* Dark Horse Series Season 4 | 2012.11.17, Metro Rock, Newburyport, MA

One of the most fun things I experienced during my maiden year of climbing was competing in the Dark Horse Series.  This annual indoor bouldering event is a four-comp series, running monthly from October to January, and has grown over the last four years, attracting the best boulderers in the country.  Dave Wetmore, Josh Larson, and rest of the Metro Rock crew host this competitive but fun event at both their Everett and Newburyport, MA locations.  The comp is an open, so anyone can sign up to compete.  The sponsors are great, the beer and pizza is a treat after bouldering hard for three hours, and the overall energy at the comps is positive, encouraging, and supportive of fellow climbers.  

After I learned of the comp and how it works, I decided to enter and competed in the last three of the series.  I figured why not, sounds like fun.  I am in love with bouldering and would call myself a competitive person, so seemed like the perfect thing to keep me motivated through part of the winter months.  Indeed it did.  I loved having something to look forward to each month -- a little road trip down to my old stomping grounds of Mass. (my family live in Boston near the Everett Metro Rock and I went to high school on the north shore near the Newburyport locale), and the chance to climb some killer problems created by some of the best setters in the country.  The Maine Rock Gym had a huge crew at each of them.  To me, it was so nice to see this camaraderie; a testament to the fairly tight, supportive climbing community in the Portland area.  We all get along and hang together outside the gym walls.  

Newburyport in November was my first ever experience with competitive climbing.  I had watched my fair share of climbing comps online, but never been to one live, let alone compete in one.  This particular comp was not what I expected.  For some reason there were throngs of youth competitors.  It was super crowded and somehow those little bodies weasel their way up to the front of the crowd and snag your chance on the wall you just waited 15 minutes for (the youth have different problems to climb than adults, but they are mixed together throughout the gym, not in separate areas).  I won't lie, that definitely added some stress and frustration to my climbing.  I thought my friend and fellow competitor Jewel was going to get into a brawl (I had your back, yo).  I was disappointed I didn't feel I had climbed well, so I was shocked when I placed third in the beginner category.  Cheers to there only being five other females competing that day in my level!  I laughed out loud when I saw those results, but, hey, for climbing only nine months, I was happy and it helped my confidence.  Regardless of placing, it was still super fun and before the first comp was even over, I was already looking forward to the next one in December.

Naturally, I brought my camera down to take some snaps.  I only brought one CF memory card and one lens (24-70mm), so you'll see how limited my shots are.  I actually didn't take that many and it was one of my first forays into photographing climbing, so they're not masterpieces.  I have a long way to go learning about that, but hopefully there are some fun shots you'll enjoy.  If you know nothing of climbing, they should give you a sense of what a competition is comprised of.  There are lots of snaps of the MRG peeps, of course.

Unfortunately, I don't have an exclusive place to house the photos online at the moment and didn't want hundreds of photos on my blog post, so I put them on Facebook and also somehow on Google Plus (before I wanted to).  Google Plus didn't upload the photos in the order I wanted (I don't know how to change that).  And I think I've probably made two Facebook posts.  Who knows?!  I am social network challenged, so I apologize, I have no idea how to do many things!  Anyway, thank you for looking!  Photos from the last two Dark Horses are on their way.

Jon Glassberg, co-owner of Louder Than 11, looking on as the La Sportiva, a sponsor, gets a banner hung for the pro division finals.  

One of my favorite pro climbers, Nina Williams, warming up.  I felt like an 9-year-old girl groupie when I introduced myself, shook her hand, and told her I was a big fan as her parents stood next to me.  I was so excited to see her climb.

Pro climber Meagan Martin warming up down the wall from Nina.  Super strong, amazing to watch her climb.

Cody Grodzki taping a finishing hold.

Dave Wetmore setting for the pro finals round.

 MRG crew (from left: Howard McGreehan, Laurie Daniels, Nick Foster, Nate Ogden, Jewel Rechsteiner) hanging after our round of citizens climbing and waiting for the youth Young Guns and Pro finals.  The walls are stripped and new problems are set specifically for these rounds.  I can only imagine what Nick is saying to Joe that it deserves a finger pointing.

 Nate had this expression on his face in almost all of my shots.

 Not pleased with what he is sitting next to, I think Nate is striving to find his happy place.

 Katya Planson made it out to compete. 

 Cam Greely and Maggy Johnson competed.

Super strong climber Dennis Daniels didn't compete, but his son Eban did, placing fifth in the Young Guns division.

Devin, Rachel, and Ed Myers enjoying a beer post-comp.  Devin and Ed competed.  Compared to females, there is such a large number of males that enter to compete.  I love that anyone gets out there and tries it though.  So much fun.

 Joe totally had a plan for Ed's demise of chair balancing...

... But, alas, did not follow through.

Brandon "Flakes" Owens (left) has just as many nicknames as he does beanies.  A lot.  Devin Dobrowolskiand Jen Labrecque (right) are unimpressed by this fact.  And Jeremy Lota's finger really doesn't care....

... That's so sad, when Flakes cares so much about J-Lo's locks...

... Nick doesn't know what to think about J-Lo's disregard for Flakes, only that he really enjoys touching his beard...

 ... This is what Jewel thinks of the situation.  And like I said earlier, Jen is unimpressed by Flakes' quantity of nicknames and beanies, and continues to drink heavily.

 Brian Rafferty of Metro Rock getting the crowd psyched for the Young Guns finals.  Raff played emcee for the entire Dark Horse series. He did a fabulous job and donned some killer costumes at the final two comps.

 The crowd looks on attentively to watch these kids crush.

Young Gun Baylie Olivieri placed second in the finals.

 The grit, determination, and talent in these kids is so cool to witness.  It makes me wish I had discovered climbing, and a host of other sports, when I was their age.

Even Young Gun competitors have time for iPhone games though.

Of course, I bought one of these Dark Horse Series 4 t-shirts.

 Female pro finals problem #1.

Isabelle Faus on her way to a send on problem #1.

 Young Gun competitor Eban Daniels watches problem #1.

 Isabelle works problem #2.

I can't recall if problem #1 was a flash for Meagan Martin, but regardless she made it look easy.

Nina Williams works problem #2.  I was so excited to see her climb.

Nina awaits her try problem #3, while Isabelle climbs it.  Competitors are not allowed to see the problem until it is their turn.  Aside from being a phenomenal boulderer, I love seeing Nina's happy personality while competing.

Jon Glassberg of Louder Than 11 films Meagan Martin on problem #2.

Jon filming climbers from above.  He is a sick climber and prolific filmmaker whose production company LT11 has taken the climbing world by storm, even hosting the live stream of the ABS 14 Nationals this past Saturday (thank you, thank you for doing that!!!).

 Meagan hydrates as she waits to climb problem #3.  Beau Kahler waits to climb men's final problem #2.  Beau is a talented climber and photographer that I will have to take notes from.  Sorry to the men, I don't have many photos of you all.  I must have been focused on the women climbing that night.  Don't worry, I still care.

Nina working problem #3.  Inspiring.

At least I got Josh Levin's enthusiastic send of men's problem #3.  He took first place.

Such a cool experience for my first bouldering competition.