Monday, January 30, 2012

Vertical Validation: Gonflé à Bloc 3e édition

Gonflé à Bloc 3e édition!
Gonflé à Bloc 3e édition!
I just had my most enjoyable bouldering comp performance this season.

The 3rd edition of Gonflé à Bloc was held at Centre d’Escalade Vertical in beautiful Montreal (LaSalle). Since I had a tremendous time there last year, I couldn’t resist a short weekend trip for another climbing adventure...

Getting There in One Piece
[Skip this if you want to jump straight to the comp description]

Jeremy Dowsett of Climbing Hold Review generously allowed me to disrupt his affairs and crash at his place for a couple of nights -- without his hospitality, I’m not sure the logistics would have worked out. Climbers are such an accommodating lot; it’s great when we help each other out. Thanks Jeremy!

Now that’s some transit!
For those of you haven’t been to Vertical before, the gym is located at the Cégep André-Laurendeau, not too far from Station Angrignon at the west end of the green line.

I find the Métro in Montreal quite interesting, in that so many stations have been constructed and in an interlocking pattern. It’s a denser coverage than Toronto, which feels more linear, and spread out.

Leaving Angrignon: a stroll in the park...
Exiting from Angrignon, there’s a short 20 minute traipse through the park to get to the gym. The alternative is a bus route which I have yet to figure out.

One of these days, I’ll give up and rent a car to travel... In the meantime, three cheers for public transit!

My performance -- quite satisfactory  
Excellent results (for me)
In the lead-up to this particular comp, I wasn’t feeling super strong, but neither did I feel weak or injured.

Recovering from the  Climber’s Rock escapade took me out of action for about a week, so I only had a short ramp-up and maintenance window to get prepared.

Here’s how I did versus my previously stated targets:

• Beat my secret nemesis: N/A (she was at a different comp)
• ‘Qualify’ for Women’s Open Finals: yes!
• Finish out of the bottom third in Men’s Open: yes!

Two out of three! I almost made the first page, even (albeit there’s a huge gap which is unlikely to be traversed anytime soon).

I finally felt like I had climbed well, and had achieved a corresponding result. I didn’t feel that way about earlier outings: Grand River Rocks was a thrashing; and I felt intimidated at Climber’s Rock.

Thinking about Strategy and Preparation
The whole point of this season is try to improve my climbing. I want to systematically, incrementally get better -- to focus on process more than results. I’m not sure how far I’ll get, but I want to strive.

Yours truly at Vertical sporting a
CHR shirt and a Boulderz hoodie
I want to mention here two useful articles about competition performance, written by some climbers in my local community. I want to share them with you because they offer practical advice that everyone can apply.

The first is Florent Balsez’ How to Qualify for Tour de Bloc Finals, regarding preparation and certain tactics during the comp. The second article is Aaron Eden’s Competition Strategy.

I recommend reading both articles, as they will give you something to think about in your approach.

Eden specifically counsels planning the sequence of problems:
Climb the easiest one to make sure the body is warm, then proceed to the hardest and work your way down. This way, as the body get tired, it’s not trying to do something increasingly harder.

Session Recap: Qualifying Problems
Of course, theory often flies out the window when reality appears and smashes you in the face.

I warmed up on something easy, and then selected 33 to begin, a delicate slab manoeuvre...

33-white: Using the two big maroon pieces looked straightforward...
(Click any photo to expand)

That was a mistake! I couldn’t even get on. The left hand foothold was horribly slick, the first pinch wasn’t good, and I never got my right foot up to the start hold.

I gave it a couple of tries, with total failure each time. Balsez and Eden both discuss energy management and limiting the number of attempts on any given problem, so I decided to move on -- there were 60 problems after all; maybe this one wasn’t my style.

I moved over to 34, immediately to the right:

34-yellow: round finish holds are evil

I struggled on this as well -- I managed to get my left hand on the finish hold, but it was round on top and I couldn’t switch my feet to get the second hand on -- and so I came off. It was a lot of effort and I wasn’t sure I wanted to work it. So I abandoned that too.

Although it was still super early, I could feel the beginning stirrings of worry that it was ‘not going to be a good session’. I had nothing down and was a tiny bit pumped.

29-white: easy peasy

Luckily I turned around and found 29 on the central tower, which was a simple problem. It wasn’t high enough to count on my final scoresheet, but it got the juices flowing positively.

28-red: more easy!

I followed that up with 28 on the suggestion of a pair of climbers, Bonnie and Shawn, who hail from Ottawa. I thought it would be thin, but all the holds turned out fine if you placed everything carefully. This was a good confidence booster and got me back on track.

I tried to work 36, but like many people got stuck on the second last hold, invariably slapping the finish hold but not in a controlled way:

36-dark green: matching on that 2nd last hold was such a pain... 

I had about three attempts, and then -- keeping with Eden’s advice -- accepted the failure and moved on.

I wandered into the back room. A competitor told me 39 was good, and it didn’t look so bad, so I went for it:

39-red: no issues on this traverse
I’m not sure what the intended sequence was, but there was a trick for using the corner in the middle that made completing 39 a breeze. I think this was the ‘giveaway’ problem -- honestly they should have put in a couple extra moves. Not that I’m complaining! After this I did 30 (see here for full set of qualifying photos), and was starting to feel good.

I paid a visit to the steep cave. Normally caves are not my cup of tea as my regular gym has mostly flat bouldering, which means I’m weak on powerful overhanging sequences.

I examined the problems there and thought, I’ll try one or two, but then get the heck out in order not to waste my energy getting destroyed by the angles. Another competitor, Dan, nevertheless urged me to try 41.

41-blue: if you could hang on past the second move...

His suggestion worked out: after a couple of muffed attempts at the start, I sent it to my surprise. After the second move your feet cut out and your hips swung back -- if you could only hang on, sort out the feet, and make a strong reach to the first big tongue -- the rest of the problem was pumpy but manageable: big moves, but everything was deep enough such that a lack of finesse wasn’t important. This turned out to be my top scoresheet item.

Also in the cave was 37:

37-orange: A committing, somewhat wild finish

It was challenging to get off the ground, but once you were on the big piece it was just three compact moves (right, left, left), and finally a long, upside-down-and-mildly-out-of-control launch to the finishing hold. It was crowded in the cave and I almost kicked a guy in the head on my send. [Would my completion have still counted? Technically, probably not... Spectators beware!]

Don’s positive attitude helped significantly -- the notching of these two meant I now had 3 decent problems on my scoresheet (41, 39, 37), along with some low intermediates.

I left the cave and ambled over to the main bouldering section, where I encountered the problem that made my comp a successful one: 40. Stupidly I didn’t manage to take a clear photograph of it, so I’ve labelled it:

A bunch of us settled into working on it. It was very pumpy -- overhung, hard to get onto, with big pinches, and mediocre feet the whole way.

The problem went like this: First, you had to do about 3 or 4 vexatious, strong moves to get to the big piece in the middle (A). The big piece had a ridge on top and an undercling. At that point your feet were poor due to the overhang. Most people would try to go for the blue hold directly above (B), and fall off -- that hold sucked. I stuck it once, but doing so sapped me, and throwing for the far left hold (C) from it spit me right off.

After several attempts, each draining me physically, I took a break and went elsewhere. I felt however, that this particular problem was achievable, and that I should return at some point.

Which I did. What eventually worked was throwing for C with left hand while underclinging A with the right hand -- a long, powerful, stretched out move. Then it was a matter of adjusting the feet calmly (on D), moving up the right hand to B, then bumping to the finish. I nearly came off on the move left, but stayed on, and as soon as I adjusted my feet I knew I was going to finish.

I let out several big whoops while I finished and afterwards. Sometimes you just can’t help it. That’s the sensation we all climb for -- the conquering of personal limits.

In the interim before I finally got 40, I sent 31 which wasn’t hard. That wound up being the low problem on my scoresheet:

31-mustard: not hard (didn’t take a good photo)

I tried to get on 48 (white tape, above) but it was too stiff for me to make a decent attempt. Apparently I should have tried the green hold problem to the far right with the peace symbol -- but I never tried it. It was somewhere in the 40s.

35-dark green: would have been annoying not to complete this

The last problem to wind up on my scoresheet turned out to be 35. It was a puzzle for me, and I concede it would have irritated me had I not been able to eventually get it. The issue was that I couldn’t do it the way most people solved it.

The main sequence I witnessed was this: On the start hold, right hand crosses over to A. Left hand to B. Step right foot on the start hold and then, straight arm-mantling with left hand on B, hit C with right hand. Match hands, get foot on B, finish.

I couldn’t seem to get the mantle on B; I kept falling backwards. I wound up doing it the way I think it was intended: Right hand cross to A, left hand to B, swing left foot out to E, match hands on B (hanging/pulling to the right), left hand up to D, right hand up to C, hop feet onto B, finish.

Other Notable Attempts
There were several intriguing problems which I briefly essayed but didn’t dwell on.

43-blue: I decided it would pump me out so I gave it up

I thought 43 might be doable as a project or the focus of a session, but after a couple of pumps I chose to concentrate on 40 as being more attainable.

42-white: A sucker-punch finish hold
In the last 10 minutes of the comp I gave 42 a few attempts. It was pumpy. You were deceived by the third last hold (left hand), which was really solid. The right hand was mediocre, but every time you got to the position you’d think, no problem, I can bump my right hand the short distance to the finish block and send this thing!

Except you’d hit this downward sloping groove on the top of the block and slowly slide off. You never had the chance to match with left before sliding off. Frustrating!

The beta apparently was to switch to your left foot, and extend your right toe to hook around the right corner. This would allow going up with the left hand... I never made it, the right toe hook was too far and scary for me. There was a big pad for this problem but you definitely wanted to have a spotter on it -- it was easy to roll off the pad.

54-white, on green volumes: cool!!
54 (I think that was the number) was the most interesting problem. I couldn’t move past the first sphere. All kinds of amusing straddling and contortions resulted from this. I don’t know if I could ever do this problem, but I would have liked to try projecting it.

I also messed around on 45, but never got anywhere serious on it. I gave 38 in the cave a half-hearted try with 2 minutes left but I didn’t do the sequence right. I think I might have been able to get it with proper attention.

Click HERE to view my set of Qualifying problem photos. [I didn’t take photos of everything, but most of the major intermediate and high problems are covered.]

The Finals
Everyone was super-amped. Between socializing with other climbers about the comp and eating some food, it took longer than I expected to change, so I wound up staying to watch the finals. A glance at the results tells you it was a tough set of problems:

Tour de Bloc Vertical 2012 results

Nevertheless we got to witness some amazing efforts from all the finalists.

Catherine Laflamme on 2, Ayo Sopeju on 2, Florent Balsez on 1
Women’s victor Melissa Lacasse electrifying the crowd by hanging onto 3
Thomasina Pidgeon magically finishing the second
problem en route to her second-straight second placement
Even winner Sébastien Lazure struggled on 5...
But he looked good doing it.

Congratulations to the winners, Sébastien Lazure and Melissa Lacasse!

Click HERE to view my full set of Finals photos for Gonflé à Bloc 3e édition...

Concluding remarks
As mentioned, I was happy and satisfied with my performance. I managed to send the problems I really wanted in my heart to get. And I had a ton of fun.

There’s something intangible I like about the setup at Vertical. Maybe it’s just the friendly people. I think the padding in certain areas is a bit sketchy, but that’s what spotting is for. Everyone was very welcoming, notwithstanding my fragmentary command of the French language.

Lots of room at Vertical
The physical organization this year was well-thought out -- payment at the front desk, registration on top of the boulder, a snack area that helped assuage my starving belly, even a countdown timer so you instantly knew how much time was remaining...

Next up is Coyote in Ottawa. We’ll see how that goes! I’m keeping my expectations in check -- my elbow is pretty angry right now, and it’ll be tough to top this session. Nevertheless -- I’ll be practicing at the gym in hopes of improving that extra bit...

Thanks to the organizers, setters and volunteers! You put on a fun experience!

Thanks to Shawn and Bonnie for giving me a much-needed lift to the station -- I was not looking forward to trudging through Parc Angringon in the darkness. Hope to see you at Coyote!

CHR mascot...
Lastly I want to thank Climbing Hold Review again for hosting me and providing me with a comp t-shirt, affectionate feline companionship, and delicious, delicious late-night noodles.

What a great time!

See Also...
My ongoing series of Tour de Bloc comp recaps, from an intermediate climber’s perspective
• Ghislain Allard’s photo set from the comp
• Nicholas Charron’s finals photo set
• Guy Pomerleau’s photo set
• Evolving Movement’s description