BD Athlete Allison Vest is known for her indoor competition prowess, becoming the Canadian National Bouldering Champ in both 2018 and 2020. In 2019, she switched it up and became the country’s sport climbing champion as well. But, as she writes, competition climbing can also be “super frustrating” as she experienced on the global competition circuit recently. Never one to dwell on the negative, however, Allison switched it up again and took her training and fitness outside. The result was another milestone, as she became the first Canadian woman to climb a V13.
Competition climbing is super frustrating. It doesn’t always work out the way you had trained for or the way you had hoped. The 2019 Tokyo World Championships in August was an example of that for me. After training hard through the summer months I felt like I was more ready than ever to take on one of climbing’s biggest stages and, well, I fell short. I began spiraling mentally and wondering if all the hard work was worth it if it wasn’t going to pay off.
Upon returning home, I decided that instead of feeling sorry for myself, I was going to use the fitness that I knew I had and turn it into something I could be proud of. Historically, I haven’t spent much time climbing outside. In my head, training in the gym was the most important thing, because competitions were the most important thing. But, I was ready to switch it up and see what was possible. Even though the combination of August heat and Squamish granite creates suboptimal sending temps, I got home from Japan and immediately made my way to the boulders. I spent a day climbing just to enjoy being outside, took one rest day, and then got to work.
I had sent the V12 drop-off boulder (The Squaminator) that makes up the start of The Terminator in the spring of 2019 and I felt out the moves of The Terminator sometime in June after training all day at the gym in Squamish. I knew I had to come back for the full rig when I was ready to dedicate some time to climbing outside. On August 25th, I spent my first real session on The Terminator, reacquainting myself with the moves I was familiar with at the start and getting comfortable with unfamiliar hard moves after that. When I sussed it out in June I wasn’t sure it was going to be possible, the moves seemed too burly, too low percentage, and too big to be within my wheelhouse. However, on that first day of effort in August, I linked the first few moves together and, I can remember the precise, finite moment that I realized it was going to go down. That moment was simultaneously exciting and scary because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to let this thing go until I was standing on top.
What I had intended to approach casually as a boulder that would become a long-term project, suddenly became an immediate obsession. I remember telling my coach, Jeff Thomson, that I didn’t think I was going to be able to go back to training inside until it was done. Throughout the week I was a bit of a mental wreck. I wanted to do the boulder so badly that I stopped sleeping at night and would just lie there wide awake and run through the moves over and over again in my head. What’s more, two of the sessions, I fell with one foot on the top, having completed most of the difficulty of the boulder and, while I was devastated falling there the first time, the second time felt like a real kick in the gut. I would instantly be panicked that I wouldn’t be able to do it again and that I had let my one chance to send slip away. As soon as I had one close burn, I wouldn’t have it in me to try again that day and would pack up and go home. Plus, the first move was quite hard on my lats so there was a very limited amount of tries I had per day before I was sure they were going to rip out of my body.
Then, on August 31st, one week after that first session, Jeff and I went up to The Terminator for what would be the final time. I pulled on my hangboard a bit and then decided to try the opening move to make sure it was dialed and finish the warm up. I stuck that move on what was supposed to be my “warm up” effort and decided to try the rest. Turns out, that one burn was all I needed and I took myself to the top. I was equal parts happy and relieved to have sent the boulder, and even more stoked that I could do it with my coach there supporting me. So, approximately 20 minutes after arriving at the boulder that day we left and drove into Squamish for celebratory cappuccinos.
--BD Athlete Allison Vest