Sunday, December 04, 2011

Grand River Rocks Thrashing

Grand River Rocks
TdB poster
Ooof! I had a rough outing at yesterday’s Tour de Bloc bouldering competition.

I didn’t accomplish any of my goals. My comp strategy was a farce. But I did get to check out a sweet new climbing facility in Kitchener, called Grand River Rocks.

Notwithstanding my lacklustre performance -- I had a great time.

Soreness Rating: 9 out of 10 aspirins
I’m declaring a new metric for measuring my appreciation of a particular comp. The greater my level of soreness the day after, the more I’ve enjoyed myself.

It’s a subjective assessment of how enticing the problems were, in terms of luring me to push hard on them. In other words -- how fun was the problem-setting?

The primary cause of today’s discomfort:
#37 - short, sweet, and brutalizing. My apologies
to innocent bystanders for all the noisy profanity. 

The result from yesterday: Ooof. My right shoulder is locked up, and my left elbow is disturbingly angry -- will be icing it today. An unequivocal success!

Grand River Rocks -- worth the trip
Roughed up at
Grand River Rocks
Grand River Rocks hosted yesterday’s session. It’s a brand new gym, located in a retrofitted industrial warehouse just off of downtown King Street in Kitchener.

My ride to the comp -- thanks Pia!! -- was competing in the morning, so I arrived way before most of the other Open competitors.

I thus had a chance to kill some time and surreptitiously quiz Josh Tuffin about the joint (his abs are the ones featured on the poster, incidentally).

Grand River Rocks Founders: Mike, Josh, Scott, Christoff
photo: Aaron Schwab of Aaron Schwab Photography

Since the demise of Higher Ground several years ago (at the now defunct Pioneer Sportsworld in Cambridge), there hasn’t been a real climbing facility in the KW area, beyond small non-public bouldering walls at the two universities. So for local climbers, Grand River Rocks is a welcome development.

View from the entrance

Opened in August, the gym is housed inside a former warehouse for Canada Cordage, a rope manufacturer that still operates across the street. The place has about 9,000 square feet of climbing surface, and 36' high ceilings (with the slant, some routes are probably 45 feet). It features a massive central top-out boulder with a couple of arches, and climbing walls along the outside.

The J shaped central boulder -- it can be topped out, although
not for the comp yesterday

This layout (and the bright lighting) provides for a pleasantly airy and spacious feeling -- with plenty of room to climb, to stretch and work out, or to just hang around and spectate. There are separate changerooms for men and women -- with lockers available -- and a refreshingly cold water fountain.

Canada Rockworks helped to build the walls and the boulder, which are comprised of a steel superstructure overlaid by plywood and concrete (?). It’s a very distinctive look and feel.

#42 -- the easy corner problem everyone did (including
myself. Though it frustratingly took me a few tries!
Thanks for the encouragement Keith) 

It’s apparent that a lot of thought went into the design of the walls and the bouldering. There are a ton of curves, corners and angles -- some subtle, some crazy and aggressive -- that open up many different creative opportunities for problems.

Great angles and surfaces
If I lived in Kitchener, signing up for a Grand River Rocks membership would be a no-brainer.

I asked Josh about how he came to start the gym. He had climbed and travelled for many years in various places, was trying to figure out what to do with his life, and finally -- along with three other close climbing friends -- decided to go for it.

Part of the appeal was not having to answer to anyone else but themselves. They scouted a number of locales, and entrepreneurially financed the operation via friends, family, “and any other source we could think of.”

#40 -- devilish. If I could, I would return to session this.

The founders were able to acquire a large quantity of their holds at a discount, from the previous owner of Higher Ground. Many shapes they own aren’t even produced any more. There’s also a healthy mix of brand new holds.

According to Josh, the partnership has been very successful to date. They’ve been able to spread out the myriad stresses of starting and operating a new business amongst the four of them, and they’ve been able to balance off their different individual strengths.

It’s been a thrilling experience for all of them -- and it makes them happy to share their passion for climbing with others.

#38 -- argh. I never figured out the sequence to the finish.
And neither did most of the other climbers I saw who worked it.

I’ve been struck by the increasing prominence of bouldering in climbing culture. The design of recently constructed facilities such as Grand River Rocks reflects this shift in attitude. Bouldering isn’t an afterthought for gyms anymore; it’s now a key part of the experience being offered.

Or perhaps I wasn’t paying enough attention before.

My lacklustre performance -- ugh
As mentioned, I had a tough time. I only finished one problem that I really worked on (#37), and everything else seemed to spit me off. The comp had 50 problems, so I was aiming for stuff in the 30s, but I wound up struggling mightily both on the walls and on the scorecard -- I did 42, 37, 30, 29, 27, and 25.

I wasn’t calm enough on either orange or red.

My time management was poor. I simply could not send anything decent for the first hour. About half-way through the session, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to get the minimum six!

#31 -- I was really frustrated by the start on this.
I kept falling on my ass.
This is actually a telling commentary on how a slight difference can drastically change my perception of how I well I did. There were about 3 problems I felt I had a legitimate chance on, which I didn’t get. If I had only sent 2 of those 3, I would have been amply satisfied with the results...

I guess it’s a matter of keeping perspective. Good effort at least.

I had fun on #29, even though it wasn’t too
rewarding points-wise

Yesterday’s results can be gleaned with a little navigation at I wasn’t able to stick around for Finals, but it looks like Eric Sethna edged out Florent Balsez in Men’s, and Cloé Legault [have you seen After 5 with Ms. Legault? Check it out!] fended off Erin Ford-Zieleniewski for the win in Women’s.

Congratulations everyone!

The comp had an impressive turnout -- 200 competitors.

Goals for this season
It’s always scary to state goals in public in case you fail. But they’re kind of amusing, so here goes anyway. I’ve decided on three personal goals for the comps that I attend this season:

• Try to beat my secret nemesis
• Qualify for Women’s Finals (yes, I know I’m not a woman)
• Finish out of the bottom third in Men’s Open.

Unfortunately I failed on all three measures yesterday. Damn!

But if there’s anything that bouldering teaches you, it’s stubbornness, and perspicacity. I just gotta give’r next time.

#30 - tricky finish for people with short arms

I’ve been trying to improve my climbing. Meaning, regular bouldering sessions, and actually working on areas of weakness -- in other words, training. It’s kind of a change from my normal recreationally-oriented approach.

There’s certainly room for improvement. It’s a process of self-discovery -- just what am I capable of? Can I push myself to achieve it?

Oddly, I felt stronger going into yesterday than I did for the comp at Rockhead’s, but the outcome was quite different. I’m going to continue training -- and we’ll see what happens. Wish me luck!

Thanks guys!!
Need haircut badly!
I want to thank Pia and Tracey for the ride to the comp, and Omar for the ride back to Toronto. I hate riding the bus by myself, so the lift is much appreciated.

Thank you to the generous folks at ClimbingHoldReview for flowing me a snazzy CHR shirt! Jeremy -- I tried my best but I just wasn’t clicking.

Aaron Schwab graciously let me use his photo of the GRR founders (he also took the photo that’s used in the comp poster!).

And of course thanks to Grand River Rocks, the sponsors, and the TdB organizers for putting on a great comp.

Lastly, to whoever set #38 -- I hate you. Excellent job.

ps. Was it just me or were the medics at the last two comps super attractive?! Women in uniform... Ahem.

See also...
• Read about my previous Tour de Bloc experiences -- fun!
• Other assorted photos I took from the comp can be found here.
• Kuge Rikuya’s account (knowledge of Japanese or Google Translate useful)
• Aaron Eden’s description of the Finals
• Nancy Hogan’s videos from the Finals
• Dustin Curtis -- the main setter -- provides his view of the comp