This weekend, Central Rock Hadley hosted their third annual Ring of Fire competition. Crux Crush was there from the beginning to the end as participants in the Intermediate category and observers of the phenomenally strong climbing that was going down. You name the strong route climber, they were there, and even a few boulderers attempting to defy their endurance odds to win a part of the $10,000 in cash prizes. What started as a laid back, chill, and very unique approach to the sport climbing comp built up to a dramatic dropping of a 60 foot tall curtain revealing the women’s and men’s finals routes, criss-crossing one another up the arch of the gym. Read more on the comp below and check out more images of the comp in our photo gallery.
Different from many competitions, Ring of Fire is designed to encourage camaraderie and beta-sharing, as well as overlapping the pros with the every day climber like Mary and me. Six male and six female routes were set for the qualifying round. Beginners top roped routes 1, 2, & 3, Intermediates led routes 2, 3, & 4, Advanced led 3, 4, & 5, and the Open/Pros led 4, 5, & 6. (As I struggled up route 4, I reminded myself that Sasha DiGiulian and Megan Martin had climbed this route, which eased my pain as I fell halfway up). Each climber had three hours and one chance to send their 3 routes in order of least to most difficult. Before the comp officially began, each route was demoed. (Crux Crush took note that it was all dudes demoing the routes – let’s get some of those strong ladies showing how those routes are done next year!) Despite having seen the route climbed, it still took some time for the first climber to be brave enough to step forward and make their attempt. (For the record, Crux Crush’s Mary was the first climber on route #2). The set up encouraged everyone to share beta and cheer one another on, but it also put the pressure on knowing there was a crowd of people below observing your every move and that one poor move could cost you the route. As the three hours of prelims ended, the Open field was narrowed to 16 strong women and men, including two very young competitors, Kai and Grace, 13 and 14 years old:
Nadya Vorotnikova, Delaney Miller, Katie Lamb, Meagan Martin, Grace McKeehan,
Chelsea Rude, Kyra Condie, Sasha DiGiulian, and Claire Buhrfeind
Josh Larson, Jimmy Webb, Vasia Vorotnikov, Andrew Kim, Andrew Palmer,
Dominic LaBarge, Daniel Woods, Jon Cardwell, and Kai Lightner
As each competitor took their turn, alternating male and female, spectators’ palms sweated in suspense. The routes were set demanding intricate movement, strength, critical analysis of the sequence, and a ton of endurance. The women’s route had a low boulder problem that some of the women seemed to almost barn door off of, but all were able to work past. About midway up the route, climbers, if creative enough, found a heel hook or knee bar rest – but few climbers were able to take full advantage. The routes were relentless; not a single climber made it to the top although a few came close. The three women who took first, second, and third all demonstrated delicate and controlled movement, each dependent upon a signature and repeated technique. Chelsea Rude dominated with her brilliant heel hooks, allowing her to rest far more than any other climber. Delaney Miller, the current SCS National Champion, made it one clip further than Chelsea, climbing like a sloth (a really graceful sloth – slow and steady). She made incredibly reachy clips, dropping knees left and right. However, in the end, Sasha came through to retain her title as the Ring of Fire champion. Moving light as a feather, she sped through the route, almost stumped and pumped by the giant dish midway through, but prevailing after a double heel hook shake-out, falling just past where Delaney had fallen. For the men, Jon Cardwell took first, with Daniel Woods close behind in second and Vasya Vorotnikov in third.
Crux Crush made the rounds to get a sense of the camaraderie, fashion, and vibe at the comp from the finalists’ perspectives. Delaney, Sasha, Meagan, and Kyra all described the vibe between competitors as friendly and supportive. Chelsea echoed this sentiment adding that at age 26, “It’s weird competing against kids that I coach…I don’t think you experience that in any other kind of sport.” We went on to ask who they would choose as a teammate if this was a team competition and the majority chose Sasha for her experience and strength. Sasha, unable to choose herself, said without hesitation, “Meagan Martin.” We moved onto a very serious and important topic – whose closet you would raid if you got the chance. Adidas must be doing something right because Sasha, (who is sponsored by Adidas), was hands down the number one pick.
According to the competitors the Ring of Fire sets itself apart from other comps by its unique format, interactive and laid back atmosphere, and by taking place in New England. Regarding the format Kyra Condie shared, “I’ve never done a format like this before, where you have three climbs and you can do them whenever you want. It’s really nice… you can go at your own pace.” Sasha went on to add that, “Generally you go to a competition and you’re just sitting in isolation and you’re pretty zoned into your own thing. In [the Ring of Fire comp] you’re sharing beta with other competitors and you’re working together.”
If you want the real gossip, we’ve shared some of the ladies’ responses below:
Although we weren’t climbing all the same routes as the pros or competing for a piece of that huge cash prize, we definitely felt the camaraderie at Ring of Fire. Thank you to all the competitors for climbing your buns off and for sitting down to chat with us. We will definitely be back next year! Thanks Central Rock Hadley for hosting a fabulous comp!
Check out a full gallery of photos (including men!) from the comp here, courtesy of Keith Hengen.