Please note: The 2014 Girivihar Climbing Competition concluded on January 26. This post pertains to preparations ahead of competition. It provides insight in this regard. Just after the regular updates, you will find a simple primer to understand how the competition format works in climbing.
The eleventh edition of the annual bouldering competition hosted by Mumbai’s oldest mountaineering club, Girivihar, is scheduled over January 23-26, 2014, at CBD Belapur, Navi Mumbai.
It is an open competition.
As usual, the organizers expect participants from India and overseas.
For more on the history and evolution of this annual event, readers can see the story ` A Competition’s Solo Climb’ posted on Outrigger in August 2013.
Those wishing to participate in the upcoming edition should report to the venue on January 22.
On January 23 and 24, you have the master’s round. January 25 is for amateur climbers.
On the last day, January 26, Republic Day, the wall will be open for the general public to try their hand at climbing. This will be in the form of a workshop on climbing for citizens.
Details can be had at www.girivihar.org
Work on this year’s climbing wall and other competition related formalities has begun (please see photos herein).
Abhijit Burman, Franco Linhares and Vivek Thakur have become busy.
Vaibhav Mehta should arrive in a few days.
Rohan Gawand and Sandesh Palshetkar dropped by to help.
The countdown has begun.
As Franco said when I spoke to him on Monday (January 13), for climbers it is that time of the year when “ all roads lead to Belapur!’’
According to newspaper reports, there were five happening at once.
Early evening, the stadium near the competition venue at Belapur was in celebratory mood, hosting games ranging from cricket to kabaddi.
Amid that, work on the climbing wall continued.
Abhijit Burman (aka Bong) was at the venue, as was Prashant Venugopal, who informed freelance journalist living out all days as same, that Tuesday was holiday. It added to the pleasure of meeting friends and the cups of tea, Bong handed out.
The wall’s size is now clear from the framework built to support it. According to Bong, the wall for 2014 will be the biggest constructed yet for the Girivihar competition. It is marginally longer than what has been installed before.
A familiar face to anyone who has witnessed the previous competitions is Raju, the carpenter.
For the first few years, the wall was built in-house by climbers along with Bong’s architect-brother Indrajit. Slowly, as the overall work around the competition grew, carpenters arrived.
Raju, who hails from Chhapra in Bihar, first worked on the annual wall in 2009. From then on, he has been a regular sight at every edition. This time, he has two people to assist. On Tuesday, every tea break featured Bhojpuri songs played from the trio’s mobile phones.
The wall-building work has got considerably mechanised. As sparks flew from the metal cutter slicing its way through a slotted angle-frame, Bong recalled how in the early years of the competition, all they had was the hacksaw blade and several blades broken every edition by a lot of metal to cut.
Now, the shift to the venue ahead of competition includes all required raw materials to build the wall, an array of hand held machines for cutting and drilling and – a small kitchen installed next door to keep the tea and biscuits coming for those working. It may not seem much but eleven years ago, the entire event was just a thought in the head.
Old timers would recall Bong’s first house in Belapur, small in size and rendered smaller still by the climbing equipment – even a climbing wall – cramped into it. There, in the banter preceding and following the weekend assembly for climbing at the Belapur crags, the competition had taken shape. If I recall correctly, once formally discussed and cast as something to do, the first edition happened within a couple of months’ time. The response encouraged sufficiently to keep the show going year after year. Prashant had been one of those contributing to the prize money for the first edition. “ That is certainly one of the best investments I made,” he said.
About 60 per cent of its overall appearance – minus coat of paint – seems to be in place.
A climbing wall’s mind – what it uses to stump the climber with – is its holds, its features. Their shape, how they are placed and crucially, what type of hold or feature turns up where on given climbing route decide the challenge. So, 60 per cent overall appearance now visible at site, says nothing of what the prospective climbing could be. The route is a secret known only to the Chief Route Setter. Belapur awaits Vaibhav Mehta.
Constructing the wall is hard work; both actually building it and the supervision of the task. I suspect, just as with mountain, few will remember these aspects. Ever heard of a mountaineer who pauses to wonder how the mountain came to be? Eventually, our wall too will be all about climber and to a lesser degree, climbing. Such is the human mind! Watching a wall take shape, that does make one feel trifle sad.
January 16 felt another typical day at the wall.
The core team was there; Franco till late afternoon, Vivek Thakur arrived late evening. Bong is permanent fixture as is Raju, the carpenter and his team. For freelance journalist, time was marked by catching up on old stories and discussions about life (the world according to middle aged climbers!), periodically interrupted by quick fire exchanges between Bong and Raju.
The latter successfully executed a delicate cut with saw on plywood as Bong watched with bated breath. He then looked Bong in the eye and claimed, “ I can now cut anything!’’ We laughed. On another occasion, Raju installed a panel, then looked at the shape of the wall around him as though trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle and proceeded to tell Bong what he thought his next moves would be. Bong smiled, walked up to him and asked, “ you can now anticipate what is on my mind, can’t you?’’
Thus, slowly but steadily, with much fun and banter in between, the wall comes up for what it hopes will be a good response to the competition, from climbers.
The facade was nearing completion as of late evening.
The painters were set to take over, next day.
Once the wall’s front face is fully up, the building team will busy itself providing more structural strength through slotted angle-frameworks for roofs and other panels besides more linkages between the wall and the scaffolding behind.
When it started years ago, this annual Girivihar competition was wholly on natural rock. The climbing crags of Belapur are located along the slopes of an amphitheatre of hills. This is where the bulk of the club’s weekend climbs used to happen. It is also home to the club’s annual rock climbing camp that trains newcomers to the sport. Both arms of this arc-like landscape were tapped for rocks to climb, later compete on. On one occasion, the competition stepped out from this area to the nearby Khargar hill road as well. But that was just once for an impressive route there couldn’t be availed again.
A few years into holding the competition, the first set of artificial walls for the event made a shy debut. They were housed indoors and if I remember right, were held in place with ropes. Soon, these walls transitioned to not just being located outside but they also replaced natural rock to be the prime medium for the competition.
The structure of these walls betrayed the competition’s home grown flavour. The wall was mounted on a framework of slotted angles but it was held in place by bamboo scaffolding. Amid climbing sessions, rope and bamboo tended to loosen. It required tightening. The lack of elegance did nothing to dampen the competition (national champions, strong climbers from overseas and even a world champion visited Belapur to climb or set routes during this phase). But tightening the bamboo structure wasn’t fun. Bamboo gave way to steel framework. While all this may seem trivial, for a home grown competition, each change meant rethinking funds and finding ways to make scarce money happen. The next stage was to graduate from renting the steel scaffolding to owning it so that recurrent cost in every edition of the event was contained at least to that extent. In this, Mangesh Takarkhede, who had been winner in the competition before, helped. Today, it’s a presentable grid of metal behind the wall.
Befittingly therefore, Vinay Potdar, Sandeep Maity and Rahul Ranjan reached Belapur early today (January 17), from days spent climbing in Hampi.
So far, everything has been on schedule.
For the wall-building team, only minor structural work remains.
The painters have given the facade an initial base layer.
Colours are yet to come.
Late evening when the painters left, the wall was white; like climbers’ chalk.
“ We began work earlier than usual,’’ Bong said.
Now it is up to those executing the remaining jobs to maintain that efficiency and sustain the relatively relaxed atmosphere. Needless to say, smoothly working systems make the competition enjoyable.
On the stage adjacent to the venue, was a collection of crash pads, neatly stacked. Thanks to Ajith Bhobate, they were moved here today from the Poddar College climbing wall maintained by Girivihar. More such pads are due; they are used to cushion falls from the climbing wall once the event gets underway. It is that time of the year when crash pads catch taxis, suburban trains, squeeze into three wheelers and ride pillion on two wheelers – to be useful in Belapur.
Update 5 / January 19: I guess today, despite the wall gaining colours, it should take a back seat.
When the first edition of the Girivihar climbing competition was conceptualised over a decade ago, it was in no small measure due to the rise of a new generation of climbers in Mumbai. They embraced sport climbing. That lot was headed by Vaibhav; other prominent names were Sandeep Varadkar, Shyam Sanap and Mangesh Takarkhede. Not only did they push sport climbing, they were also so fiercely given to climbing that it was pretty much what they did for main activity. Suddenly, climbing wasn’t merely hobby. Bong, a technician by profession, was willing to piece together the competition’s infrastructure. These climbers brought the passion and critically, the attraction for others of their generation to turn up in Belapur.
Vaibhav –he ran a climbing gym in Leh (Ladakh) for a couple of years – now lives in France, a country strongly identified with climbing. He is the competition’s Chief Route Setter.
His old friends – Sandeep, Shyam and Mangesh – turn up to work alongside at the annual competition. Like Bong, Vaibhav and Co has been another building block of the event. The wall will understand if I said that the wall isn’t main news today. That would be: Vaibhav is here.
As for the wall – its facade has been painted orange, grey and blue.
Also arrived today, were more crash pads and several plastic bins filled with climbing holds.
Update 6 / January 20: The photo says it all.
Late evening; a climbing wall painted orange, grey and blue shines under arc lights.
There are pending tasks; that inevitable last minute rush to face.
The drift to upcoming competition is now palpable.
Update 7 / January 21: The day began with worry.
Coming to think of it, yesterday (January 20) had been cloudy. If I remember right, the sun never broke through.
But who would anticipate rain in January in Mumbai?
They wouldn’t have in Belapur.
What’s happening to the orange wall? – I thought.
Late afternoon, Belapur.
A shy sun is out in the sky.
The wall was as orange, grey and blue as ever.
Pretty much the same as it was last night.
Late evening, work on setting up all the boulder problems required for the various stages of the competition got underway.
Watching it was an engaging experience. It reminded me of days in climbing gone by. A set of portable speakers played wonderful music. Chief Route Setter, Vaibhav and his team stayed intensely focused on their task; the music amply aiding the creative yet acutely action-oriented atmosphere. They set routes, attempted them, discussed difficulty levels. Once a problem has been finalized, the climbing holds used to make it are removed and the wall returned to its original look. But because the boulder problems so designed must remain confidential until disclosed for competition and since problems in the making can give away information on how to climb them, we have no photographs of the wall’s facade today.
Its the wall’s Houdini Phase; there, yet not there – disappeared!
Update 8 / January 22: Relatively peaceful day, despite it being eve of competition.
Outstation participants have begun arriving. A few had landed on January 21.
By 8.30PM today, 25-30 competitors had registered, mostly for the Master’s category.
There was dinner for all at the venue, including the participants who have reached Belapur.
The competition management team held a meeting. Specific responsibilities – ranging from judging to cleaning holds, spotting and supervising isolation – were allotted.
As mentioned earlier, the first set of boulder problems were prepared on the wall, January 21st night. A boulder problem once approved is documented and removed. Tonight, after all the participants have retired to their rooms, the wall was slated to come alive again, as the Chief Route Setter and his team continue their work. That wonderful music would be back, the climbing shoes would be out, hands would be chalked and a bliss hold-to-hold would descend.
Before I sign off, a photo of the wall, clicked late evening today when participants were allowed to be there for registration and dinner. This photo was taken with the Chief Route Setter’s permission.
Good luck for the competition and happy climbing!
CLIMBING COMPETITION EXPLAINED
For those readers who wish to understand what happens during a climbing competition, here’s a simple primer. It avoids complicated details and speaks of the main points that matter:
The Girivihar competition has two categories in the main – women and men. The event starts with these two groups in mind and evolves separate sub-categories based on age (under-sixteen and above) depending on the number of participants. If a potential sub-category has too few participants, it gets merged with a suitable another.
A climbing competition on an artificial wall (like the one at the Girivihar event) typically involves tackling a boulder problem that has been designed by the route setter. To retain the element of surprise and newness, every round of competition begins with ` isolation.’ Akin to extempore speech contests, when you are taken aside, given the subject and told to prepare your speech in five minutes, here, the competitors sit in isolation away from the wall while the route is readied. This is followed by the chance to observe / study your route before you climb; it happens differently for the qualifying rounds and the finals. In the qualifying rounds the acts of observing / studying a route and climbing it, get clubbed together. You do it at one go, emerging from isolation when your name is called, observing the route and then attempting it. However in the finals, participants come out together from isolation to observe the route, then return to isolation and emerge one by one to climb. In the finals, the two acts of observing / studying a climbing route and climbing it, are treated distinctly.
The wall is composed of multiple faces and each face has a route to be attempted for participant to formally finish a full round of attempts. Therefore, he / she is entitled to five minutes of climbing a face on the wall followed by five minutes of rest before attempting the next face. The ability to tackle a route is a combination of how well you imagine it in terms of climbing moves in your head and how well you actually execute the plan you conceived. Therefore, when more than one competitor is out in front of the wall, the one taking rest has to sit facing away from the wall. This is to ensure that the one taking rest does not see another competitor climb a route he / she is expected to attempt. In the finals, since there is separate time awarded to observe / study each face, the time participants get to climb is regarded as four minutes plus. That `plus’ runs for as long as the participant takes to finish his last attempt begun within assigned time limit.
When climbers are observing a route, you will often see them move their arms and imitate grips with their fingers, as though engaged in a climb. This is done to physically ingrain / memorize the sequence of moves, they figured out by observing with their eyes while still on the ground. Once the participant emerges from isolation to climb, he / she is considered to have started climbing the moment a classic three point-contact with both feet off the ground, happens on the wall. This is noted as one attempt. The participant can have any number of attempts within the allotted time.
While the above are the basic rules, from the judges’ perspective, when the competition gets intense or climbers are evenly placed, smaller details will matter profoundly. For example, how many attempts you took to climb a route, how far you reached on a route – all this and more will be factored in for distinction. An interesting angle herein is the use of the `zone’ concept. Under this, on some exceptionally difficult routes that participants are struggling to finish, a participant, while unsuccessful at gripping the final hold and moving up, may manage to touch the final hold and keep his / her fingers there for a while to establish how far he / she reached.
In the last edition of the Girivihar competition, there were climbing routes ranging in difficulty from sub-6 to mid-7 on the French grading scale. There is never prior indication of what to expect in terms of grades at a competition as that is a dynamic equation between the Chief Route Setter and the calibre of participants. The Chief Route Setter gauges the gathered climbing talent and improvises accordingly. That said, grade itself is a funny thing; it tells you much of the science climbing has become (with its ability to award numbers to difficulty) and how relative (art – you could say) it still is for the numbers are a matter of perception. Thus, once a route is designed, the Chief Route Setter and his trusted team (in other words – more than one person) attempt / climb the route for a feel of what it is. Together and after adequate deliberation, they assign grade. Equally, once a route of challenging grade has been climbed many times over, it is not seen to retain its original grade. On natural rock, this degradation is even physically tangible in the form of accelerated weathering of tough holds into easy ones, courtesy several climbers passing through. On artificial walls where holds can be replaced, it is more a case of the how-to-do knowledge becoming available. This how-to-do element is referred to in climbing parlance as the `beta’ of a route.
The above is a simple guide to understanding how a climbing competition works. The proposed citizen’s workshop of January 26, the last day of the 2014 Girivihar Climbing Competition will be a useful programme to attend for more on this subject and plenty more related to climbing.
(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai. All the photos featured here were taken by him.)