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    Notes and advice from Sean McColl.

Gaia (E8 6c)

Preamble

I have somewhat stopped actively blogging mostly because the number of people that read the posts were not as high as say an Instagram or Facebook post. Those updates are short and to the point, but lack an intimate story; in the end, I think most people just didn’t have the time to read a long story. This story is different. This story is about a climb that I saw in the first couple of years that I started climbing; this climb is called “Gaia”. To give what limited background knowledge I have on this climb, here goes:
  • gritstone route at Blackrocks, near Matlock, UK
  • FA by Johnny Dawes in 1986
  • E8, 6c
  • height is about 8 meters
I first saw a video of Gaia in the movie “Hard Grit”. For those who haven’t seen the video, the climber falls in the crux of the route, comes within a few feet of the ground and absolutely hammers the corner, spinning a few times. It looks as though he breaks his ankle but I’m told that he was actually ok. Never-the-less, the falls looks absolutely terrifying, hence the E-grade.

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Arco Rockmaster

This past weekend I attended the Arco Rockmaster Festival which is a Masters competition with a qualifying Open round. I decided to only do lead this year as well as the Speed Climbing World Cup. In the Speed World Cup, I almost beat my Personal Best (8.83) with a final time of 8.91. Full results HERE. This was very good preparation for the upcoming Lead and Speed World Championships in Spain. In Lead, I cruised through the semi finals route by placing second. In the Final round, which is after work, I placed 3rd after narrowly beating Jakob Schubert from Austria. The winner for the first time was Sachi Amma from Japan and second place went to Francesco Vettorata from Italy. On the final day of the event was the highly anticipated “Duel”. For those of you who don’t know what it is, it is Speed Lead climbing. This was the final Duel from 2013. The route is easier than in qualifications but the goal is to go fast. I qualified in third place and slowly made my way up the ranks. Here is the final race for 1st and 2nd with good friend Jakob Schubert.

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Vail Finals

If you haven’t read up on Qualifiers and Semi finals, be sure to check out my first post HERE.

Between Semi-Finals (SF) and Finals (F), I had a lot on my mind. I was obviously worried about my knee, I needed to eat some food, I needed to rest a bit and I needed to be back in iso in 2 hours. It’s always like this between SF and Finals but it’s still a bit awkward. I iced my knee, ate food, rested and was feeling good. The time went fast and I was soon enough headed back to isolation.

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I was still super warm from the previous round so I knew warming up was going to be a breeze. I had originally thought I’d tape my knee in dummy fashion (strips around the knee). Klaus said it might not be the best idea and offered to add some physio tape. In my head I was like “heck yes that pink tape stuff to look professional”! He also said it would help something in my leg attach something else. All I could think of was how cool I now looked with my pink band. I also knew that if my knee hurt, I would feel the pain which would hopefully stop me from doing anything crazy. I told myself if I saw any aggressive left heel hooks that I wouldn’t do it.

Presentation and observation was first once we got to the wall. Everything was very standard and I can tell you that once I previewed all 4 boulders, I wasn’t very excited to try them. The big reason was that they all kind of had left foot things, and a couple on heels. Already I was much less nervous than Hamilton and I felt like I was in a good head space. I had already proved to myself that I could get to finals, then of course the podium so I knew to just have fun and try the boulders.

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F1 was a running dyno to what looked like a hard heel hook. F2 was a slab with a weird finish. It looked easy enough so we were pretty confused. The last move was also left foot so I wasn’t stoked. F3 was full slab with the last move all on the left foot again. I saw that and hoped it wasn’t too hard. Finally, F4 was a high start into some power moves and another heel hook (left of course) finish. I went back to isolation and didn’t know what to think. I told myself I’d try them all and if my knee hurt, I’d just try the boulder a different way.

The first one went pretty well. I knew most of the competitors had eventually done the dyno so I was excited. I dry-fired on the starting holds on my first attempt then had a few good goes on the dyno. I stuck the dyno on my 5th try and flashed the rest of the boulder. The heel hook at the top was very casual. I crimped like mad on the edge of the feature to take as much weight off my heel and switched to a toe as fast as I could.

Problem 1

F2 also gave some people some trouble. I went out last so I had a pretty good idea of who had done it. I guessed everyone had done it but took a varying amount of tries. After another terrible first go, I touched the dyno on my second go and stuck it on my third. Now came the top part. I went to the second to last hold and it wasn’t great.

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I knew from here I needed to put my left heel matched on my hand. Because of my knee I just refused to do it, there had to be another way. I put my right leg on the zone hold and it felt pretty good. I launched up towards the last hold but didn’t think I’d stick it. I tried anyways but I was falling and I wasn’t too happy. It had cost me at least one attempt and I just hoped I could get up there again. If I got there again, I’d try the heel to see how it felt. Because my body knew the moves, I got up there on my next attempt. On the same hold as before, I put my left heel into place. I pulled close to the wall and I could feel my knee. I didn’t want to pull hard on it, but the competitor inside me was telling me to do it. In that position, I came up with another solution. I matched the hold as an undercling wrap and my left hand was free. I didn’t have to force on my knee and I could reach the last hold. To match, I swapped my feet so my right foot was on the hold again. Top secured!

Problem 2

To give some perspective on the other competitors, Guillaume from France had flashed both boulders and I was sitting at 2 tops in 9 tries. Jeremy Bonder had a similar score to mine with a couple more attempts. Dimitrii had 2 in 4 and Kilian and Kokoro had only 1 top after missing one of the boulders.

By the time my turn came on F3, lots had happened. Only Jeremy and Dimitrii had done the boulder which meant it was pretty hard. I also knew if I did it, I’d be 100% in the top-4.

I was a bit nervous for the initial moves but after doing a few other slabs this competition; I told myself it was all in my head. I imagined that my feet would never slip and it just seemed to work. I was soon on the last move which was a bit move into a good undercling.

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It was off my left foot so I wasn’t too amuse but it had nothing to do with heel hooking so I was happy for that. I decided to do a dynamic move for the last hold because the hold looked so good for your thumb. My first try wasn’t great and I kind of just spun and fell. My second try was very similar to my first but I was a tiny bit closer. As I was falling I thought of putting my heel on and I knew I’d be trying that on my third try. I took a bit of time to analyze the heel hook. It was going to be blind, but the hold was pretty big and these moves aren’t too uncommon. The start of the boulder felt like walking by now and I just hoped the rubber on my shoes wasn’t too warm yet. I set up for the last move and felt confident. The move went fast, but everything worked out. I was still millimetres away from falling, but the heel hook kept my hips in and I didn’t rotate. The other hand came sailing in for the match and I knew I had pulled off being in the top four.

Problem 3

It wasn’t until now that I realized I could win the competition. It would take some luck, but it was possible. Basically if Dimitrii didn’t do F4 and I did, I’d win. For some reason it was impossible to tell if the men were sending the boulder or not. I knew for sure that Kilian did it, Kokoro and Jeremy hadn’t but I didn’t know for the other two. I thought it was only Kilian who had done it. In my mind, I came out thinking that if I did the problem, I’d win.

My first try was interesting. I tried reverse start first which I think was the way to do it. I got through the initial mantle and out a few holds. I got to the big move in the middle and completely missed the next hold. I was a good 2 inches to the left and not far enough. The move was big and hard but definitely possible.

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My 2nd and 3rd tries weren’t very good. On the second go, I hadn’t jumped my right hand high enough and couldn’t get my foot on. I tried it pretty quickly right after but fell trying to brace myself into the roof. I needed to rest… I could feel the fatigue of the weekend starting to take its toll. I told myself it was one last try and to wait for the clock. It’s important to remember that I thought I was trying it for the win. To be one boulder away from a gold medal is crazy. I walked towards the boulder at 50 seconds and decided to wait until really the end. I paced back and forth to let out some energy and got ready for the last attempt. I left with some time to spare in case I jumped awkwardly into the start position. Everything went well and I was soon into the roof again. I matched the zone and knew where the next hold was. I committed to the move and hit it pretty well. As my feet swung, I felt like I was holding it until my left hand came off. I tried to hold the right arm lock off, but there was nothing for my left hand to come back into. I scraped the volume for some sort of opposition but then I was falling. I was sad, but not angry. To have that opportunity within reach is something that I live and compete for!

Problem 4

I went over to Kilian and he said I finished 3rd. At first I was a bit confused but then realized that Dimitrii AND Guillaume had both done it; hats off to them. If I would’ve done the 4th boulder, I’d have been 2nd, but the gold was always out of reach this boulder. I was happy, 3rd was amazing and I thought I climbed pretty well. Looking back over the finals I was a bit lucky as well. Jeremy from France was only 2 tries behind me and when there is a dyno and two slabs, 2 tries is mostly luck. Kilian had also fallen on the last move of F1, had he not fallen he also would’ve beat me.

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To finish it off, I was also VERY nervous for the last move on F4. If I would’ve stuck that hold I touched, I’d have had to cross to a crimp and somehow move to the finish. From my preview, it was almost certainly an aggressive left hell hook. I really don’t know what would’ve happened if I’d have gotten there, but I’m kind of relieved that it panned out the way it did so I didn’t have to make that choice.

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I finished the competition in 3rd place but I was over the moon. I felt like I was the most relaxed out of all the finals I’ve ever done. It’s nice to have found that inner peace so to say. On the women’s side, Akiyo was the only girl to have done 4 boulders with Fanny Gilbert of France coming 2nd with only two tops. Just behind her was Anna Stohr.

Full results for MEN are HERE. Full results for WOMEN are HERE.

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