12 October 2015

The Battle of Queuing and Stiff Upper Lips - The Depot's Battle of Britain 2015

And lo, on the morning and afternoon of the 10th day of the 10th month of the 10th year since 10 years earlier (in which nothing of particular note happened, not for me and climbing at least), the arrayed gladiators of bouldering entered the arena known as 'The Depot', buses long having since been maintained or disposed of, for the annual throwdown that is...


Bouldering-wise, that is. Not the whole Second World War issue of air superiority, though these boulderers would seek to fly the highest...

30 problems, just like the bouldering league, pink, just like the bouldering league, fewer points for a greater number of attempts, a bit like the bouldering league (only three attempts per problem allowed, then you're done), all crammed into a single day, nothing like the bouldering league at all. Boulderers from across the country, phat beats from DJ Notaspotifyplaylist, and tape all over the matting to show where climbers should queue for the problems.

Ah, so that's why it's the Battle of Britain, for that quintessential trope of Britishness, queuing! It just goes to show how different, how communal climbing is though, as these were not queues of awkward (or stoic) silences, but of camaraderie and banter. It started by confirming with those queuing which problem they were queuing for (I'm getting really sick of typing 'queuing' now... Still, soldier on!) and then bloomed into beta and spectatorship - watching some of the kids get the more reachy problems was the highlight. I found that a queue allowed me the chance to rest and pace myself, some found it warmed them down too much. Perhaps a cup of tea immediately before tackling the problem would have helped?

The tension was high, the fear of falling amplified by the embarrassment an early dismount would bring. Number 11 was my first, as I'm sure it was for many, and I could then relax. Except my form went out of the window at that point - 12 was the kind of corner problem I liked, but I fluffed every attempt (and then queued for more, which was how I realised that only 3 attempts were allowed...). 13 had my smack my hand on a white, leading to the fall. We weren't even using whites! 14 just didn't suit my heft, as lighter climbers flowed around an arete that I swung off. 15 though... Back roof, and it looked good. I needed a good effort here. The transition from overhang to face saw me scrape my feet along the ground before making them the platform to finish the last few swings. Was it weight-bearing? I felt I deserved it, needed it, but I turned to the crowd who were queuing behind me for a judges' decision - it was given! No-one behind me challenged it, instead piling credit on me: "Effort mate", "You deserved that" and the like. Better.

But still an ending - a couple more were attempted, but only 17 looked realistic, and I ran out of tries on that. 110 points to me, nothing to make Dave Barrans quake in his boots. Time was called, curry was doled out, and climbers retreated to the mat and cafe area to reflect on what had been. Qualifiers were announced, raffle was called - no prizes for me, at least not more than the satisfaction at having been part of such a fine festival of plastic bouldering, along with my many good friends who had been along for the ride - Bryn, Cosmo, Hebe, Sophie, Xander, Tom and Tom, with Tilly and Francis offering strong moral support.

So then, to the finals. The problems therein were already set, having been covered with paper and tape throughout the day, allowing them to garner attention in hushed tones - the Prana slab men's problem apparently one of the cruelest ever set at The Depot. So it transpired, as all of the men fell - and fell, and fell... - at this first hurdle, with only Dave Barrans even getting a sniff of the top hold. Meanwhile the women made steady progress, with several ascents between them. Problem two vexed the men again - nil points. The women, steady away, and more rousing and entertaining for it. Come on fellas...

Last problem. The women, give or take, marched imperiously through, while the men fell away like scabs scratched from so many wounds. Last year, as I recall, all the men had got both of the first two problems, but only Dave Barrans had got the third, flashing it where the others had broken upon it like waves on a particularly strong sea wall. Anyway, Dave was the force of nature here, finally separating himself from the crowd, only denying himself a flash with a curiously pitiful opening effort.

Full results on The Depot's website, here (pdf).

And so, the sun set on the carnage. It had been a great day for climbers and climbing. Who's for Blocbuster?
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