The whole thing started with a Skype call and a simple idea. Fly 7000 miles to compete in the KAILAS bouldering competition. I would meet a whole new team, compete in a foreign country and test my limits.
I wanted to do this. I knew I did, but it also meant skipping school. I needed to get permission to miss University hours, to fly half way across the world on a trip that couldn’t be any less educational. I don’t know why or how, but they said yes. I would be able to pass my year and fly to China.
So, after two days of organizing I found myself at the airport boarding a flight to Guanzhou, China.
I’ve never been anywhere as far as China before, so I knew it was going to be an adventure. I was to fly Zurich to Paris and then catch a connecting flight to Guangzhou. I left with only hand luggage and a good start for a fast transfers. It all seemed to be going really well, I boarded my Zurich flight only to be told that there would be a delay of at least 45 minutes. Miraculously, I made my connecting flight! I took a quick nap on the plane from Paris but every mile I flew, I became more excited. I saw the Tibetan mountain range, it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. An endless stream of unclimbed peaks.
Finally, 11 and a half hours later – touchdown. I met some other KAILAS athletes at the airport including Austrian Andi Afschnaiter. We were going to meet Sam from South Africa but she ended up being stranded in Kenya for the night, too bad.
That night we, the KAILAS team, went out for a Chinese dinner. Dumplings, rice noodles, the whole shebang. After that we called it a night. After the short three hours I slept on the plane, I couldn’t be any happier to go to sleep.
Jetlag woke Andi and I up at 4AM and the first thought that came into our heads was to scout the area. We finished up our morning with a Chinese breakfast including onion and egg cakes with noodles.
After checking out the KAILAS HQ where we met more of the office team and got a look at the behind the scene at production. We got a look at their flagship store located under the office, this including the bouldering gym in the back! No climber can ever resist a nice bouldering gym, so we spent some time warming up for the competition the next day.
Baggio, KAILAS owner, took us for lunch at a local restaurant and introduced us to some local specialties. These included sea worm, which tasted great but looking at it raw may make your stomach turn.
Andi and I then ventured off to check out the technology market in a high rise. The indoors market consisted of a variety of stands, the higher up you went, the cheaper the prices got.
After more than an hour of wandering and many shouts in our direction, trying to sell us the best tech gear, we headed back to HQ. Once again, the jetlag hit us and after a short nap we found out that Sam had finally made it! The next dinner included a variety of dumplings, fish and risenoodles. I’ve come to accept my love of all these foods.
It started off with an early breakfast and then we headed off to one of the largest convention centers in China where the competition was taking place and the sales meetings were being held. Sam, Andi and I were all competing in the pro category. Qualifying only started at 3PM for the women and 5PM for the men. In other words, we had some time to pass.
We got a good look at the KAILAS products and were able to scout what would be released in the coming year. We got the chance to watch a fashion show for all the Chinese retailers. It was epic, like no fashion show I’ve ever seen before. Not that I have a lot of experience. Anyway, there was break dancing and motor bikes. I’m pretty sure that’s not everyday fashion show stuff.
3PM arrives and Sam started climbing. She did really well, she missed the finals by one spot which is pretty damn awesome.
And then 5PM struck and I was sitting isolated, preparing for what was to come. It was the first time I was competing at a timed pro bouldering competition. As time ticked down I felt the pressure weighing my down. I wanted to do well. I wanted to place.
My number is called out and I ran ahead, T-four minutes to complete the first problem. After feeling strong and getting the bonus with the final hold in sight, I go for the jump! I’m so close I can taste it!
And then I slip.
I hit the matt and look up, the timer says three minutes left. I gave it four more attempts, always getting close to the finish line but never quite making it. The timer buzzes as I fall yet again on the last hold.
I get another four minutes to recover until I’m out on the second problem. This one was a dyno from 2 crimps to a sloper. I figured I could statically do the move with my height advantage being 6 foot tall. I pull on and make the bonus, throw my left heel over my hand and pull to reach up. I was so close, I touched the sloper! But my heel slipped off the tiny crimp and before I knew it was eating matt. Again.
I tried to think of all the different ways to get there. I gave it a few more attempts but didn’t manage. This comp. wasn’t going my way.
Back in isolation I felt my arms screaming in pain, the pump was kicking in. But I told myself, two problems to go. I can be in pain later.
And then I’m out again, third problem. I pull the crimps through out, go right into a shoulder move and hold the lock off. I reach up, my foot slips and I slam head first into the wall.
I’m back on the matt, by now I was pissed. My heart was racing and my time was running out.
It ran out, all of it. In recovery I thought how to drain the blood from my arms. No time though, the final climb awaits.
A crimp fest with high rockups. I knew I could manage the crimps and I was going for the bonus but my foot kept popping off in the last second. 15 seconds on the clock, I tell myself. 15 seconds is all you need! I go for one last try and give it my all, and it works! One more, I tell myself. One hold from the top and my foot pops again. And I’m on the matt. Again.
So much to placing.
All in all, it was a learning experience. I got a pretty good grasp of what my weaknesses are and what I need to train to become more successful. I didn’t end up qualifying for the final but that’s okay. I had fun thats the main thing.
It was another early start, todays goal was to go sight seeing in the morning and make it back to watch Andi in the finals after lunch.
We explored some markets and checked out all the fake goods they had, ranging from Sounto watched to Rolex’s. After that we went to the sales meeting for lunch and started prepping for the finals. And by prepping I mean we took out some cameras.
At the finals we went to cheer for Andi. He did great on the first problem! The second looked promising too, popping off the last hold over and over again. Overall he came in second.
We watched the prize ceremony and headed out for dinner where we met up with the KAILAS competition organizers. We all squeezed into a round table and ended our dinner with a walk around the canton tower exploring more of the area at night.
The last day, There was a photo shoot planned in the morning followed by some sight seeing and souvenir shopping. We took some turns into some crazy markets and walked down corridors that were filled top to bottom with stuffed animals.
Time was flying and before we knew it Andi, Sam and I were heading off to the airport.
I had a great time on this trip. I learnt so much, not only about China and KAILAS but also about my fellow climbers. It was a great experience, not only did I learn about my strengths and weaknesses but I also made some great friends along the way.
A huge thanks to Janine and KAILAS for organizing the entire trip. Also Lisa and the whole team for making us feel so welcome and making the trip unforgettable.