Steamboat climbers crack tough problems at home event |

Steamboat climbers crack tough problems at home event

Steamboat Springs climber Evan Lahay attempts a problem during a competition at Love Climbing Adventures in Steamboat Springs on Saturday, Nov. 9.
Shelby Reardon

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Ella McGuffin flashed her first route, meaning she nailed it on the first try.

McGuffin, a Steamboat Springs High School sophomore, has been climbing for seven years, including three with the team in town, but this is the first time she didn’t have to travel for a competition. 

On Saturday, Nov. 9, Love Climbing Adventures — or LCA — in Steamboat Springs hosted its first official USA Climbing event. Athletes from sixth to 12th grade competed in hopes of earning a spot at regionals in Utah in December. 

“Climbing is an experience a lot of people don’t understand,” McGuffin said. “A lot of people don’t think it’s a sport. It’s so free and you really get to experiment with a bunch of different things.”

At LCA, the competitors were technically bouldering, which is a specific type of climbing. Bouldering is the act of attempting a designed, short route, also known as a problem, with no rope, close to the ground.

The competitors have three hours to climb as many problems as they can. Multiple attempts dock points and harder routes are worth more points.

On problem No. 29, Steamboat climber Evan Lahay took three attempts. His first two ended the same way. With his body more horizontal than vertical, he hung slightly around a nob in the wall. He got one hand on a vertical grip, but couldn’t get the second hand on to pull his weight up to the final hold.

On take three, he finally nailed it.

In order to host the event, LCA needed to have 40 climbs. The walls are labeled with route numbers and tape to mark where each begins and ends. Each route is monochromatic, or made up of holds that are all the same color. One or two are outlined in tape to mark the beginning hold and tape at the top hold or the top of the wall marks the finishing spot. 

The goal is to not touch any other color hold and to start and finish in a controlled position. A judge monitors the climber and marks their success on a sheet of paper. Route one is presumably the easiest while 40 is the most difficult.

“We set all the routes over the last two days putting up tape and putting up numbers, trying to figure out what order they should be in,” said Shane Hickman, LCA manager and head route setter. 

Ella McGuffin, a Steamboat Springs High School sophomore, attempts a route during a competition at Love Climbing Adventures, Saturday, Nov 9.
Shelby Reardon

He said determining difficulties was the most challenging part of preparation for the event. Since climbing is relative to body type and height, it’s hard to analyze and choose which route is harder than another. 

Of course, there are some that are clearly hard.

Twelve-year-old Elizabeth Locke of Eagle Climbing and Fitness struggled on a route that required either long limbs, or a small leap into the air to the next hold. She gazed determined at the hold, but no matter how many times she tried, she couldn’t get enough of a push off her position to reach it.

This is Locke’s fourth competition since starting the sport in September and she already takes it very seriously.

Elizabeth Locke, 12, looks for her next grip while competing in a climbing competition at Love Climbing Adventures in Steamboat Springs on Saturday, Nov. 9.
Shelby Reardon

Her mother, Maria Locke, said Elizabeth’s confidence level has noticeably increased since she started climbing. 

“When you first start, you can have setbacks. You naturally will, but they learn,” she said. “Every gym is completely different. Every climb is a challenge, thinking things out, working on a puzzle. Plus, they’re working on their strength. It’s an all-around, really good sport.”

When the older competitors came in later, they had no problem with holds that were spaced out, but with larger bodies, their center of gravity was higher up and balancing was more difficult.

Climbing in popularity

Love Climbing Adventures in Steamboat Springs hosted its first ever USA Climbing event Saturday, Nov. 9.
Shelby Reardon

Bouldering and climbing are becoming more popular in the United States, especially in Colorado. With the recent release of movies such as “Free Solo,” “The Dawn Wall” and “Meru,” outdoor rock climbing has stepped into the spotlight, helping the sport gain traction, both outdoors and indoors. Additionally, the sport will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo in 2020.

According to Google Trends, ‘climbing gym’ is getting typed into the search bar more and more. It was most searched in March 2019. That’s more than twice as popular as it in May 2015. What’s more, Colorado is the second most interested state in climbing gyms, behind New Mexico.

Hickman said he knows of a handful of new climbing gyms in Denver that have been built over the past couple years. The gym in Eagle opened in early 2019, adding to the growing list of indoor climbing ledges in Colorado.

“Climbing is much more in the forefront than it used to be,” Hickman said. “Within the next five year, I expect it to be treated as a much more legitimized sport. Not that it’s not already, I think it’s considered more niche right now. I think it’ll become much more in the mainstream.”

To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.

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