Psicobloc Masters climbing competition will return to Park City | ParkRecord.com

Psicobloc Masters climbing competition will return to Park City

The Psicobloc Masters, a free-solo climbing competition, is returning to the Utah Olympic Park this Friday and Saturday. As of Tuesday, the confirmed guest list names nine featured athletes, with Matty Hong, Carlo Traversi, Jimmy Webb and Emily Harrington returning to the event.

The event usually books 24 professional climbers — 12 women and 12 men. Marc Norman, the event's organizer and newly minted CEO of USA Climbing, expects to see that many this year, though many climbers are preparing for the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and are prioritizing International Federation of Sport Climbing-sanctioned events.

In addition to the pros, four competitors will join the men's and women's competition through the open qualifying round on Friday.

How does it work?

The event starts with qualifiers on Friday, where athletes who were not on the invite list can join for the cost of about $100 and an additional fee. The top four qualifying men and women will advance to seeding on Saturday morning, followed by the main event. The finals are structured as a traditional 16-entrant single-elimination bracket, in which climbers will race head to head up the 50-foot tall overhanging wall, climbing as high and as fast as they can. If both climbers reach the top, the tie will go to the fastest climber, otherwise, the climber that reaches a higher hold is the victor.

What's at stake?

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Psicobloc is not an IFSC-endorsed event, so the governing body does not distribute points to its winners and therefore, it doesn't mean much in terms of official rankings. One reason for this is because Psicobloc doesn't fall neatly into the main competitive climbing specializations – it doesn't use harnesses or ropes, so it's not sport climbing or speed climbing, and because of its height, it's not exactly bouldering.

However, the event does offer cash prizes throughout the finishers, with first place climbers in the men's and women's divisions earning $5,000 each, and it offers a high-profile venue for competition.

How difficult will the routes be?

Very difficult. According to Norman, the routes will be set by Steven Jeffery, who works for Momentum Gyms and has developed notable bouldering routes in Joe's Valley, near Orangeville. Joining Jeffery is Dani Andrada, a Spanish climber and influential first-ascensionist, who is expected to bring in an element of European, World Cup-style route setting. For those familiar with the yosemite climbing scale, the women's competition will likely be set at high 5.12 or low 5.13, while the men's competition will likely be set at a high 5.13 or low 5.14, depending on how the seeding round goes.

To put Andrada's skills into perspective, at 40 years old he climbed the infamous Chilam Balam route in southern Spain which is rated at 5.15 a/b, or 5.15c, depending on who one asks, which is approaching the upper limits of today's climbing standards.

The duo will create an easier set for the qualifying round and a tougher one for the finals.

Norman said the routes will likely force competitors into situations where they have to fully release from one set of holds to reach another, with the psychological element of a potential fall adding another layer of difficulty.

Who are the competitors?

Strong climbers will be in attendance, but some of them are bigger names than others. Returning spectators will recognize Jimmy Webb, who distinguished himself at the event in 2013 when he beat some of climbing's biggest names, including Chris Sharma, one of the event's founders, to take first place.

He also defeated Carlo Traversi that year, who was the U.S. Sport Climbing National Champion in 2009 and 2011 and who will be competing this year as well. Both have climbed routes considered among the hardest in the world.

Emily Harrington, a five-time national sport climbing champion, is probably the most high-profile woman registered so far. She has climbed at Psicobloc in the past and is one of several athletes attending this year who are sponsored by The North Face, including Chilean climbers Soho and Fecundo Langbehn and Brazilian climber Felipe Carmago. Melise Edwards, a boulderer from North Carolina and an outspoken advocate for diversity in climbing, is also scheduled to compete.

Norman said success at Psicobloc is as much dependent on the mental as the physical.

"It just takes that kind of person with a different mentality that is comfortable making those big moves at a big height above the pool, and knows, if they miss it, they are air-aware enough to get themselves into a position where it's not going to hurt," Normal said.

He also said not to discount local and regional climbers who enter the competition on a whim.

"You never know who is going to come out of these open qualifiers and take these pros to task," he said.

How to watch

The qualifying round on Friday is free to attend, as is the seeding round on Saturday morning at 11 a.m.; the finals are not. Tickets for the finals, which start at 7 p.m. will go for $25 for general admission, which grants access to the observation deck and the grassy hills around the pool, and $60 for the pool deck itself and the closest bleachers.

Doors open for the finals at 6 p.m., the event is scheduled to finish around 9:30 p.m.