Thursday, February 7, 2013

Dark Horse Championships!

This past weekend concluded the epic saga of the Dark Horse Bouldering Series. This year, Josh Larson and Dave Wetmore really stepped up their game, producing not two, not three, but FOUR heart-stopping, jaw-dropping, crowd-pleasing finals rounds that cumulated in the final championship round on saturday.

To kick the weekend off, my friend Nicholas Milburn flew in from Houston to compete, so we decided to pregame for qualifiers by going out for some delicious dim sum at a local restaurant nearby my dorm on Northeastern campus. Bright and early the next morning, we headed off to Metrorock after a solid breakfast at the dining hall in order for Nick to compete in qualifiers.

One of the unique aspects of Dark Horse is that if you are able to win one of the qualifying rounds, you automatically receive a bye into the finals of the championship. Having already qualified for the finals due to my win in round 2, I was able to relax during the qualification round on saturday and watch the action unfold.

The line-up.
Photo: LT11
Qualifiers were probably one of the most impressive redpoint sessions I've ever witnessed. Since its inception, the Dark Horse has grown in reputation and draws the strongest competitors from all over the country and even some internationally. This year was no exception, as professional climbers flew in from as far as Colorado to test their mettle against the boulder problems that Josh and Dave cooked up. By my count, at least 13 V12 and above climbers (not including the ladies) were in attendance, with only 9 of those being able to qualify for the finals. Just sitting in the crowd and watching as Daniel Woods, Paul Robinson, Carlo Traversi, and many others battled it out for a spot in the finals by flashing multiple V10's was certainly something you don't see every day.

After qualifiers ended, everyone headed to the back of the gym to watch finals. In the couple weeks leading up to the event, the hype for Dark Horse had been a crazy firestorm of videos and facebook updates from pro athletes confirming their spot at the event, as well as a secret surprise from Josh Larson & crew. When everyone finally entered the back area, the secret was finally revealed: Josh and Dave had built a brand-new competition wall that towered above the pumped-up crowd and demanded the attention of every single person in the building. I had known about its inception for the few weeks preceding the comp, but had not seen it with my own eyes.

The Dark Horse wall!
Photo: Jenna Keller
As the finals crowd grew to capacity, myself and the rest of the finalists got ready by making up ridiculous boulder and campus problems in our tennis shoes. It was pretty cool to be playing add-on with the strongest boulderers in the country, especially when someone [Jimmy Webb] starts doing one-arms on really bad slopers to warm up.

Finally, after the Louder Than 11 crew got their cameras rolling got the crowd amped beyond recognition, Dark Horse Finals began. When I turned around to face problem 1, it was hard to focus with the raucous mass of people behind me cheering harder than I have ever experienced in a climbing comp before. Even more intimidating was the fact that I was seeded directly after Daniel Woods, who set the bar fairly high, as you can imagine. The most intense moment I experienced was while I was sitting in the chair before problem 2, as every single climber on the wall topped their respective climbs at the same time. I thought my eardrums might burst.

Man of the hour - Bryan Rafferty MC'ing it up in finals!
Photo: LT11
Overall, I performed well, topping the first problem and making it decently far on the other three. However, on problem 4, I pulled my right-finger pulley tendon while attempting a rose move on a two-finger pocket, which made me stop climbing immediately. I was surprised when Jimmy Webb had the same issue, as he looked to be in a severe amount of pain after pulling the move. He also stopped two minutes before his time ended.

The infamous pocket.
Photo: Natalia Boltukhova
Isabelle Faus ended up taking the title for the women with a dominant performance over powerhouses Angie Payne and Meagan Martin. For the guys, D Woods pulled the comeback victory by flashing problems 3 and 4, but the true Dark Horse of the event was Nick Picarella with his outstanding tops of problems 1, 2, and highlight-reel flash of #4. Major props, dude!

All in all, I was still psyched! Dark Horse is by far the coolest local competition series that I have ever competed in, and completely lived up to all the expectations that I had. I got to get on some awesome problems and hang out with some of the best climbers in the world. Huge shout-out to setters Josh Larson and Dave Wetmore, and Jordan Shipman and Jon Glassberg from LT11 who have been essential to getting this series to where it's at now. Can't wait next season!


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