The British Lead Climbing Championships (BLCC) are spread over the weekend with the Juniors (under 20) climbing on the Saturday and the Seniors (16 and over) on the Sunday. Held at the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena in Ratho (EICA:Ratho) the route setters (Neil McGeachy, Neil Busby, Gary Vincent and Mark Pretty) had been hard at work for 2 days putting together challenging routes for the 79 climbers competing in the 8 junior categories and the Male Veterans.
With two qualifying rounds to determine which four or six climbers went through to the finals (dependent on the number of category entries) the walls were soon a kaleidoscope of climbers much to the delight of the many spectators and EICA:Ratho regulars.
There were only 4 competitors in the Veteran Male (45+ years) category this year but they all acquitted themselves admirably with Eddie Cooper retaining his title for the second year ahead of Mark Richardson, Nick Colton and David Eadie. The Veteran women in attendance chose to keep their feet firmly on the ground as judges and camera operators.
In the Youth C Girls (12/13 years) all 13 climbers topped their first route so it was down to the trickier second route, which hugged the right-hand corner of the old comp wall, to sort out the six finalists. Hannah Slaney got the furthest on this route and qualified in top place. On the Hanger Wall final route though it was 6th place qualifier Ellissa Bryant who pulled out all the stops to take the title over GB team member Carmel Moran. Hannah's qualifier gave her third place on count back ahead of Eleanor May, Eilidh Vass Payne and Libby Gamble.
The Youth C Boys was a surprisingly small group with only 7 competitors, but the quality was top notch with GB team mates and EICA: Ratho regulars Angus Davidson and William Bosi qualifying for the final with two tops. Jim Pope and Cai Bishop-Guest qualified with one top each. Both these boys came off the final route at the same point but it was Jim that took third place on count back. William got near the top of this 7c+ graded route, but a magnificent climb from Angus, showing incredible strength and concentration, took him all the way and saw him retain the title.
Youth B Girls (14/15 years) saw the GB team girls justify their membership taking the podium slots. Molly Thompson-Smith and Rachel Carr both qualified with 2 tops just ahead of Tara Hayes, Gracie Martin, Nikki Addison and Rebekah Drummond. Their blue finals route on the Hanger wall was one of the busiest being used by 4 different categories. All the girls made it into the steepest overhang with impressive strength and footwork, but it was Molly's super strong fingers that took her the furthest (of all the groups using it) and into the top slot ahead of last year's winner Rachel and Tara.
Youth B Boys category had 12 competitors so only 6 should have gone through to the final, but with seven double tops an extra space was required. Their finals route, on far right of the Hanger wall, was edgy and tough, with only GB team member Connor Byrne making it all the way to the top ahead of Irish team's Dominic Burns and Brendan Gallagher.
The Youth A Girls first route was the taxing black on the hanger wall that later tested the Youth B boys. Climbing errors resulted in several low scores but thankfully the 2nd route was easier and saw tops from GB team members Charlotte Garden and Sarah Pashley. Jennifer Wood qualified in third place with Emily Fell in fourth, but despite a valiant effort by both girls on the final route (the Hanger Wall Blue again) they could not upset the qualifying order.
The final route for the Youth A Boys was a fingery pink in the middle of the Hanger Wall that had been taunting climbers during the qualification rounds. After 5 tops on the first route and a fairly close second it did the job of sorting out the top places. Jonny White (Youth B winner last year) clung on with amazing finger strength and balance to take the top spot ahead of fellow GB team member Tom Bonnert and Andrew Colligan. This was a good result for Andrew who was 12th in this category last year.
Last year Natalie Berry was the only competitor in the Junior Girls (18/19) so it was great to see 2 climbers in the category this year. Jessica McCaskey climbed well but couldn't match Lucy Mitchell who took the title. Hopefully next year we'll have a few more taking part.
By contrast the Male Junior category was hotly contested with five of the eight competitors on the GB team and everyone wondering if Ed Hamer could keep up the momentum that saw him finish second in the World Youth Championships this August. There were five double tops, so five finalists faced the same pink route that had defied the Youth A Boys. Jonny Stocking had a nightmare slip early in the climb while Ashleigh Wolsey-Heard just managed to surpass Jonny White's position to take 4th place. Jonny Field got a couple of holds further to take third and, although Luke Tilley pushed really hard, he couldn't better Ed Hamer who retained his title with his usual poise and agility (until this fall).
As volunteers and climbers headed home early Saturday evening the route setters were back on the wall resetting for the Senior event. Competitors in the Youth A and Junior Categories can compete in both Junior and Senior Championships and many did. It was also good to see a number of the GB Bouldering Team pulling on a harness.
In the Senior Female event, fresh from her fourth place in the final round of Senior Bouldering World Cup in Munich earlier this year, Shauna Coxsey demonstrated why she used to be a member of the GB Junior lead team toping out on all 3 routes with great finesse, and pipping last year's winner Natalie Berry into second place ahead of Michaela Tracy.
There was a healthy turnout for the Senior Men's event with 19 climbers taking part and a 20+ age gap between youngest and oldest. Ed Hamer qualified with two tops but Dave Barrans stuck a move ahead of Ed on the horrendous white final route he took the title with Luke Tilley in third after count back ahead of James Garden.
While the Seniors were shut away in Isolation prior to their final the first ever British Junior Speed Climbing Championships were held.
Unfortunately there weren't enough entries to run under IFSC categories so an Under 18 level was set. The first 2 climbs (one left and one right) are against the clock, then the fastest climbers go head to head in the quarter, semi and final climbs. These were extremely exciting with anything possible as slips can throw a leading climber off the wall.
Some climbers had benefited from a Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) Preparation Day run earlier in the month, so had had some expert training from Calum Forsyth EICA: Ratho's speed guru and adopted the 'bouncy' style seen in European and World competitions. The Junior Girls' title was won by Rachel Carr in 19.05 seconds (a time that would have gained her a place in a European Final) ahead of Carmel Moran. The Junior Boys' title was won in impressive form by Alexander Bosi who managed a sub 15 sec time ahead of Dominic Burns. This could have taken Alexander into a European Semi Final.
After the Senior Lead finals there came the Senior (18+) Speed Championships. After a long weekend for many (including the volunteers) the finishing times were perhaps not as fast as they could have been but the finals saw a reversal of fortunes as Natalie Berry took the title ahead of Shauna Coxsey. In the Male competition Jonny Stocking finished just ahead of Calum Forsyth. Hopefully we'll see more entries next year and the possibility of a GB Speed team in the near future.
Surprisingly we managed to leave EICA:Ratho before we were kicked out. It had been a long weekend of mixed fortune, unfortunate slips, lots of impressive climbing and some new experiences. The next get together will be the Youth Open Lead Climbing Competition in Sunderland on 10th December.
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