If you hear a group of climbers discussing Great Wall, you assume they will be talking about that classic rock climb on Cloggy scene of many an epic story. However, here we were climbing an even more famous Great Wall. One that has been seen from space and walked upon for many thousands of years. We were in China for the World Youth Climbing Championships!
It had begun with a long haul of travelling. An hour on the plane to Paris (for most of us) and then 7 hours in the airport followed by a 9 hour flight to Beijing. Most people would have the common sense to sleep on such a flight but unlike most people, a large majority of the British team were wide-awake for the whole journey. We were very tired upon arrival which perhaps heightened the sense of shock we felt when the heat hit us as we descended the plane steps into China. We breathed and smelt heat. Something that none of us were quite used to and only relieved on entering the air-conditioned Hotel Longtan where we ate and got some much needed sleep.
In the morning, which felt like midnight, we sat in our taxis silently watching buses pass by packed so full that people were practically on top of each other. Buildings were large and modern ranging from the magnificent to the decrepit. The noise of honking horns filled the air. Unfamiliar smells changing at every junction. You didn’t just see Beijing you heard it smelt it and felt the overpowering heat.
Our first port of call was the market. As we entered we were ambushed! A shopper’s heaven! Stalls selling everything. Food, clothes, medicines and many things for which the use was not immediately apparent. Every deal tested our skills of negotiation. Did I get a good deal? I’m not really sure but my bag was heavier on the flight back. We ate out traditionally in the evening and some of our stomachs could not quite cope with the change in our normal diets. As jet lag passed it dawned that we were not just here for the shopping and sight seeing. Those weeks of training had a purpose.
We began our preparation for the comp with a light stretching session on a bridge as passers by stared and people swam in the polluted river below us! Flashing kites high in the sky distracted our attention and the roar of traffic was a constant reminder of the proximity of a vast population. However, The university wall in Beijing made an excellent venue for getting ourselves fully focussed for the competition.
Last year in Ratho it was bagpipes that opened the competition. This year, dragons jumped onto a ball and danced over seesaws to the sound of drums. A magnificent spectacle. The climbing wall loomed behind the display, the routes ready and waiting for the competitors. Trying to work out which route was which we all started to warm up. Demos came quickly and we all persisted in reading our routes carefully. Mine was a shorter and harder route than expected. I was ninth to climb but nervousness made time pass in a flash and I was up. Hands gripping the first hold I felt a rush of motivation and I left the floor. About halfway up I struggled on a move pushed through and got the next hold. Pumped, I managed three more moves and was off back down to Chinese ground, 16th on this route having to keep in the top 26 for the semis. The rest of the day was spent supporting the team.
The next day things looked more promising. Flowing moves, some hard low down, followed by a big roof. A longer time to wait meant more good climbers to watch and more “slime” on the holds. After a well-timed route clean and a few more climbers it was my turn. Feeling the heat yet still feeling strong I got myself through the moves many girls had already fallen off. Forearms pumping I kept pulling until under the roof. All strength gone I was in the air once more. 7th on that route and through to the semis! Nine British Team members through to the semis is a record! Qualifying in 12th place I knew I had a good chance to make it through to the final.
A good nights sleep and we were in isolation warming up at 8 am. I was psyched and soon route reading was upon us. Six minutes to decipher this route and get it in my head. A long hard route. Poor holds with a tricky sequence. Back in isolation fifteen climbers climbed quickly the only clues to their progress being the shouts of support, applause and sighs of disappointment as progress came to an end. Before I knew it I was walking out. Looking into the crowd I saw the rest of our team. Once on the route I pulled through the hard moves on bad holds. Hot and pumped another move to a bad crimp and a slap and that feeling of disappointment flooded through me as I hit air and descended quickly to the ground. With no idea of where I had come I watched the rest of my group soon to learn I was 17th. Ten better than last year!
Finals day was a more relaxed affair for me watching but the team had high hopes for Tyler and Nat. After the route reading Tyler was soon out. Climbing amazingly he gained an excellent 5th place. Nat was out 2nd to last, climbed excellently and also came 5th.
As the end of the competition approached we took every chance to socialise with our newly found friends from across the world. In the closing ceremony we stood to the many different national anthems and clapped for the podium winners. And with a crowd were filled with flags and emotion, the World Youth Championships were over for another year.
Two weeks later we are climbing in Cheedale and as the river peacefully flows by, and the only sounds are the birds and the occasional shout of a climber “going for it”, I remember Beijing with its smells, its sights and its excitement. What a great competition. What a great experience. Next year… The finals!
Thank you to Jill, Tony, Andy, Graeme and Rory for being such fun chaperones and taking us!