Amongst the disciplines at the tree climbing competitions, Speedclimb is a bit like that uncle you have, the eternal bachelor who is alway underdressed for the occasion, seems to manage to get rip roaring drunk at every family reunion and ends up telling dirty jokes in the restaurant at the top of his voice. A bit of an embarrassment, doesn’t quite seem to fit – and spoiling the lovely time everybody would be having otherwise.
But I am going bang the drum for Speedclimb.
Agreed, it does not reflect a part of our work one on one, but if set up accordingly it does allow a demonstration of core strength, balance, poise, dynamic, fluid movement and the ability to read a line of a climb – without a doubt these are skills we use during our work.
I have to admit that I am sometimes disappointed by the apparent lack of vision when it comes to setting a speed climb. Too many uninspired straight up and downs, or even worse, cranking your way up pulling on the down side of the belay. We have an ascent event where you ascent up a line called Footlock (or Ascent Event), this is not what Speedclimb is about.
During the site visit in February I spotted two leaning lime trees and thought they would make a fantastic Speedclimb, as they offered the opportunity for a central, high belay point which would work for both trees – and a traverse! There were no trees in the park with limbs all the way to the bottom, so we had to make do with Monkey Grips, artificial rock climbing holds, which are ratcheted onto the tree for the first couple of meters. We started the climbers on the smaller of the two trees on the upside of the lean. Above the Monkey Grips we switched the climbers onto half hitched 25mm line up to about 12 meters. Here we installed a traverse at two levels, the lower one to balance across on with a Span Set (ratchet strap), the upper one to hold on to with a 20 mm rigging line bridging the gap between the two trees. Once they had crossed to the larger of the two lime trees, we used a combination of limbs and holds, a good part of the final part of the climb was overhanging – until they reached the bell at a height of about 25 meters.
We had a lot of discussion with Fred and Matthias and the rest of the set-up crew, as to how to set the climb and what we exactly were trying to showcase. Again, you can argue it either way, and I agree that we ended up adding a lot of artificial elements into the tree, yet a key part of Speedclimb is demonstrating the ability to climb on the structure – and this was achieved with this set-up. Thanks to Fred and the crew for being patient with me in setting TCFKADFP (The Event Formerly Known As the Deventer Fun Park), which was later to become better known under the moniker Deventer Kill Zone (hmmm, as I am writing this I am realising that a lot of people have had to be patient with me recently 😉).
This climb really forced climbers to pace themselves and get the rhythm right – right from the start. It would have been easy to burn out on the first part going flat out, to then arrive at the traverse all shaky, which would make the traverse hard… not to mention the overhanging last third. Normally the upper part of the climb is easier part as there are more limbs, in this case however the sequence was reversed.
One thing to consider with Speedclimb is how often it can be biased towards climbers with a lot of upper body strength, it is worth trying to come up with tweaks to avoid always giving the advantage to the long and lanky climbers with loads of upper body strength. This is one of the reasons I like the climbing holds or the half hitched line, come to that, as this levels the playing field a bit, giving lighter climbers a fighting chance. On this set-up, I watched Jiri from Czech Republic fly up to the bell in an extraordinary 43 seconds. He does not fit the stereotype, the key is the way he tackled the climb, his style seeming very fluid, with his centre of gravity close to the structure, propelling himself forwards and upwards in a very efficient manner.
The point I am trying to make here is that Speedclimb is all you make it.
Give it some thought, use your imagination and creativity to make it meaningful and fun. I think back to ETCC in Thun a couple of years ago, when we started the climbers up the lower side of a steeply inclined black pine – off a boat, moored in the lake below the tree. I so hoped someone would fall in the drink. Johan, being the nice chap he is, was happy to oblige.
The audience can get their heads round this event, it is a straight drag race up from A to B – and it allows us to demonstrate a number of skills used in tree work. So let’s hear it for Speedclimb, I say!