For some people, rock climbing is a zen-like experience, a slow-moving puzzle where the climber is totally focused on finding the best handhold to move up the mountain.
It was a different story during Saturday morning's speed climbing competition at The Rock Dump Indoor Climbing Gym.
The event featured two side-by-side, identical courses, both about 35 feet straight up the wall with 25 climbing holds of various shapes and sizes. The courses were fairly easy compared to others at the gym, which Rock Dump co-owner Matt Cecil said was by design. That way speed could come into play, since most of the climbers - including the 13 competitors age 8-12 - could make it up the route.
"You don't have to think about it," said Micah Smith, who won the adult division in Saturday's inaugural competition at the 11-month-old gym. "I don't normally climb fast like that. I try to be slower and be more graceful. I'd definitely rather compete in a more technical competition. This was like trying to get up a ladder."
There were 31 climbers entered in three age divisions - age 8-12, 13-17 and 18-older. About 40-50 people watched the climbers, who went head-to-head against each other in a single-elimination bracket. For the first rounds through the semifinals, the climbers only had one chance to advance - lose and you're out. The finals, though, were a best two-out-of-three competition.
Smith lost the first race in his final to Travis Katzer, but came back to win the next two races to win the adult division. Byron Wild won the age 13-17 division after he beat his friend and climbing partner Josh Finley in both of their finals races. Aaron Badilla claimed the age 12-younger title by beating Ethan Nicholas twice.
"This was my first time competing, so I didn't know what to expect," said Wild, who beat Sterling Snyder in the first round and Payton Roberts in the semifinals. "The first time I went, I was in shock that I beat the guy (Snyder)."
"I was kind of scared," said Badilla, who beat Cassie Orbistando in the first round and Zachary Bursell in the semifinals. "My friend, Joey Croteau, he beat me before. But he lost in the semifinals. I sort of was (surprised to win). I thought there'd be some really hard-core rock climbers here."
Wild and Badilla were kind of the long and short of climbers, with Wild being a 6-foot-5 senior center-forward on the Juneau-Douglas High School basketball team and Badilla, 11, a soccer player and gymnast, barely stands taller than 4-foot-2.
"He (Aaron) was pretty fast, but I think his sister (Rebekah, 8) had the best form of the young kids," said Smith, a soccer player and swimmer who's 6-foot and 150 pounds.
"With some routes I think it helps to have the extra reach to get some of the holds," Wild said of his height. "But with the others it's a disadvantage, they're so close together your butt gets off the wall and that's when you have to support everything with your arms. From my limited exposure, Micah's got the best build for climbing. He's really slight."
Two men who usually dominate the local running scene had a different experience in the climbing race.
"I was cannon fodder," said John Bursell, who lost in the first round to Evy Cushing, the only female in the adult division (the youngest age group was two-thirds female).
"We both got smoked," added Don Eagle, who lost his first-round race to Kirt Pettersen. "I haven't done any upper-body work this year."
On the more technical courses, each climbing hold becomes critical and in some cases the only way the route can be completed is if the hold is approached from a certain direction. In the speed-climbing competition, the racers cut corners and some of the adults skipped several of the holds on the course. Some racers took other gambles, such as jumping for the bell at the top of each course.
"I messed up," said Kyle Smet, who lost to Finley in the first round. "I dynoed for the bell, where you jump for it, and I missed. I had him by 10 feet, too. I wish we'd had a best-of-three. But it was all fun."
"This was my first real competition," Snyder said. "It was lots of fun to see how other people stack up. It gets you more into it."
One of Smet's partners, Caleb Brown, lost to Katzer in the first round. Brown said he likes the camaraderie of climbing, as well as the mental aspect of the climb.
"I have a lot of friends and we like to do stuff together, skateboard and stuff," Brown said. "It's a good way to hang out. Every time I climb something I didn't do before I learn something new."
"I like puzzles, and for some people it's a form of meditation," Wild said. "It's such a rush."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
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