Is the Dark Horse the most epic bouldering competition ever created? Absolutely. For the past couple years, I've been watching videos of bouldering competitions on the east coast, (namely Dark Horse and Heart of Steel) fantasizing about one day being able to travel out there to compete.
Although the Heart of Steel has since been cancelled, the Dark Horse is still in full swing in New England, put on every year by head setters Josh Larson and Dave Wetmore. Watching the highlight reels made the events look insane - big dynos, drop-down moves, backwards mantles, swinging on non-climbing holds, you name it, it was probably there. It looked awesome.
And now, I'm here, going to school in Boston. These are now local competitions for me. PSYCHED.
From the very first day of classes, I found myself counting down the days to the first Dark Horse competition in Everett. As the weeks, then days, then hours ticked off until go time, I got more and more excited to see what Josh and Dave had in store.
On the morning of qualifiers, I headed over to Metrorock with my friends Alex and Keila (also freshmen at Northeastern). The qualifier problems were hard - I barely ended up squeaking into finals with the strong field that showed up. However, I could already tell just from the atmosphere in the room that finals were going to be intense. People came in from about 10 different states, and even a van with some french Canadian climbers drove down for the event. We never used to get that big of a range at any competition back home! Coming from the west coast, where bouldering comps are laid back and finals are sort of a mystical idea that is rarely put into practice, it was exhilarating to know that my efforts in the qualification round could potentially move me on to finals.
After qualifiers ended, I waited around to see if I had made the top six male spots that would move on to finals. However, Dave and Josh decided to let in two extra spots to bring the finals total up to eight. This turned out to be extremely lucky for me, since my score put me in seventh. Also qualifying for the finals were Nick Picarella, Vasya Vorotnikov, Ben Hoberg, Mike Feinberg, Andrew Kim, Sebastien Lazure, and David Bain.
As I warmed up again in isolation for finals, I came to realize how much more amped up everyone was for the event. Even my roommate Isaac came out to watch the comp! Right before I climbed, I could hear the roar of the crowd as competitors worked their way up the problems behind me. The energy that I felt was on a completely different level than most competitions I've ever competed in, especially back home. I popped in my headphones, switched on the "get psyched" playlist, slipped into my trusty Team 5.10's, and chalked up. Before I knew it, "climbers begin climbing" echoed around the crowded arena from the PA and I turned to face the wall.
In a word, the finals problems were INSANE. Problem 1 consisted of a huge Dark Horse volume to start, followed by several large cubes that you had to carefully balance over before dynoing around the corner to a ring jug. The next move tripped nearly everyone up, as you were supposed to do a big sideways dyno to standing position on top of a giant ball.
Going for the jump move on #1
Number 2 was short and powerful with another huge dyno to start, followed by crazy finish match. I was able to get the first move with about 30 seconds left, but I had used most of my energy trying the first move so many times that I ended up falling while going for the next hold. Only Mike Feinberg sent this one by throwing a bicycle on one of the lower volumes.
Problem 3 was by far my favorite of the entire finals round. It started with your back to the wall, then was followed by a huge double-clutch dyno past a mediocre sloper to a jug. I attempted the dyno for most of my allotted time, trying to get the right body positioning before finally sticking the hold. From there, the climb went back onto the sloper that you initially dynoed to, then up onto a huge star feature before culminating in one last hard move to the top. I fell trying to reach the hold on the star, which ended up being the 2nd highpoint on the route. Later in the comp, Vasya was able to pull through and was able to reach the finish. Inspiring!
Sticking the cross move on #3!
Vasya bringing home the title. That's how we do it in Boston!!
In the end, I came out in 4th place after Vasya, Mike, and Ben Hoberg. I believe Ben and I tied, but I had many more falls, (especially on #2) so that count back factor brought me down one spot. Nevertheless, I had a blast at my first big east coast pro comp, and I can't wait for the next one! DARK HORSE!