To Imst and Back Again – An Unexpected Journey

By Brian Low

It was mid January when it all began, very early morning texts advising that the list is open and one had better be quick. If your name's not down, you are not getting in. It’s relatively easy to begin: you simply log in, add your child’s name to the relevant category - Boys and Girls Under 12 (top-rope) and Boys and Girls Under 14 (lead), four categories in total, 60 competitors in each. As long as you get on the list and send the extremely reasonable entry fee by fairly costly international bank transfer before May, then all is sweet. Colors Climbing Festival in Imst, Austria, here we go.

IMST wallFive children attended from the under 12 category - Holly, Erin, Kasha, Ava and Lachlan - all Ratho Youth Squad members at the time and all wearing matching hoodies, designed and supplied by Ava's mum, Karen. They went alongside a veteran, Hannah, who was in the older category. Also in attendance was Neill Busby, Senior Instructor at EICA, who had come along at his own expense and in his own holiday time to support the children. We all made our own travel and accommodation arrangements, some flying to Innsbruk, some to Munich, some hiring cars, some travelling by train. Thankfully come Friday evening’s final 5pm registration deadline, everyone had arrived. Imst is a beautiful, clean, historical town set in the mountains of Austria. It’s fair to say that it revolves around the tourist trade and there are plenty pizza restaurants and suchlike to choose from. The locals are extremely welcoming, friendly, pleasant and helpful.

The competition, for that’s what the festival revolves around, is a two day event. On the Saturday there are six routes for each competitor to climb at their leisure, some inside some outside, anytime between 9am and 7pm. The scores are then amalgamated and the results posted on the climbing wall centre wall. The boys and girls climb the same six routes for their age category: it’s harsh, it’s fairly brutal, but it’s the nature of the beast I’m afraid. The top 20 in each category are through to the finals and the others are not. Bear in mind it’s hot and sunny.

It was here that Neill stepped into the frame. He belayed and kept the children in a group to attempt all six climbs, which proved a remarkably good idea; they were able to support and watch each other, and commiserate where necessary, given that the routes are very well set and some are clearly designed not to be topped, especially given the four minute time constraint on each. It is fairly stressful to watch and the queues for certain routes are fairly horrendous in the morning. Not all nationalities queue in the same manner either.

Come 7pm, two of the Youth D children had qualified alongside Hannah. Sunday is remarkably relaxed and low key. The collective nervous tension appeared to have been replaced with a more up-beat atmosphere; it was quite uncanny. At bang on 9 (the event is extremely well organised throughout) the climbing begins, the children climbing in reverse order of their qualification events: i.e. 20th goes first, 19th goes second and so on. The main wall outside is located at the bottom of a hill with a purpose-built seated viewing area which is just perfect.

IMST climberBy 11 or so it’s all over; both final routes have been attempted. Again the boys and girls climb the same two routes. It’s organised so that as the girls are climbing their route, the boys are simultaneously climbing the other, then they simply switch. So there are generally four climbers on the wall whilst the crowd is fairly vocal and supportive, which is great. It’s actually really good to watch, as there’s always something going on and someone to cheer for, even if you don’t really know them.

The two EICA Youth D children, a girl and a boy, came 11th and 9th overall, both improving on their qualification positions of 14th and 16th respectively. Hannah climbed out of her skin, as usual, and got the silver, which was exceptional. It’s not the first time she’s been on the podium there either.

Overall, the festival was a great experience, highly educational too, and I can’t stress just how well organised, friendly, well set and efficient it all is, albeit you do hear some grumbles about the qualification queue system. It’s worth mentioning Neill Busby again: his attendance was invaluable in respect of the Youth Squad members and it really was much appreciated by all.

On the way home we stopped at Boulderwelt in Munich, some two minutes from the nearest train station. It was eye opening: extremely busy, with a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. It rounded off the whole continental experience very well.

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