In mid January, I travelled out to Romania to compete in a round of the UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup. I was in great company, with three other members from the GB climbing team: Andy Turner, Steve Johnstone and Harry Holmes, as well as my boyfriend Tim who had come along for support. (We had hoped to do some skiing, but there was very little snow to be seen!). For Andy and Harry, this was their second round of the 2014 World Cup Series, having spent little over 24 hours back in the UK between touching down from Korea and jetting off to Romania. For Steve this was the first of four events he planned on entering, and for me it was the one and only.
The atmosphere was brilliant. A big lunch before the opening ceremony was a great chance to meet all the other athletes who had travelled from all over the world. This was followed by a fantastically bizarre opening ceremony which involved one of the organisers playing his guitar and singing to us in Romanian! Everyone was so friendly and supportive of one another; my nerves soon disappeared and I found myself looking forward to the competition with great excitement.
The women weren’t climbing until the following day, so I had the opportunity to spectate and get a feel for how everything worked. And importantly, it meant I could do lots of cheering and photo-taking of Andy, Steve and Harry! The climbing structure was about twenty metres tall with wooden panels that became progressively overhanging, accumulating in a punishing roof section and final headwall. All of the GB guys put in strong performances; Harry was the very first climber on the right qualification route and had to deal with a spinning hold! He got to wait a few minutes in the cosy office while they fixed it, and then climbed very smoothly before timing out on the top ice section. Steve and Andy were both on the alternative left qualification route, and climbed much later in the dark, lit up by floodlights. Steve made it through a lot of technical climbing and then popped off unexpectedly, still feeling fresh only five moves from the top. Andy cruised up the route and made it within one hold of the finish -agonisingly close to qualifying for the semi-final.
The following day was an early start, and I had to miss my hotel breakfast to be in isolation for 8am! I was to be climbing 9th (out of 24) which seemed ideal – long enough in isolation to relax and see how the system worked, but not too long to start getting fidgety and nervous. I warmed up, ate a banana, and put on my fruit boots; before I knew it my name was called and I was lead out into the arena. I wasn’t
too nervous, because I had no prior expectation and was just determined to do my best.
I found it surprisingly hard to kick my feet into the wood properly – the guys yesterday had made it look very casual – clearly there was a skill to this that I needed to learn!. My pinging feet accelerated the rate at which my arms became useless leaden weights! After my very best efforts, I fell off and was lowered to the ground, feeling happy that I had made a reasonable attempt at the route.
Not expecting to have qualified, I set off on a hillwalk with my boyfriend, to make the most of the stunning mountain scenery that surrounds Busteni. But after an hour or so, I received a text message from Harry saying I needed to come back because I was in the semi-final that evening! After a couple of hours sleep in the hotel, it felt quite surreal to be walking back to the isolation area, now in darkness, having been there 10 hours previously! Since I had qualified in last place, it meant I would be climbing first in the semi-final, which I was quite happy about.
There was a bigger crowd than there had been in the qualifier, with lots of people shouting encouragement. It was all very exciting, and quite surreal! The climb was harder, but this time I felt a little more comfortable kicking into the panels and standing on holds with my front-points. I got to about the same height as I had in my qualifier, and was again satisfied that I had done my best. The next couple of climbers fell-off a little lower than me, and I was really happy to place 16th overall.
It was incredibly inspiring watching all of the super-strong athletes in the finals, there is so much to aim for! It was a fantastic experience – so much more fun than I could ever have imagined. I am super-psyched to train hard this year as I would love the opportunity to take part again next year, and participate in multiple rounds!