French Climbers Dominate Men’s Competitions in Speed and Skill
OURAY – Europeans dominated the competition and the podium at last weekend’s 18th Annual Ouray Ice Festival.
German climber Ines Papert again proved herself the Dominatrix of the Ice, walking away with 1st place trophies in the Women’s Division in both Saturday’s Elite Mixed Climbing Competition and Sunday’s LOWA Boots Hari Berger Speed Climbing Comp.
Frenchmen Simon Duverney and Jeff Mercier crushed the competition in the Men’s Division, with Duverney becoming overall champion in the mixed climbing contest, and fellow countryman Mercier seizing 1st place in speed climbing.
Duverney and Mercier were the only two contenders to get to the top of the difficult Elite Mixed Climbing Competition route, dubbed Naughty Aphrodite, whose centerpiece was a 3.5 ton, 25-foot-tall steel climbing wall overhanging the Uncompahgre Gorge in the heart of the Ouray Ice Park. Climbers also had to scale a “tuna log” hanging from the bottom of the wall, which proved to be the nemesis of many climbers. From there, the wall was sparsely accessorized with several dangling ice axes which functioned as hand-holds, and a couple of pieces of high density foam artificial ice near the top.
Mercier set the bar early on, making the route look easy as he successfully scaled it early Saturday morning, leaving spectators to wonder if Naughty Aphrodite was going to let even more climbers have their way with her.
Papert was up next. In a classic display of German efficiency and toughness, she made it almost all of the way up the wall to the first piece of artificial ice before she fell, but the judges called her high mark further down the wall, because she had grabbed too high on a dangling axe handle that was marked as out-of-bounds. (She said it was more of a misunderstanding of the rules than a mistake.)
“I wish I could have got all the way up,” she said. “Maybe next time.”
As the rest of the day unfolded, it became clear that Naughty Aphrodite was not going to give it up so easily. Almost every contender managed the lower portion of the climb (an established mixed rock-and-ice route in the Ouray Ice Park known as Mighty Aphrodite) and many exhibited jaw-dropping, head-scratching feats of strength and flexibility as they figured out how to tackle the complexities above.
But most climbers ultimately met their match on the tuna log, a dangling six-foot peeled log attached to a swivel, which swung back and forth and spun around at the same time, as climbers cartoonishly hugged it like a koala bear and tried to shimmy and hack their way up.
For those few who managed to conquer the log, the next challenge was the transition onto the overhanging wall itself.
Duverney, the tenth climber of the day, showed spectators how it’s done. The Frenchman executed the climb with precision and elegance. He spurned the tuna log as much as possible, using it merely as a foothold while leveraging himself onto the wall itself, and from there, swung his way ninja-like up the remainder of the overhanging route and grabbed the two dangling tennis balls at the top which signified the end of the climb.
Though competition continued for a few more hours through a total of 25 male and female competitors, nobody else was able to match the feat.
Duverney’s time was faster than Mercier’s; thus, the latter Frenchman became the overall winner of the contest.
Duverney, who lives near Chamonix, France, got 3rd place in the Elite Mixed Climbing Comp last year. “I said I want to come back and I want to win,” he recalled. This year’s route, however, was full of surprises for him. “We are not used to the hanging things, you know?” he said in a quizzical French accent. “So it was interesting. It was completely different. It was hard, but it was fun, also. The hardest part was definitely the part from the piece of wood to the wall.”
Bright smiles warmed the frigid air at the outdoor award ceremony at the Ouray Ice Park on Sunday afternoon, as the winners took their places on a podium carved out of a huge block of crystal-clear ice and received their prize money and handmade trophies (made as usual by local glass and metal artists Sam Rushing and Jeff Skoloda).
Papert added to the feel-good vibe by donating her prize money from the speed comp back to the Ouray Ice Park. Papert, a rock star in the world of climbing, was omnipresent at the Festival, teaching several clinics throughout the weekend, giving a standing-room-only slideshow presentation at the Main Street Theater on Friday night, and afterwards signing copies of her new book, Vertical, to fans who lined up for a chance to shake the hand of a climbing idol.
Papert, who has several Ouray Ice Festival titles to her name, including one overall championship in which she bested all male as well as female competitors, is also a four-time Ice Climbing World Champion in “difficulty.” She has won three World Cup Overall Titles, and is an accomplished alpinist and sponsored athlete whose rock-climbing prowess has led to ascents on some of the hardest routes in the Alps. Later this year, she’s headed for some high-altitude mixed climbing to “totally virgin mountains” in the Chinese Himalaya.
It was a great weekend for Dutch climber Marianne Van Der Steen as well; the 28-year-old Ice Fest neophyte came in 2nd place in the Elite Climbing Competition and 3rd place in the Speed Climbing comp. Van Der Steen comes by her climbing chops by way of Ridgway-based elite climber Steve House’s new alpine mentor program.
“At first I didn’t think I had a chance of winning anything,” she said. “Ines Papert is like my big idol. But I was climbing outdoors here last week and did things that even Ines had never done before; I was climbing harder than anyone, and really I got so nervous because I thought I could win! But then I got too nervous in the competition, and I stressed. When you start stressing, you are not concentrating on the climbing itself anymore.”
Boulderite Emily Harrington and local climbing phenom Dawn Glanc rounded out the field of Women’s Division winners, achieving 3rd place in mixed climbing and 2nd place in the speed comp, respectively.
Both are former Ouray Ice Festival champions. Last year, after coming in second to Harrington, Glanc (whose name rhymes with “dance”) lamented the fact that there were so few women contenders in the contest and called for more participation. This year, her wish was granted as the women’s field swelled to eight contenders in the Elite Mixed Climbing Competition and nine in the speed comp.
In the Men’s Division, Bozeman’s Whit Magro bested Duverney in the speed comp by a single second to win 2nd place, while Sam Elias of Boulder scaled enough of Naughty Aphrodite for a 3rd place finish in mixed climbing.
Hundreds of volunteers and thousands of spectators and participants contributed to the weekend’s well-organized success, which in spite of frigid temperatures boasted sold-out clinics and standing-room-only slideshows and multimedia evening presentations. All in all, organizers agreed, it was quite a “gathering of the tribe.”
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French Climbers Dominate Men’s Competitions in Speed and Skill