2nd place in China.
A mammoth read for those who have time! Also there are some pics in the gallery.
Well, I have now been and come back from China and what an amazing, crazy experience I had. Although it was only for six days, the trip was packed full of incidence and I will try and sum it up here.
A big travelling day that started at 3.30am in Sheffield and finally finished in Beijing at 3pm the next day.
Flew with Emirates which I cannot recommend highly enough, they made the two 7-8 hour plane journeys bearable.
What I haven’t mentioned is that, I was actually meant to be traveling a day later and it had all been booked but I got an email two days before travel saying, “Oh, could you get to Beijing a day earlier?” This seemed a bit last minute to say the least but I managed to change my flight (at a fairly hefty cost) and quickly got everything packed. I fell into bed at 11pm only to start again at 3.30am.
I was wondering whether the flight change was a sign of things to come but was too tired to worry. Having spent the night in Beijing we were up again at 5.30am for another flight to Changzhi. I was fairly zombified but wanted to meet the other international competitors as I was on my own and was up for chatting. Sat next to a Slovakian guy, Uri, for the 1 hour journey- I’d seen him at world cups before. We chatted about this China competition and I asked if he knew anything about it because all I knew was that it was top roping on rock, which seemed an odd medium for a comp. He said he was pretty sure it was going to be a speed comp.
My heart sank- speed…not my forte! No wonder they’d kept their cards close to their chest, not many people would want to travel half way round the world for a speed comp (unless it’s your speciality).
As we landed, there were crowds of people at the airport. We got off the plane and they started cheering, we were handed bouquets of flowers and there was a large brass band playing. Photographers snapped away and we all looked at each other as if to say “what is going on? Is this all for us lowly climbers”. We started laughing and taking pictures of the whole occasion, it was pretty mad. If only I had known that this was nothing compared to what was to come!
We finally made it through the crowds to our posh coach and got a police escort for the two hour journey to Huguan.
There was some nice scenery on the way and bizarrely, there were big banners in towns welcoming the International climbers to China. It was looking like this event was a big thing for this area and we were the stars.
We arrived at our home for the next 3 days at about midday. It was a monstrosity of a building, again shrouded in banners and balloons that turned out to be a very newly finished posh hotel. We were shooed to our rooms with rumbling stomachs and no instructions as to what was going on or when we could expect lunch, or breakfast for that matter. I asked around my fellow competitors and somebody had discovered a lavish buffet in a dining room full of Chinese officials.
Being a veggie I was a bit worried about coming to China as they are not known for their animal rights but the lunch had some nice dishes and it filled a large gap.
Up to this point, we had had no formal introductions or itinerary. We didn’t know who was organizing what and just had to go with the flow, follow round like sheep really. It was kind of strange but after lunch we were told we could rest for the afternoon then to a welcome ceremony at 6.30pm.
Most of us went to our rooms and collapsed to sleep.
I went for a little walk round the village and got stared at a lot by inquisitive locals. It was a little disconcerting and I felt a bit dazed and intimidated, so wandered back to the hotel and slept again.
The evening do was a banquet with strange looking food, funny repetitive speeches by local dignitary and lots of smoking and lethal looking clear liquid that the climbers managed to avoid drinking. We all had an entertaining time especially the Chinese who really enjoyed themselves and got slowly drunk. I realized this event must have taken months to organize and they were probably able to relax now it was all slotting into place and also I felt like I’d finally arrived and was getting to know people.
In total there were nearly 50 competitors from all around the world, a few I had met before but many I hadn’t, so it was great getting to know these new faces.
The last thing we had this evening was a technical meeting for the competitors. Our time had come, finally we were going to be enlightened as to what we were all doing here!
Turns out my Slovakian friend was right, it was a speed comp. Groans and raised eyebrows all round.
There would be a men’s route and a women’s route, 22 men and 23 women. If more than one person got to the top, the winner would be decided on the quickest time.
This is not how a normal difficulty competition is decided, so I was going to have to get my skates on. The grades of the routes were not that difficult, maybe 7a for the girls and 7b for the guys, so speed was definitely required. Also, they were 60metres high and top roped.
But not only was it speed, there were quick draws and ropes that you could pull on if you chose to. The route setters were strongly recommending this, as these sections were pretty blank. It turns out this is not a climbing area and the rock had never been climbed on before, so they had ‘made’ these routes from scratch.
The running order showed me climbing 16th, so time to warm up (wake up) properly etc. We had to be on the coach at 8.20am to go to the venue and climbing would start at 12 noon. Why did we have to get there so early? All was to be revealed…
Fortunately I managed to sleep like the dead, not normal for me but probably not surprising under the circumstances.
We made our way to the gorge and again there were nice views along the way, so much rock, not sure how much of it looked climbable though.
As we got close to the venue, big traffic jams developed and there were people everywhere. As we had the police escort, we got through this quickly and parked up. I think at this point the enormity of what we had all got involved in was starting to sink in and maybe a little fear a long with it too.
We were escorted through a tunnel to the ‘stage’ area and I have never seen anything like it. There were thousands of people there, it wasn’t even 9am! What were they all doing here? Surely not to watch a climbing competition…
We were shown to our seats and the show began.
More speeches, statues unveiled, we were introduced on stage and showered with flowers. Hundreds of birds were released; tickertape fired in the air, fireworks and just general mayhem and noise. It was utterly crazy. I think we (the competitors) were all in the same boat and were just staring open mouthed in wonderment at the spectacle, which we were the centre of.
We went back to our seats and ‘Song for China’ began. I had envisaged a sedate choral offering of max 20 minutes, then we could start climbing. How wrong I was.
This was a Chinese pop concert, at full blast. I dread to think what the local wildlife thought of it, probably not too impressed. It turns out they had invited Chinas top pop stars to this remote rural area to strut their stuff. The audience loved it, they clapped and cheered and sang a long. The climbers were not quite so impressed. It was 30 degree heat, we were all very tired and I felt like I was getting sunstroke. This was the most bizarre preparation for a comp ever. It was a relief when after an hour and a half of not so great pop music; we were taken to the isolation zone.
No surprises anymore but there was nowhere to warm up, i.e. no wall to climb on. I think from chatting to people this is not so unusual in these far flung places but to the Europeans it was a bit of a downer. But we got on with it and modified door frames etc.
The start to the climbing was delayed for an hour and half, so a hot boring afternoon was spent by all. But it gave us a chance to chat and find out each others stories.
Eventually I got to climb at about 4.30pm and I was really looking forward to it. I had come with no expectations whatsoever and now it was speed, even less. So my aim was to make it to the top, try to climb quicker than normal and enjoy it.
And this I did.
The rock was a lot sandier than it looked, no friction at all and very loose in places. As it turned out a few of the competitors pulled loose holds off, so that was their go over. The route setters had heavily marked with chalk the holds they wanted you to use, so if you used something else there was a chance it would break and it did. I just stuck to all the marked holds and pulled on the draws, it felt very strange and contrived bit I was here now so, ‘when in China...’
My time was good enough to qualify me into the final in 6th (eight went through), so I was really chuffed. I hadn’t expected to do this well. We had had 15 minutes to climb the route and I had done it in 11mins 30secs. The fastest women’s time by a long way, was the Japanese, who did it in 7mins, wow!
By now a lot of the audience had gone home and the last climbers were finishing. It seemed strange that with all the razzamatazz of the morning, pretty much the only people left were climbers and officials.
We were pawns in a much larger game, cogs in a machine. Is this how the Chinese people feel on a daily basis?
Final day. Again not much idea what was going on. Was the final on a different route? What time would we start? After yesterday, probably one of the maddest days of my life, anything was possible.
My aim for today was to maintain my 6th place. I had seen the times of the girls in front of me and there didn’t seem to be a chance to do better. I was very pleased to have got into the final, so all was good.
Arriving at the venue, there wasn’t such a big audience, we weren’t the right sort of rock stars but there was still a lot of noise and flag waving and cheering. Again we were up on stage being introduced then it was to a different isolation with even less facilities than yesterday. How is that possible? Well, it was a tent! So no door frames to pull up on.
I was climbing 3rd, so I had to be quick. I found a random tree and tried to do some pull ups before I snapped the branch. The first two competitors had already gone out, they didn’t even get a chance to vandalise a tree!
This was again mad and to top it off, we were climbing on the same route as yesterday.
I was kind of looking forward to doing a different route but as it turned out, climbing on the same route worked well for me.
As an onsight climber I am fairly cautious, I climb methodically and in control- I hate the idea of blowing that one chance you have with onsighting by rushing a move and falling off through a silly mistake.
But once I have been on a route and am familiar, I can climb a lot more quickly. I know what to do and just get on and do it.
So going back on the original route was going to be a bit like a Redpoint, I was actually looking forward to it. There had been a few places where I had paused a while to work out moves, I wouldn’t need to do that today, I could just race through it.
My time came, the whistle went and off I flew. I just climbed and climbed until I jumped for the top. I felt like I’d run a race, I was totally pumped and panting for breath. I couldn’t tell if it had been quicker than yesterday’s time but I knew I felt a lot more tired. I thought maybe this had something to do with the bad warm up I’d had. But whatever my time, I felt like I’d climbed well and oddly enough enjoyed it.
I watched the other finalists and oohed and aahed at how amazing they looked. It was good fun watching and the audience was enjoying it too, especially when the Chinese were up.
Before long it was all over and without telling us the results, they lined us up for the prize giving.
I have never been to a more longwinded affair, they really know how to get mileage out of something. I can’t imagine what the Olympics is going to be like, mass hysteria lasting weeks!
After a while they had given out prizes to the bottom five and I wasn’t in it. “This is strange” I thought, “It looks like I’m in the top 3”. Wow, I’ve come third. A flush of pride came over me. Even though this competition was a pretty unique event and unlike anything most of us had competed in before, I had somehow done really well. So I waited to be called up for third, I was standing next to the speedy Japanese girl and a Chinese girl. But they called the Japanese girl up, wow; I couldn’t believe I’d climbed faster than her. Then my turn came, I had come 2nd and only 12 seconds behind the winner! More flowers, a lovely glass trophy and to top it off, $2000 prize money. In all the years I’ve been doing comps, this was by far the most I’d ever won, I couldn’t believe it.
I was on cloud nine and happily had my picture taken by lots of Chinese locals, got interviewed by Chinese TV and signed loads of autographs. It was a very surreal affair but enjoyable under the circumstances.
A lot had happened today but there was still more to come.
We went back and had lunch, and then we were all taken on a sight seeing tour. There wasn’t much choice in this but everyone was in very good spirits and we all had a good laugh. The Chinese competitors had become friendly and some spoke English (of course, English was the common language amongst the group), so we all trooped off and enjoyed the tour. It was actually a very beautiful river valley just behind our hotel which we saw by bus, large golf buggy, boat ride and foot. I took lots of piccies and soaked up the experience of being in China.
Back to the hotel for our last dinner, where we were entertained by musicians playing indescribable instruments making beautiful music, it was lovely.
The evening was looking like it was descending into a drunken talent show; two of the Chinese competitors had grabbed the mike and sung us their stuff. Then the Romanians were thrust the mike and told to give us a show, as they were squirming with embarrassment on stage and the rest of us were hoping we weren’t going to be next, the organisers remembered we had a plane to catch that night, so we had to go.
With all our luggage in the coach, they sent us off with a fantastic firework display that was in true Chinese style. Well organized and totally over the top. Unfortunately, they had really gone to town on this display and had lots of big fireworks that were so powerful that they landed on a nearby hillside and started a forest fire in three different places. Panic set in but they managed to put them out, I couldn’t help chuckling.
Finally we got on the bus and made our journey back to Beijing, getting into bed at about 1am. I was overly tired and just couldn’t sleep; consequently I didn’t wake up until 11.30am the next morning.
My flight home wasn’t until 6.30am the next day, so there was a bit of time to look around. Some of the competitors had traveled home but there were still about 15 of us left. Some went shopping and got some crazy bargains, some sightseeing and I missed out on this as I was asleep with my jet lag. But I went for a wander having no idea where I was, I found a lovely park which had amazing silk sculptures erected, all for the Beijing Olympics 2008. They are really going for it already. And then I turned a corner in the park and there was an amazing outdoor climbing wall, pretty random.
It turned out a load of us ended up there later for a bouldering session, which was good fun and a great way to get to know each other better.
In the evening about eight of us went out for a great meal. Fortunately we had a Malaysian guy (Francis) with us who spoke mandarin, so he took charge and ordered everything. We ended up with a fine feast and lots of Chinese beer. Unbelievably, the whole lot only cost us about