Rock On

Watch Elite Climbers Go Head to Head at Psicobloc Masters

Craggers from around the world go head-to-head on a no ropes, sport climbing race suspended over the Utah Olympic Park pool.

By Michaela Wagner July 27, 2018

Psicobloc Masters founder Chris Sharma getting in on the competition

In the world of climbing, nothing compares to the pure rush of deep water soloing, a.k.a. psicobloc. The term “psicobloc” hails from Mallorca (a mecca for deep water soloing) and literally means “psycho bouldering,” a spot-on description for this insanely challenging form of climbing. For elite climbers, psicobloc is where you go for thrills and to push the limits of the sport on the most technically challenging walls of far-flung exotic destinations, all while dangling precariously above crashing waves. Unfortunately, the adrenaline pumping ascents aren’t something spectators can easily access. Enter the Psicobloc Masters Climbing Competition. Here, climbers take on a wall towering 55 feet above the 1.25 million gallon pool at the Utah Olympic Park in front of thousands of spectators. The brainchild of pioneering climber and psicobloc junkie Chris Sharma, the annual event (held in Park City since 2013) returns to the Wasatch back on August 3-4. It’s a rare opportunity to catch the excitement of deep water soloing firsthand and you don’t want to miss it.

Despite the daunting route and the dizzying height, the world’s best rock jocks are up for the challenge, especially considering the fastest one to the top at the end of the finals snags a $20,000 purse. The competition plays out in a head-to-head format, with the fastest climber to successfully reach the top moving on to the next round. With a finals round consisting of the top 16 men and top 16 women, the winner must ultimately complete the wall four times with only a short rest between heats. Unlike traditional sport climbing, no ropes are used, meaning any missteps are followed by a plunge into the frigid pool below.

Last summer, Jimmy Webb claimed his third men’s title, beating out Ben Hanna who lost his hold towards the top, and Kyra Condie took the women’s crown, edging out former winner Michaela Kiersch.

Jumping into the pool after getting up the wall

How hard are the climbs?

The speed at which competitors race up the wall make it seem easy. But it’s not just the lack of ropes that make the competition difficult, the route grade is anything but a breeze. For the ladies, routes are 5.12+ and for the men 5.13+. A translation for climbing newbies unfamiliar with the grading system: routes are rated using the Yosemite Decimal System (YDS) beginning at 5.1. Once you reach 5.10 they are further broken down as a, b, c, and d. Beginner climbs range from 5.1-5.8 and moderate climbs from 5.9-5.10d. Advanced climbing begins at 5.12 and those with above average fitness and superb technique may begin tackling 5.13 climbs; everything from 5.14 onwards is reserved for elite athletes with years of experience and dedicated training. Currently, there are several young climbers poised to one day send a 5.16. As of 2018, the most difficult climb scaled is Silence, a 5.15d in Hanshelleren Cave in Flatanger, Norway. The first and only ascent was by Czech climber Adam Ondra in September 2017; he spent 4 years projecting the route. 

Think you can crush the wall?

With Utah being home to its fair share of superb climbers, there will be plenty of people wanting to see how they stack up against the competition. If you think you have the chutzpah to handle Psicobloc, you’re welcome to register to compete in the qualifiers on August 3. The four fastest of each gender during the qualifiers move onto the seeing round with invited athletes and earn a spot in the August 4 final competition. Anyone competing in the qualifiers also gains access to watch the finals for free.

The rest of us will have to wait to take on the wall after the competition closes. Once the route is reset to something a bit more doable, guests at the Utah Olympic Park are welcome to test their skills on it all summer long. 

The August 3 qualifiers kick off at 11 a.m. and are completely free and open to the public. Grab some schwag at the Vendor Village starting at 4 p.m. on August 4. The competition doors open at 6 p.m. and the climbing gets under way at 7 p.m. General admission to the finals is $25 for adults, $20 for youth ages 6-12; poolside deck access for both adults/youth is $60. 



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