Sitting in isolation, my palms are drenched with sweat. The butterflies in my stomach evolved into hawks with talons. Nationals. The biggest competition of the year. It has taken months of hard work to even qualify. Training four days a week in the gym, an occasional outdoor day, plus another three days a week of aerobic and core strength training.
After nearly ten years of competing at the top level, including World Cup competitions, this is far worse. I have never been this nervous. Now I�m in isolation in Boston with five kids I spent the past year coaching.
With the help of Marmot, I competed at the National level through the 90s, eventually ending up ranked #1 in the US. At that time, the best climbers in the field were in their 30s (including me). We had all climbed outside when climbing gyms were a figment of our imaginations. Coaches were unheard of.
Now I am a coach (along with Stephen Greenway) of the Estes Park Climbing Team. We�ve got a diverse team, with nine kids ranging in age from 10 to 16, and three are home-schooled. Out of those nine kids, five compete on a regular basis and all five made it through the grueling process of regionals and divisionals to qualify for Nationals. At Nationals, our youngest climber is Hunter Schumaker, at 11 a veteran in the competition world. Sam Claassen and Peter Buttler both compete in the 12-13 age category and are their own best competition. Paige Claassen is 15 and has been to Nationals for the past five years. Laura Thompson competes in one of the hardest categories, girls 16-17 years old.
I had been competing for six years when the younger generation started infiltrating our �elite� category. These kids had never set foot on granite. They started climbing indoors and surpassed our skill level in a fraction of time because a climbing gym is a controlled environment where you can train to climb. These young climbers climbed 5.12 without ever having been scared leading a 5.9 trad route or facing a 30 foot fall while climbing at their limit on bolts spaced 20 feet apart.
Now the young generation is the elite. At Nationals in Boston, both Hunter and Paige made it into the final and the U.S. Climbing Team. Paige qualified for the World Youth Championship in Beijing (Hunter was too young). At the end of August, Paige and her family traveled around the world (on their first international trip), where Paige cranked her way to 4th place, the top American in the field.
From my perspective, climbing outdoors is where it started. Now kids start in a gym and then discover natural rock. This holds true for all the kids on our team, but they are also seeing a direct correlation between climbing in a gym and cranking hard outside.
Hunter Schumaker has been onsiting 5.12 in the gym for two years, but just led her first outside sport climb (a 5.10+) over the summer. Paige Claassen leads 5.13 in the gym and has bouldered V7 in the Front Range of Colorado.
It may be a different way of doing things, but it obviously works. Whether you start out climbing indoors or outdoors, it�s still climbing.