Thirty-six hours after returning from Paris, I found myself back at DIA to catch a plane toSEA-TAC for the UBC’s SBC.  I was hoping that every acronym of the trip would be accompanied by twice as much fun, and I wasn’t disappointed.

When I first arrived in Seattle, I was plain old grumpy.  It was late (or early, or god knows what time according to my body), I was hungry, and I didn’t feel prepared to wake up and throw myself at boulders.  Luckily I found some quality nourishment at the nearest Taco Bell (if it’s good enough for Alex Johnson, it’s good enough for me…) and managed to get a few hours of quality sleep before qualifiers the next morning.

The SBC (Seattle Bouldering Challenge) was hosted by Stone Gardens, a very high-quality and relatively new facility in Bellevue, Washington.  I was seriously impressed by the warm-up area and couldn’t wait to see the rest of the gym.  It was pretty fun to turn around before problem 1 of qualifiers and see the other half of the place for the first time.  The round went much better than expected, and I flashed all five boulders.  Semifinals were the next morning, and although this round was definitely harder, I somehow managed to maintain a narrow lead going into finals.  All of the boulders were well-set and tons of fun, which always makes it much easier to try much harder.

By the time Saturday evening rolled around, I was feeling a bit haggard.  The past few months have been full of travel with a bit of climbing sprinkled in here and there.  As you might guess, this is not the best way to train for a multi-round competition.  I expected that finals might be a fight for me, and I was right.  I was the last of the 6 women to climb on each boulder problem, and I always find this to be a hard seat to fill.  At times it can be incredibly motivating, but it is also incredibly stressful.  The World Cup finals format (where all competitors climb on a boulder before the group advances to the next boulder) makes this process even more stressful because there is a long lag time between each problem.

Typically I don’t like writing play-by-play reviews of comps because 1) there is already a great highlight reel ( that summarizes the comp in a much more entertaining manner than I will 2) it seems to bring out my obsessive tendencies and 3) many people don’t love reading it.  Buuutttt….this time I’m going to write one, just for the heck of it.  Plus, I have some nice photos of problems 3 and 4 that Flannery Shay-Nemirow was kind enough to shoot with my camera, and I’d love to put them to good use.  So, here’s the scoop:

The first problem gave me a lot of trouble near the top, and I was a little worried that I might not shake the exhaustion I was beginning to feel.  Alex Johnson (AJ) was the only woman to top that boulder.  I have recently been focusing on not letting my performance on one boulder affect my performance on subsequent boulders.  I did an okay job of this in Seattle, because I managed to flash boulder two even after feeling less than great about number one.  Nina Williams was the only other woman to complete this boulder, which required feet-first climbing and some crazy toe hooking on a nice big volume followed by a slightly techy top portion.  I found it to be pretty fun.

Problem three was when the real fight began for me.  AJ sent the problem just before I had to climb on it, putting more pressure on me to keep up.  The boulder started in an odd position that required us to sort of stem horizontally between the starting volume and a big foot hold.  As it turns out, this wasn’t the intended start beta, but it was the way we all read the boulder during previews, so we all attempted it that way.  After establishing on the start, a jump took the competitor to a relatively big hold.  I had a heck of a time getting off the ground, let alone getting to the middle of the boulder.  The first time I stuck the jump, I messed up the top sequence and fell.  Time was running out and I didn’t manage to do the jump again until my time had expired.  In this format, you are allowed to keep climbing as long as you have left the ground before the five minutes is up, so I was in luck.  After a serious physical and mental battle, I somehow finished the boulder.  It was a mini wrestling match for me and I was very glad when it was done.

Problem four was one of the more unique boulders I have climbed on in a while, simply because of the way it started.  The taped start was actually a big, round volume sitting on the ground.  The idea was to jump off the volume to the next hold, which ended up being really fun.  It took me a few tries to do the first jump, but then I was able to finish the boulder.  AJ and Shannon Russell also completed this boulder.

In the end, I got second to AJ by two points.  We both completed 3 boulders, but she got further on boulder 2 than I did on boulder 1, giving her the winning edge.  I wish I would have been able to watch her and all the others climb, because I think it was a great show.  Alex is one of my very favorite people, and it is never hard to take second to a close friend like her.  Yes, we are competitive with one another, but we are close friends first and foremost.  I am truly lucky to have people like AJ around to push me to try harder and support me as a friend.

My trip to Seattle was very short and unfortunately didn’t allow me any time to get out and see the city.  It was nice, however, to see more friends, visit a new gym and climb on incredibly fun boulders.  It was also another relatively low-pressure comp experience for me, which was refreshing.  It has been very good for me to approach the last few events with few expectations and walk away knowing that my performance doesn’t always suffer dramatically when I step away from the gym for a while.  Plus, I typically have more fun when I compete without expectations, so it’s a win-win.

Now I’m back in Colorado.  This time I might stay for more than a few days, but it all depends on this boulder problem.  I am still on a mission to finish Freaks of the Industry before the season is over, but I am balancing that with a desire to climb in the Southeast in the next few weeks.  As always, scheduling climbing is a project in itself… and quite possibly the hardest one of all.

- Angie Payne

One Response to Seattle Bouldering Challenge

  1. Galina says:

    If it’s the boulder I bleeive it to be out in Valle Bavona, it saw a bit of attention back in November 2008. I can’t remember if the right line went there were some very strong goes on it though. Glad to see someone’s climbing on it again.

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