The Heart of Steel Bouldering Competition - Event Recap

Marah Bragdon swinging into the women

Marah Bragdon swinging into the women

On January 24th, 2009, the Boston Rock Gym hosted one of the most innovative and futuristic indoor climbing comps of the year. The Heart of Steel Bouldering Competition, sponsored by Life Under Sun, master-minded by the talented Gavin Heverly and equally astute Maxim Zolotukhin, attracted over 100 competitors and the support of 26 sponsors. Some came to casually climb with friends for the afternoon, while others strode in as ravenous beasts ready to destroy boulder problems.

For those with one mission in mind — taking home the gosh darned loot — over $2,000 was at stake. The top three female and male open competitors with the highest score at the end of the five hour redpoint melee would make it to finals. Out of over 100 hopefuls, only 6 would remain.

As the sun receded on the Boston skyline just a few miles north, so did the drifting clouds of chalk within the gym’s crowded alcoves. After hours of tendon-straining deadpoints and abdominal-tearing throws, Marah Bragdon, Olivia Metcalf, and Francesca Metcalf filled the top three open female spots, while David Wetmore, Jon Glassberg, and Vasya Vorotnikov took top three for open male.

Aside: Mike Foley fought quite nearly to the death for the third seat, but was defeated by severe dehydration. His tendons ceased up on his last V10+ redpoint attempt rendering him unable to open his hands for about 60 seconds. When the hell have you ever heard of that happening at a redpoint? Seriously? The internationally ranked, world-class climber wasn’t soloing the Salathe Wall like a “true hard-ass,” but for plastic pulling junkies, that is about as close to epic as you can get.





With complete darkness in the gym, save a few spotlights for the final two problems, blaring punk rock, and a crowd more amped up then Times Square on New Year’s Eve, the stage was set for a night of mayhem. Oh, and each problem was literally worth $200 for each competitor.

Here’s the name of the game: Boxes are taped strategically throughout the problem with money taped inside the lines. As you climb higher, the box value increases exponentially, ranging from 10 to 20, 20 to 50, and finally to the $100 box. With just eight minutes to complete each problem, climbers threw themselves at the wall as if they were getting paid $25 a minute—since if they cleared each box—they really would be!

Imagine the most exciting finals comp you’ve ever attended or competed in. Now inject it with steroids, cocaine, and a smidgeon of speed—not that I have the slightest clue as to what any of those chemicals do—and you’ll understand the energy that ensued at the end of the Heart of Steel. Dynos into bat-hangs, gastons slashed with cross-over campusing, and loop-dee-loos over shika-dings. That’s right. It was like watching a circus, only the main event consisted of real, live people (more like monkeys) doing superhuman tricks for cash.

With each climber forcing different beta to succeed, the crowd could hardly contain itself from one lunge to the next. And with Vorotnikov’s finale, neither could I.

For final’s number 2, a stiff V11, Vasya concocted and executed a sequence that was deliberately “made impossible” by routesetters the night before. He ended up stemming into an inverted-backwards facing pinch sequence and campusing to the lip. What? Just watch the video.

Vasya Vorotnikov celebrating the win with an energetic crowd. Photo by George Lucozzi / ASA Photographic

Vasya Vorotnikov celebrating the win with an energetic crowd. Photo by George Lucozzi / ASA Photographic

In the end, whoever nabbed the most money from the two problems won the comp and took home whatever was left in their respective pot.

Of course, this comp was about more than just money. Wait—it was? Yes. Thanks to’s funding, whose mission is to inspire the outdoor community with a renewed sense of collaboration and subsequent growth by basically getting more people psyched, the comp showcased a style of competition that is as equally accessible to veteran climbers as it is first-timers. Basically, anybody and their mother can enjoy the high-end climbing performance.

In the end, the more fun a gym can create at a comp, the more people are likely to enjoy the show and return for the next one, which means an increased level of public acceptance and an increased likelihood of growth as a result. Hopefully, the Boston Rock Gym’s Heart of Steel Competition morphs itself into a series and is able to spread across the country, instilling the same amount of psych and motivation in others the same way it did last Saturday night.

See you next year.

Finals Results and cash prize awards

Female: 1) Olivia Metcalf $890 2) Francesca Metcalf $170 3) Marah Bragdon $140

Male: 1) Vasya Vorotnikov $1,020 2) David Wetmore $100 3) Jon Glassberg $80