Climbers work together at bouldering competition

Imagine vertical Twister.

That pretty much describes what will be happening at Climb Base 5 on June 16 when the Coquitlam indoor climbing facility hosts its second Defying Gravity bouldering competition and social, says the event’s co-ordinator, Drew Latta.

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While ascending steep rock faces is generally thought of as an individual pursuit, it actually requires a small team that includes a belayer to manage the climber’s ropes and a spotter to look out for their safety. The Defying Gravity competition takes that teamwork aspect of the sport up a notch by challenging teams of three climbers working together to plot and pull their way up a course in eight minutes or less.

That’s where the Twister analogy comes in, said the head coach at Climb Base 5, Andrew Wilson. Because sometimes a route up a 40-foot vertical wall can require climbers to use each other’s shoulders, heads or arms to get a leg up to the next foothold or swing out to the next handhold. 

A successful ascent requires cooperation, communication and a whole lot of trust, Wilson said.

“When you share the really scary moments, it brings people together like crazy.”

Wilson and Latta promise at least a few of those scary moments, as they’re spending the days prior to the competition plotting the puzzle the climbers will have to solve and a long day and night the day before placing the various holds on the climbing wall that form the pieces of the puzzle.

That’s really what bouldering is, a physical manifestation of puzzle solving, Latta said. “Climbing is an adventure every time.”

Although deciphering a word jumble on paper or negotiating a maze with a pencil usually doesn’t have consequences like a fall from great heights that could break a limb or worse.

That’s where building a relationship of trust with a belayer and spotter comes in, Latta said.

“You need people to do this sport.”

Add two more climbers into the mix and anything can happen. Which is exactly what transpired at last year’s inaugural competition. 

As each climber for a team is assigned a particular coloured route they must follow, there are points where the climbers may have to work together to help one of their team overcome an obstacle or reach their next hold. How they accomplish that to be able to continue to the top is left to their imagination and creativity. 

“It’s like no other climbing experience, it’s so out of the box,” said Wilson, who’s been bouldering since 1985 and coaches Canada’s national climbing team.

In fact, Wilson is so enthralled with the experience, he’s integrated it into training for his own national-level athletes as a way of fostering team spirit and camaraderie.

“You can feel pretty isolated when you’re climbing on your own,” Wilson said. “This brings our team closer together.”

The event also brings together climbers of different capabilities and abilities to learn from each other and the value of working together, Latta said. While teams can self-assess their way into categories of their commitment to the sport, from hobbyists to addicts, it’s finding the right mix of technical skill, agility, flexibility, strength and problem-solving within a team that will be the recipe for success.

“It’s not about having the ideal body to do the sport, it’s about knowing how to use your body,” Wilson said.

And knowing how to have fun doing it, Latta said.

“My hope is they take climbing less seriously,” he said. “It’s refreshing.”

• The Defying Gravity competition takes place from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Climb Base 5 in Coquitlam (98 Brigantine Dr.). For more information go to

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