Indoor dry tooling is really quite a strange sport when you think about it! Any time I've attempted to explain it to a friend, I have stumbled over my words; "so, you're climbing on an indoor wall, but instead of using your hands, you hook ice-axes over the holds! and there's often hanging logs that you hit into, or metal chains to climb up"... it just all sounds a bit nuts, which I guess it is!
People usually ask how I got into the sport, and I suppose it was a happy accident; I happened to be around, as part of a kid's climbing club, when the comp scene started to develop up in Scotland and so I would go along and take part. It always seemed pretty terrifying to me, because every now and then your axe could just ping off a hold unexpectedly - it wasn't like climbing with your hands, where you can feel your fingers slipping off the hold and brace yourself for a fall.
After a few years out of the scene, I decided to take part in the 2013 Scottish Tooling Series.The first round I entered was in Glasgow in November. Organisation of the series had been taken over by Brianna and Gareth of "GnBri Photography", and they had done an amazing job at promoting the event and generating a brilliant atmosphere. The "scene" had changed a lot since my last competitions, and I was surprised that I hardly recognised anyone! I also learned that in my absence, a GB Ice Climbing Team had been started and there were a few members up from England taking part. Pressure was on! After a very long 6 hours of qualification climbing, the finalists were announced. I was delighted to have qualified in 1st place, and found that I would be up against Katy Forester and Emma Powell, both part of the newly formed GB Team. I was out last from isolation to climb in the final, and fought my way up as high as I could, just managing to hold onto 1st place, but only 1 hold ahead of Emma! (Who, I should add, is only 12 years old and had opted to enter the senior category!)
After the comp I had a chat with Andy Turner, who looks after the GB Ice Climbing Team, and he said that I could join them and go to the World Cups!
Really pscyhed, I started doing a lot of training over the two weeks. This mostly involved pull-ups on axes, and fig-4s in the park. However, disaster struck the day before the next round of the Scottish Tooling Series - when I snapped a pulley in my finger at a bouldering competition. I was very upset, but tried to keep my hopes up. I had to miss that round of the STS but decided I would attend the final round the following week.
The final round of STS was epic! Advertised as having "a few routes outside", it actually turned out that 14/15 qualifying routes were on the outdoor ropes-course structure. The weather was CRAZY! There were high winds, and sideways rain for most of the 6 hours of qualifiers - it was quite a test of endurance! There were a lot of very creative routes; one involved climbing up sections of BMX-bikes that had been hung from a high wooden beam and another involved climbing up some tyres which were blowing around wildly in the wind! Everyone was exhausted by the time that finals came around, which were thankfully indoors. This time I was up against Fiona Murray, who is a great inspiration to me. She has a background of successful world cup ice climbing, and has always been very supportive of me, even taking me on my first ever winter climb! In the final I just managed to steal first place, putting my long arms to use to get past a stopper-move off a log.
The comp had taken its toll on my finger, which now hurt more than ever and stopped me doing any training over the next five weeks. As world cups rolled around, I realised I was not going to be in top shape and agreed with the physiotherapist that I should just enter one round, to gain the experience for future years. And so the following weekend, I found myself in Busteni, Romania!
The atmosphere was brilliant! A big lunch before the opening ceremony was a great chance to meet all the other athletes who had travelled from all over the world. Everyone was so friendly and supportive of one another; my nerves soon disappeared and I found myself looking forward to the competition with great excitement!
After drawing numbers, I found that I would be climbing 9th(out of 24) which seemed ideal – long enough in isolation to relax and see how the system worked, but not too long to start getting fidgety and nervous! I warmed up, ate a banana, put on my fruit boots (which a very kind Frenchman had lent me the evening before!), and before I knew it my name was called and I was lead out into the arena. I wasn’t too nervous, because I had no prior expectation and was just determined to do my best (and not embarrass myself!)
The climbing structure was about 20 m high and made from wooden panels, with a few ice features. I tied into the rope and started up my climb. I found it surprisingly hard to kick my feet into the wood properly (the men yesterday had made it look very easy!) My pinging feet accelerated the rate at which my arms became useless leaden weights! After my very best efforts, I fell off and was lowered to the ground, feeling happy that I had made a reasonable attempt at the route.
Not expecting to have qualified, I set off on a hillwalk with my boyfriend, who had very kindly come along for support, to make the most of the stunning mountain scenery that surrounds Busteni. But after an hour or so, I received a text message from Harry - one of the guys on the British Team – saying I needed to come back because I was in the semi-final that evening! After a couple of hours sleep in the hotel, it felt quite surreal to be walking back to the isolation area, now in darkness, having been there 10 hours previously! Since I had qualified in last place, it meant I would be climbing first in the semi-final, which I was quite happy about.
There was a bigger crowd than there had been in the qualifier, with lots of people shouting encouragement. It was all very exciting, and quite surreal when I thought about it long enough! The climb was harder, but I felt more comfortable kicking into the panels and standing on holds with my front-points. I got to about the same height as I had in my qualifier, and was again satisfied that I had done my best. I was quite surprised to see the next couple of climbers fall-off lower than where I had got to, and was really happy to come 16thoverall.
It was a fantastic experience, and I very much looking forward to training hard this year and entering a number of rounds in the 2015 series.
Read a full account of my time at the World Cup on the GB Ice Climbing blog.