Arco Rock Masters 2011, By Zoe Hart
If I were to be completely honest about my naivety, I guess that's the nice way of saying it, a more honest word would be ignorance, I'd have to admit that I had never heard of the Arco Rock Masters Climbing Competition or the Arco Rock Legends award until a month ago.
I was contacted by the organizers of the event and asked to represent a magazine as a jury member to award the Salewa Rock Award and the La Sportiva Competition Award. My arm was twisted and the words free hotel room and all the gelato you can eat were added to the end of an email and I accepted the invitation.
I had at least heard of Arco before heading there last week, but the only thing I knew was talk of desperate slabs, polished crags, and sand bag ratings. I'm not light on my feet, I'm not technically proficient, I'm an Alpinist for God's sake and good at climbing with a back pack not smearing or crimping, so my stomach turned at the thought of climbing in Arco. But...the Dolomites are close, my husband Max said, and there's a lake with Kite Surfing nearby, and again there's Gelato and Pizza. My mind calculated how many alpine rock routes in the Dolomites it would take to burn off daily gelato calories, or my pizza consumption, I imagined nearly drowning while trying to learn to kite surf and thought that would surely would burn a few calories as well, so I decided I was game.
We drove through the tunnel Du Mont Blanc, where on the other side all good things happen, like Panini's at truck stops, light and fluffy cappuccinos, scrumptious pizzas, and dozens of flavors of gelato. Right I'm talking about climbing here!
As Max drove I studied the list of nominations, mostly names that I had never heard before. I tried my best to dive into the sport climber mentality and understand the difference between the guy who had climbed 9a and the guy who had climbed 9b or the girl who flashed 8b+ or red-pointed an 8c in a day. It's almost hard to classify. I now understood how my high school friends who live in New York, work in finance and drive Mercedes feel, when I am trying to explain what I do in my life.
We sauntered into Arco with no understanding of the magnitude of the event. A gorgeous town with cobblestone streets, a castle looming on the horizon, and endless rock as far as the eye can see. The valleys are filled with grapes for wine, and streets filled with, of course, ice cream, coffee and pizza. Arco is nothing less than spectacular. We popped into one of the 10 outdoor stores and bought a volume - what I'd call it rather than a topo - describing dozens of sport climbing crags within 10 minutes of the center of town. Every person we crossed had veiny forearms, shoulders as big or bigger than mine, and chalk covered hands. ‘It's like summer camp for climbers' Max said as we sipped a mezzo litro of cheap good wine.
The walls of the buildings were covered with action shots of the top competition and sport climbers, and boulderers from around the world. Every shop had a sign advertising Arco Rock Masters the 25th anniversary, and each day the competition approached more and more climbers filled the town.
I ran into a friend, Emily Harrington, who had just finished her run in the preliminary rounds of the competition. With sad eyes it was easy to see she hadn't fared as well as she hoped. Emily has an impressive resumé of performance at the World Cup Climbing Competitions from her 12 + years of competing and an equally impressive resumé of outdoor sport climbing as well as her newly added mixed climbing accolades. She looked at me and said "I just don't think I have it in me to fight for this any more." Max and I joined Emily and her boyfriend Sam Elias, and a handful of other members of team America's climbing team, for dinner. Most of the names I recognized from the magazines; Alex Johnson and Alex Puccio bouldering powerhouses, and Sasha DiGiulian one of the nominees for this year's Salewa Rock Award.
I would quickly learn that I was well out of my element. Having turned 33 last week I was ancient amongst these 18-24 year olds. My climbing level would never match their accomplishments, even in my dreams. Sasha had never even heard of ice climbing until the night before when Emily had tried to explain what it was to her. The group talked about the comp, the next comp, the training for the comps, and that's about it. Their focus, determination, passion and talent far exceeded anything I could ever dream of. It made me realize maybe I'm just a jack-of-all-trades because I have no discipline. The youngsters were impressive. When I was their age I was barfing in the bathroom of College parties, much less impressive! I could see how this lifestyle, this climbing style, would run its course and Emily was ready to embrace other things such as travel, diverse climbing, and projects on real rock walls.
The following morning we met '25 journalists' to deliberate the awards. As we filed into the room I quickly noted that again as a woman I was in the minority. I found a place next to the editor of Escalade Magazine, one of the three other women, Laurence Guyon. I would later realize that she was a legendary climber in her own right, and a past winner of the Arco Rock Master competition. Votes and motivations were cast one by one for the Salewa Rock Award given to the most notable accomplishment in sport climbing or bouldering over the past year. A few hands raised for France's 16 year old Enzo Oddo, a few for the USA's "King" of climbing Chris Sharma, and a hand or two for Italy's Gabriel Moroni. In the end the most hands were raised for Adam Ondra, but Sasha DiGuilian was a close second.
I was intrigued by the discussions. Should there be two awards, one for men one for women? Should Sasha win because she accomplished something inspiring for women's rock climbing? Should Adam Ondra be acknowledged AGAIN or is it time to let someone else take the stage? My turn came to cast my vote and I had a million things to say in two sentences.
Should there be two separate awards?
Possibly. I see no offence, no sexism in that. The disciplines in the competition are separated so why not separate the award.
Should Sasha win for her accomplishment, as it is an inspiration to women?
What Sasha accomplished this year was impressive, inspirational to men AND women. But it's not new. It's a grade that has already been climbed by women. She managed to climb the route in quick and composed fashion, but she did not actually push the sport, or even the women's level of the sport. So, since the award does not specify gender, it only notes accomplishment then it should be given to the accomplishment that pushes the sport in a style, and ethic that is respectable. Anyone who meets Adam Ondra, his humble, light, gentle spirit, with wily curly locks, having stretched at least a few more inches in the past year, and sees him as the best ‘climber' in the world (right now) would want to celebrate how despite his endless success, despite standing on the top, he continues to chase himself to be better, stronger and accomplish more!
Next was the La Sportiva Competition Award, given to the most accomplished competition climber of the year. Adam Ondra was also nominated for this award. His success in competition climbing, while impressive and while relatively new to the world of competitions, was not as impressive to the other two candidates who came within two votes of each other in the final rounds of deliberation. Jain Kim from Korea was nominated for her impressive show of strength in all categories, speed, boulder and lead. As well as general domination in the World Cup Competitions, Kim is the Asian Lead Champion and took a silver medal in the Asian Bouldering Championships. Next was Ramon Julian Puigblanque from Spain who carries a long list of victories in the world cup and European championship and is said to be considered one of the strongest competition climbers of all times. My heart went to the gentle, smiley Jain Kim as the award was given to Ramon Julian Puigblanque, who, while admittedly a strong competition climber and equally deserving of recognition, seemed to have won the award, meant to be awarded for the past year's accomplishments, based on his overall career success.
The day of awards ended and we watched the talent do their thing on the overhanging structures. On the other end of the town the ‘alternative entertainment' was a Miss Arco pageant where more than a dozen fake tanned Italian girls dressed in red bikinis with chiffon wraps paraded around the stage. I have to say the dichotomy of it all made me laugh. Though to be honest I almost picked the Miss Arco pageant to watch over the climbing comp and don't get me wrong the Italians, as I've said before know how to run an event!
I'm home with an ice cream and pizza hangover, with a list of Alpine Climbs for the next few weeks to burn the extra calories and dreams of heading back to Arco to climb my own projects on the fantastic crags, that by the way, have far more than just slabs to climb!!!
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