Bloc Party is more than a bouldering competition: it’s the ultimate climbing party, with friends, free food, and prizes.
The final Bloc Party of 2015 in San Francisco had all of these, as well as a showcase of bouldering greatness in the Bay Area, as five top women and five top men faced off at the day’s end under the bright lights of Planet Granite’s most scenic gym beside Crissy Field.
Throughout the day climbers streamed between the courses of an all-you-can-boulder buffet. While all of the new problems had their appeal, some had more star power. Proving that was Problem #33, which attracted a crowd and a steady stream of challengers.
“It starts higher than it ends!” said a spectator in disbelief, watching as Dan Yu hung upside down by his feet from a large, round, knob of a start hold.
“Oh my goodness!” said another bystander as Yu clamped onto his handholds lower down and swung his hips and legs around beneath him.
“That was beautiful!”
It was Yu’s third try of the day when he finally made it. He guesstimated the rating at a V7.
“It’s a little scary, but you’ve got to power through,” competitor Sarah Lin said of the move on 33. Her aims for the day: do well and make the advanced section, and stick around afterwards for the finals “to watch Andy Lamb crush it.”
San Francisco events coordinator Ashley Vail signed up entrants in a silent auction to benefit the American Safe Climbing Association. The prizes include three nights at a house in Tahoe, and an unbelievably light folding kayak. Silent bidding in the auction, for the worthy cause of saving climbers by replacing deteriorating bolts outside, will run through Oct.31 at Planet Granite San Francisco.
Prize tables waited, decked out with trad gear, Petzl headlamps and liquid chalk. Competitors took turns on the strange new problems, then circulated outside where a plethora of free pizzas awaited.
“Whooo!” shouted Clair Brady, a San Francisco member, as she soared off Problem #29, a reach-y problem with devilish small holds and side pulls bolted to crystal-shaped bases. Brady and a group of friends pushed repeatedly for a send, trading spots.
A restless energy filled the gym as 5 p.m. came and the call was made for climbers to hand in scorecards.
Soon enough, the swag started to flow out into the crowd, and the top climbers were announced. For Margaret Georgerits, who won the Advanced Women’s category, a special prize was in store: a pair of custom SFT Climbing Shoes, donated by the Bay Area-based company.
She chose between styles and materials, opting for downturned Velcro shoes. SFT founder Laura Shumaker drew a line around her feet, tracing them on a sheet of 8.5 by 11 paper and the die was cast. The shoes will be ready in about a week and a half, SFT’s production timeline thanks to its local manufacturing sites.
The hum and clatter of drills punctuated the bustle of the crowd as the routesetting team got busy stripping holds, trashing tape, and preparing to put up the final routes of the day, creating some extreme problems for some extreme climbing talent.
“We’re excited about this showdown here, five on five, duel to the death,” Eliot Carlsen, manager of the San Francisco gym, told the crowd with a chuckle. His voice boomed upstairs where the elite boulderers were secluded to warm up, make small talk, shake out their hands. They swung around the upstairs bouldering area, skipping holds, charging through problems that challenged the masses for most of the day.
“I’m really excited, I love competing,” says Lila Neahring, member of the Sunnyvale gym and Stanford’s climbing team. “Especially on-sight format.”
The finalists filed into a buzzing crowd and took seats with their backs to the first two problems of the comp as a thick recording of strings and eerie scratching set the stage for the battle.
Joe Diaz lept for a sloper, Lila jumped on a dyno, and the crowd “ohhh’d” as the first falls came. The initial two problems for the women and men were similar in spirit—challenges to balance and hand strength, featuring slopey holds on the way to delicate finishing moves.
Lila’s problem required a right hand stuck out onto a sloper around a corner. She repeatedly swung off, working to lock down her hand and control her swing around the corner. No luck.
Next came Katrina Louie and Kara Herson. Herson challenged the sloper again and again, tantalizing the crowd with repeated side hangs and swinging falls. The spectators shouted, clapped, held their heads in disbelief after a tantalizing half-second eternity played out three times in a row. Each time she succumbed to gravity.
Jenny Knell, fourth up, was cheered on by a now-ruthless crowd that smelled the problem’s blood. She takes a measured, static approach, hanging on a gnarly little hold to enable a slow reach to the sloper. She cracked that crux code to applause before yielding to the problem’s final moves.
Fifth women’s competitor Lizzy Asher quickly dispatched the irksome sloper with a full-on dynamic move, then shot up to the finish hold in another two moves, outclassing the problem with relative ease.
The second pair of problems for the finalists were two overhanging paths up the San Francisco Top-Out Boulder island, and they offered easier crushing than the balance-based conundrums previous. With scalding moves Lila sent quickly.
Kara Herson topped out simultaneously with Ryan Olson and they high-fived atop the boulder, sharing a moment of joy with the raucous crowd.
Andy Lamb, seeded as the men’s favorite, nodded his head, grooving to the DJ’s beat, before his turn. Lamb allowed no time for suspense as he quickly sent his route, prompting the crowd to rise in a lumpy mass and pour around the corner to the central chamber of the San Francisco gym for the final problems.
Behind the line of the five best women was a winding traverse of a problem with commitment-minded moves from beginning to end.
Lila, as before, led the way, wowing the crowd with a dyno to a matched set of handholds. She easily navigated the problem before a final struggle found her unable to lock in the final move pulling on some tiny crimps to a looming mound above.
Across from her, Joe Diaz struggled with a men’s problem as confounding to him and other competitors as the first women’s problem seemed.
The men’s final problem rose up the overhang of an arch, the only help a series of three slots between small pairs of holds, with the third slot a lengthy move away from the others, on the upper portion of the arch.
Two guys in the crowd offered color commentary on the men’s problem:
“That’s so hard!”
“It’s a crimp, but not a full crimp, and you have to deadpoint it. It’s basically impossible…”
The stingy slots repelled the first four men, who worked their fingers into the near one but couldn’t fathom the transition to the upper slot.
Andy Lamb got on and sent it immediately. No hesitation at the half-crimp holds. The crowd went nuts.
One final send remained, and like Lamb’s, it was such a quick answer to a tough problem that the crowd was left amazed:
Asher, with an unhurried but unbroken pace, found her way to the stingy final pull of the last women’s problem. She pulled up to the globe-shaped finish hold, and the ease of her coup de grâce electrified the crowd.
The Results of Bloc Party Finals 2015:
- Lizzie Asher
- Kara Herson
- Lila Neahrng
- Jenny Knell
- Katrina Louie
- Andy Lamb
- Solomon Barth
- Ryan Olsen
- Connor Barthol
- Joe Diaz
Postscript: As happy spectators headed for the exits, routesetter Danny Harris contemplated the final challenge he created for the men, with the small half-crimp slots.
“The crimp, you can’t close it up, you have to leave it open more,” Harris said. “I kinda like it. I think I’m going to start setting these more.”
Watch out Planet Granite climbers! The bar raised at Bloc Party isn’t brought down at the end of the Bloc Party.
Thanks to Bloc Party Sponsors: