Kai Lightner Wins Ring of Fire
This year I had planned to attend the 1st and Finals round of The Ring of Fire competition series. After the first round I was excited to return for the Finals event. The routesetters had promised even harder routes and “fun” sequences.
Friday, 5/2, was the qualification round for pro climbers. The top 8 climbers from qualifiers, in addition to the winners from the first two rounds of the competition series, would all move on to compete in the Finals round the following day. Since I did well at the 1st competition of the series in March, I had an automatic spot in finals and didn’t have to compete in the qualifier round. Knowing my qualifying round wouldn’t count, because of my bye to finals, I decided to climb during the round anyway. I couldn’t resist getting good competition training, on 3 well set routes.
The first route was pretty simple, a little balancey, but not very long, or steep. It was a good warm up route to get you ready for the next two problems. The second route was much longer and was on a slightly overhanging wall. The last route was also long and was on a steeper overhanging section of the wall. The route started with a neat jump start to pinches. The coolest part of the route was the pocket section, with no feet. They had three pockets lined up that you had to traverse, while campusing. After reaching the last pocket, you had to bump up (still no feet) to a sloper on the side of a volume. That route was pretty cool.
I had fun climbing during the qualifier round, but knew I had to get focused to climb a hard finals route. With both Daniel Woods and Vasya Vorotnikov competing, I knew the setters had a hard route in store for us.
Our finals route looked long, bouldery, and featured an upside down double kneebar move towards the beginning of the climb. When I returned to ISO, I discussed the route with several of my friends. Despite their insisting that the double knee bar was the easiest way to go with the sequence, I quickly decided against it. I had a bad experience in the past with my knee slipping during an upside down kneebar, resulting in a fall. I came up with an alternate plan that involved bypassing the upside down sequence, reaching directly for the two finger pocket with my right hand, and crossing into the next hold with my left. As I reviewed the entire route sequence in my mind, I knew I had a tough fight ahead of me.
When it was my turn to climb, I came out of ISO determined to do my best. I started the route, made the first two clips, and then got into position to climb the intended kneebar section. As I began the sequence I had planned, I hit the two finger pocket with my right hand and realized that the next hold was too far away too cross in to! I needed a backup plan. The first thing that came to me was a middle finger mono match that I had done several times before at the gym. I took a deep breathe, knowing I was going to get blasted for making the move, and completed the sequence. After a series of crimps, and multiple bouldery moves, I was finally at a rest, where I could shake out, and regroup for the next section.
The next section started with a big move to a crimp on the side of a volume, and was followed by a series of strength moves to crimps, until you cleared the lip of the steep section. Once you cleared the lip there was a dynamic move to a crimp on the side of a round volume, followed by core intensive moves to crimps on a second round volume. At this point there were three moves left in the route. I made a big move to sloper, and quickly realized it was HORRIBLE! I looked up at my next hold, and thought to myself, “my left hand hold is horrible, I’m tired, and the next hold is all the way up there. This isn’t going to happen.” I decided to go for useable surface on the next hold, and call it a day!
After falling, I took a deep breathe, and was proud of myself for doing my best on the route. When I hit the ground my mom had to tell me twice that I had high point on the route, before it actually soaked in.
After getting fussed at by everyone for the mono match move, I was told to report back to the gym for “inverted double kneebar boot camp” in the morning. Although morning boot camp didn’t sound fun, I eventually discovered that the move was actually pretty easy and it doesn’t bother me anymore.
Overall the competition was incredibly exciting with amazing routes! I am really glad that I was able to keep everything together and do well. When I enter pro events, with insanely strong climbers, I know that I am going to see sequences that I have never seen (or done) before. There are so many foreign things that I expect to face, that I can’t really have expectations. I just tackle one thing at a time, try to mix in a little fun, and hope that things come together in the end. Sometimes the result is me winning, other times the main result is me learning something new. On a good day I get both
In two weeks I will compete at Dominion Riverrock. At the beginning of the year, I had planned to compete in 3-4 pro competitions, since next year I will be eligible (by age) to compete in World Cup championships. Since the age of 10, I set a goal to one day be a strong representative for the US at World competitions. What better way to train than to compete in comps that physically and mentally push me to my limits? I realize that although I may be physically strong enough to handle hard routes, there are many more factors at play (that I will have to learn) in order to handle the open world competition stage. Several pro climbers have been very cool about helping me learn both physical and mental training skills that I will need to progress. Daniel refers to it as “training the next generation.” I guess not only is it helpful to me, but it kind of sets the stage for what I’ll be expected to do one day.
Looking forward to a new set of challenges at Dominion Riverrock… wish me luck (and lots of fun)!
~ Kai Lightner, prAna Ambassador
Photos by GKwan Photo
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