As a line of climbers prepared to tackle the walls in front of them, the clock started. Time to go.
But most of them didn’t move at first. Instead, they stood still and looked up and down the wall in front of them, mapping out the best route in their heads. Some moved their hands in a climbing motion, still on the ground, visualizing the ascent.
Joshua Hulbert likened it to solving a puzzle. The 13-year-old Vancouver resident was among dozens of competitors at the regional climbing competition hosted by Source Climbing Center in Vancouver on Saturday.
“It’s a fun way to try to improve and set goals,” Hulbert said. His hands were still white with chalk, having just tackled one of his climbs for the day.
Participants in Saturday’s youth competition hoped to qualify for divisional and national events later this year. It wasn’t the first time Source has hosted the regional event, said Michael Lary, co-owner of the gym.
The competition is an interruption for Source’s members, but many served as volunteers for the event. Source was also represented by several of the youth climbers in the competition, including Hulbert.
“I think people really enjoy it,” Lary said.
A large event like Saturday’s can draw curious passersby who stop in to check it out. But even as climbing has grown as a sport, many people are still find it intimidating, Lary said. He often hears people say they need to get in better shape before they would consider trying it. That’s a common misconception, he said.
“It’s just the opposite,” Lary said. “You climb to get in shape.”
Saturday’s participants competed in various age groups. Climbers in the “sport” category were scored by USA Climbing judges based on the progress they made on their routes before falling or, in some cases, reaching the top.
“It’s not about speed,” said Grace Palmer, 14, of Bremerton. “It’s about sequence. It’s about doing the best you can.”
Later in the afternoon, however, came speed climbing. Palmer and others planned to compete in both disciplines before the day was over.
Climbers are a supportive community, Lary said, and it showed Saturday. Participants cheered each other throughout the day. The environment is something many families appreciate about the sport, said Ann Vogel, Palmer’s mother.
“I love it because it’s both an individual event and a team event,” Vogel said.