging from V0 to Vnot-even-Noah-could-send.  That is some kind of accomplishment.

Attendance at this year’s BOTM was low at roughly half the entrants that the 2011 comp produced.  I believe this to be a result of the change in long time venue, a delay in the traditional date of the comp, and a lack of urgency reaching out to the climbing community to inform them of the changes and the importance of the event.  The BOTM is typically the MCA’s largest single fundraiser of the year.  This year, I believe they are lucky if they broke even on the event.  While that thought is saddening, the fact that the BOTM was saved in 2012 is cause for celebration.  While it is important to look at shortcomings and learn from them, it is equally if not more important to celebrate our victories.

One of the highlights of this years BOTM was actually due to low sponsorship.  Kiri Namtvedt, a local climber and artist, handcrafted silver and gold medals to be given out to first and second place winners of each division.  The medals were a circle with the shape of the state of Minnesota inside it and a climber making an upward motion inside of the state; a lasting memory for everyone that earned one and a benchmark for future BOTM comps.

The inaugural Jug-or-Not comp was a success on par with past Passion for Flashin’ comps (VE St Paul’s annual comp on the weekend closest to Valentine’s Day).  Being an SCS comp, VEM split the day into two sessions.  In the morning, 18 and under competitors climbed and earned points towards their Sport Climbing Series standings.  In the afternoon, adults climbed in men’s and women’s novice, intermediate, advanced, open, and masters divisions.

VEM added a few notable features to their comp including a highline slackline setup, on which climbers could slackline about 18-20 feet above the main floor while being belayed from the ground, and they offered finals routes for intermediate competitors in addition to the traditional advanced and open finals.  A big highlight of the day came during the men’s open finals on a lead route set by VEM’s head routesetter that included a bathang (when a climber turns himself upside down and hangs by his toes) that led to a hold suspended by a chain.  Only two of the three finalists made it to that section of the climb and watching them navigate it was exhilarating for everyone in attendance.

Overall, Jug-or-Not was a well run event and for JustClimbMN, an opportunity to live blog a local competition; a learning experience that hopefully continues with improved results.

In past years, I have primarily volunteered for our local comps as a setter, spotter, and belayer.  While I did set a couple of routes at Jug-or-Not and a couple of beginner problems at BOTM, I also decided to “put my money where my mouth is” and compete at the MNCC hosted BOTM.  Modesty aside, I was very proud to walk away with a first place finish in the men’s intermediate division and prouder yet to have earned a custom, handmade gold medal for my efforts.

I personally get very excited as January slips away and the Twin Cities comp season approaches.  There is a cast of regulars that come out of the woodworks for Passion for Flashin’ and BOTM, many of whom helped with the new Jug-or-Not as well.  Some are perennial competitors, some are setters, and some lend a hand belaying, spotting, or helping with the logistics of running a comp.

As a setter, there is great fun in stripping an entire gym and being given a blank canvas to work with.  The setting community pulls together for late nights of route crafting and forerunning in preparation for the coming comp.  As a volunteer, you spend an entire day supporting competitors while they pour their energy and fingertips into working every problem or route their bodies and time limits will allow.  From your long time friends, to familiar gym faces, to total strangers, you spend hours (or days, depending on your level of involvement) working together towards this giant party of climbing goodness.

Every year, I ask around who is participating in the upcoming comps.  Inevitably, I hear, “I don’t climb to compete”, “climbing is not about competition”, “why would I pay to compete”, or variations of these themes.

Where I get amped up for this season, others shun it, frown upon it, or generally dismiss it as some negative aspect of climbing.  Forgive these people, for they know not what they are missing out on.  At every comp I’ve been to, I only see people competing with their own self, not with each other.  On the contrary, you find yourself bonding with the people that are in your division as you all climb the same ropes or problems, spending time commiserating over the tough ones, cheering on the climber that was in line in front of you, celebrating valiant efforts and sends by anyone and everyone you catch sight of.  It is one of the most supportive and encouraging aspects of gym climbing to be had.  High fives and smiles abound!

Now, this is not to say there isn’t a desire to do well and a pride in winning.  Nor is it to say that there isn’t a pain felt in falling short of your own expectations or hopes.  It is simply to say that it is a celebration of enthusiastic community members.  There is a wonderful phenomenon that occurs with strangers that compete together where the next time they see each other in the gym, they are a little more than coincidental regulars on the same weeknight that look a little familiar, they have become friends.  Instead of a passing glance or nod of the head, there is reminiscing over and reworking of that problem that stumped them both or a shared belay on a climb that was especially fun and satisfying to mark off on their respective scorecards.

Some naysayers can only look down upon folks they hold themselves above while scoffing at the idea of a comp. To them I say stay up there while we “compete” amongst ourselves.  We’ll tell you all about it with our videos and pictures and t-shirts when you show up to climb the cool new routes that we’ve created for you.  We’ve got the beta for you now and we are happy to share it.  Comp is not a four letter word.  I hope someday you might agree.

Competition, now that is an eleven letter word; which is a six letter word, which is three, which is five, which, well, is a four letter word.  Damn.  Everything is four.


To see pictures from Passion for Flashin’ 2012, go here and here.
To see pictures from BOTM 2012, go here.
To see pictures from the morning session of Jug-or-Not 2012, go here.
To see pictures from the afternoon session of Jug-or-Not 2012, go here.

To see and hear the excitement and support of a local climbing comp, check out video of the men’s and women’s open finals from Jug-or-Not 2012 here.

Passion for Flashin’ 2012 results.
BOTM 2012 results. (tabs at bottom of page for divisions)
Jug-or-Not 2012 results.


Post originally written 5/2/12


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