Nina Williams: A Competitor's Perspective at PsicoRoc
"It's a competition."
"It's not a competition."
"Well… it is a competition. But not a serious one."
"Are we allowed to jump?"
"You can't jump; you have to fall."
"I think the judges give you extra points for bad falls."
Any hard facts surrounding PsicoRoc remained a mystery until our arrival in Fayetteville, West Virginia. Email correspondence gave us the priorities: deep water soloing and having a good time. Actual details of the format ran by word-of-mouth, contradicting itself and confusing the hell out of everyone. The morning of the August 23 event, I listened to Michaela Kiersch, a friend and fellow competitor, lay it out for me.
"It's a competition for sure," she said. "Hardest climbs get the most points. We're going to two different walls and each climber gets three attempts per wall. They'll cycle through the women first, then the men…"
She dove into the logistics. I listened half-heartedly, but to be honest, I didn't care. My goals for the day consisted of the basic tenets I already knew: soloing above water while trying to keep a smile on my face. My fingers shook...it could have been the coffee.
A couple weeks prior, I competed in the fourth annual Psicobloc Masters competition in Park City, Utah. I topped out the gently curving, 50-foot Walltopia structure only to face a roaring crowd expecting the long way down. I worked hard to overcome my fear of stepping into unsupported space. Deep water soloing is instinctively scary, and I am not the first (nor the last) to speak of that apprehension. I imagined a similar scene in West Virginia: soaring walls, dark water, cold temps. What if the Loch Ness monster made an appearance?
I shivered as I stared at our first climb of the day. Might be the coffee, I thought. Houseboy, a 5.12c dihedral crack, loomed over 50-feet tall. The party boats lined in a half-moon around the cliff, waiting for the climbing to begin. I cursed the running order; my name was first on the list. I worked to keep my shoes dry as a Jet Ski brought me to the base of the climb. Easy moves and a jug ledge brought me 20 feet above the water. Then the crack began. I dug my tips into the fissure, locking fingers and smearing rubber another 15 feet before unexpectedly popping out.
I shot into the darkness. The warm water came as a surprise as it enveloped me in muffling silence. I swam towards the light, breaking the surface and gasping for air. My smile had stayed on throughout the fall.
Sticking to the goals, I thought.
During my rest period, I sucked down a few iced Kahlua and Bailey's concoctions. I needed to strengthen the excuse. My fingers trembled as I readied for my second Houseboy attempt. Definitely the coffee. This time it was the truth; my inhibitions melted away with the ice. The liquid courage only lasted as far as my previous effort. Thirty-five feet off the deck found me smearing in desperation once more.
"You have 30 seconds left!"
The MC's voice hollered over the megaphone. The event organizers tried to enforce a time limit in hopes of speeding up the climbing. I jammed my fingers in the thinning crack. Forty feet.
"Your time is up!"
I looked down. Forty-five feet. I stemmed in the dihedral close to the top and dedicated to sending with a strength born of fear.
No f**king way am I dropping.
I turned to the party barge and flipped them off. I heard cheers and laughter in response. I knew they didn't care about the actual time; they wanted entertainment. I gave it to them while still saving face.
The battle continued. I reached 60 feet and clawed my way onto the finishing ledge. My fingers, bloody and torn, vibrated. It was not the coffee this time. I had beaten my Loch Ness monster.
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