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2015 Psicobloc Masters Series

A three-day annual event, the Psicobloc Masters Series climbing competition took place in Park City August 5–7 to the roars of diehard climbing fans from around the country. The only people swimming at the Utah Olympic Park were wearing climbing shoes and falling from the sky. Their primary goal once they hit the water was to get out and get dry with eyes on the wall to see who is next.

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Psicobloc (pronounced: see-ko-block) refers to a style of climbing also known as deep-water soloing, or climbing above a body of water with no ropes. The event was a who’s who of the climbing world with some of the biggest names attending. Some of those names even belong to a few teenagers. The favorite in the men’s division being Sean McColl, who took first last year, or Chris Sharma, one of the most recognized and respected names in the sport. Favored to win the women’s division, Meagan Martin looked ready to pull down the wall in a hurry. They all made it look like a cakewalk. By cakewalk, I mean a fast scramble up an S-curve wall with tiny holds that make my fingers cramp just thinking about it, what seemed like 10-foot dyno moves, a core-ripping overhang and a 50-foot plunge from the top into the safety of the blue drink below. Two people at a time raced up the wall with the fastest (or the one who didn’t fall) advancing to the next round.

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Day One was the qualifier, followed up with seeding on Day Two, and the finals on the last day of competition. The final day began with the women’s round, but in the middle of the women’s semi-finals, the clouds finally made good on their threat and discharged every drop of rain they possessed. The crowds on the lawn, poolside, and three-tier deck of the building adjacent to the pool went funneling indoors for shelter, and the rain delay turned into a social hour. Really, it was about an hour of everyone anticipating a break in the storm. While standing near the one of the doors, I noticed Chris Sharma, the 34-year-old California native that is arguably one of the best climbers in the world right now, about to step inside the building. Not wanting to be “that guy,” I just gave him a nod as he walked past. The crowd being sheltered indoors offered a great opportunity to grab some photos of the wall from different angles that I couldn’t get before. Staying in place on the other side of the pool, I watched the work crew use a scissor lift, leaf blower and towels to clean and dry each hold as the rain stopped and the climbing resumed. Between the women’s semi-finals and finals, there were two guys that got out on the wall, one of them with a right-side prosthetic leg. The one with the prosthetic leg got higher than his opponent and it was great to see an athlete overcoming challenges that might hold others back and to see these big-timers giving him the chance to prove it.

Another round of female climbers to finish out the finals and it was on to the men, but not before the equivalent of an awesome “half-time show.” The reason this pool exists is for ski-jump training. Flanking the south shore of the pool are six ramps/jumps all designated for a different style of jumping. The event organizers knew that launching a few ski jumpers, twisting and flipping into a big pool was a great way to liven up the rain-weary crowd.

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Next up, the men traversed out onto the wall and more crazy climbing ensued. Some of the holds had been adjusted to make it a little more difficult for the men. Halfway up the wall, there were now a couple of holds spaced out far enough that a dyno move was the only way through. Watching these guys launch from a near-squatting position on an overhang wall, through space and to the next hold, was incredible. Each of the men got to climb just one time before lightning cracked the sky like an electric eggshell and sent everybody back inside for the second mandatory delay. This time, only 15 minutes or so went by before the organizers decided to call the event. The judges scored the women as planned, and the men on the one round they finished before the rain, the fastest time overall being the winner for each gender. The awards ceremony commenced just after 11p.m. at poolside with a thinning crowd due to weather and time. For the women, First Place went to 25-year-old French climber Charlotte Durif, and Second Place was claimed by Meagan Martin. Tennessee native Jimmy Webb climbed to First Place for the men with last year’s winner, Sean McColl, taking Second.

As I walked back to my car in a muddy, gentle drizzle with bright floodlights above me, I could hear the announcer still talking over the loud speakers. My ears could have deceived me in that late, dark hour, but I’m sure I heard him say, “Some of the climbers want to keep climbing, so feel free to hang around and watch.”

FYI, the Psicobloc wall is open to the general public for most of July and part of August—if you dare to try it for yourself.

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