Leading the Way: The Precarious Art of Defying Gravity
The UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup was an event to behold. Featuring elite competitors from countries like Russia, Italy, Ireland, and Korea on Dec. 16 and 17, the competition tower built at Ska Brewing Headquarters was the site of great rises and huge falls (watch this video to see what I mean).
Elite Lead Climbing Finals were held through Saturday evening, featuring eight men and women in their respective divisions. With seven and a half minutes on the clock, climbers competed to see who could scale the set routes the furthest and most efficient.
Suspended by the millimeter-thick (and super sharp) tips of their ice axes, using spiked crampons on their feet to dig into the wooden walls and stabilize themselves, competitors contort into precarious configurations and defy gravity’s will to bring them down.
Of course, gravity is no fickle force. Even world-class ice climbers succumb to its grip, taking huge falls before the rope’s slack catches up and stops their descent. Only one lead competitor was able to top out their route: Dengin Alexey of Russia. A single fall stops the clock and ends the trial for the climber.
Endowed with those sharp tools and crampons, a falling competitor becomes a blur of piercing spikes, adding another factor of danger for the climber as well as the belayer, coaches, and judges positioned below. It takes a certain amount of grace and control to fall so calmly.
Despite bitter cold, spectators crowded the observation area, cheering all competitors fervently in classic Durango fashion. Foreign spectators also joined the crowd, including a somewhat sizeable group of Canadians who had traveled to cheer on their compatriot, Noah Beek.
Beek ranked 7th in the Men’s Lead Finals, grinning unwaveringly for the crowd after falling during his trial.
Two “dice” structures, suspended independently from the main climbing structure, proved a crux for many of the competitors. To successfully complete the route, climbers had to reach the outermost hold and successfully clip the final carabiner.
Suspended by ropes, these structures would swing as competitors traversed their faces. Not only would the climbers have to cling to their overhung faces, but would also have to try and stabilize and counterbalance the structures, or risk being thrown off.
From the Women’s Lead Final, Woonseon Shin of Korea secured first place. Within the time limit, she was the only woman that had managed to gain control of the last hold of their final route. Because she was unable to clip the final carabiner before time was up, however, she technically didn’t finish the route.
This competition was the first part of the 2017 United International Alpine Association (UIAA) World Cup, vaulting Shin to the top of 2017 Women Lead rankings.
Alexey is currently ranked first in the UIAA’s 2017 Men’s Lead series after his win in Durango. The event also featured speed climbing competition, in which competitors attempt to scale a vertical structure as quickly as possible without having to clip carabiners and maneuver complicated obstacles. Complete results are available here.
The event is currently trying to rebound from a major financial deficit. Donations to support the event, and the future of world-class ice climbing in Durango, can be made here.
Want to know more? Here's our preliminary coverage leading up to the event.