By Kaleigh Bush

On January 30th, the Boston Rock Gym and Evolv hosted the second annual Heart Of Steel climbing competition. Hundreds of climbers and spectators packed the facility like a can of sardines on Saturday morning to behold a spectacle that unfolded in a style not foreseen by anyone.
The event, spearheaded by Gavin Heverly and Max Zolotukhin, was the product of countless hours spent turning wrenches and toiling over piles of climbing holds in order to satisfy a vision cast by raw ingenuity. The route setters aimed to upstage last year’s event by crafting truly innovative boulder problems and bestowing them upon competitors in a format that would trump prior efforts within the industry to blaze a trail for the future of bouldering competitions.
The qualifying competition was by no means mild-mannered. With more than double last year’s turn out, each bouldering room was at capacity teeming with climbers eager to take a stab at every boulder problem within the varied ranges of ability. The main bouldering room erupted in “oohs” and “aahs” whenever a daring climber flew over the heads of a brimming crowd on one of the more dynamic routes, either sticking an impressive finish or falling onto a pile of spotters like a crowd surfer. With so many motivated competitors anxious to fill up their score cards, the preliminary competition was a sincerely cut-throat redpoint round. Final scores were determined by the top six boulder problems with falls indicated but only detrimental in the event of a tie.
After scores were tallied, finalists were announced: Sidney McNair, Francesca Metcalf, and Sasha DiGiulian would go head-to-head on the female finals problems; Rob D’Anastasio and Vasya Vorotnikov qualified for first and second men’s finals slots while Michael Bautista and Zeb Engberg tied for the coveted third place slot right down to the number of falls taken. As promised by the Heart Of Steel guidelines, only three males and three females would duke it out in the finals competition, so a sudden-death boulder problem was set in a deciding round that sent Bautista to finals.
The strongest climbers who entered the competitive arena for the day performed beyond the route setters’ expectations and, consequently, the finals routes had to be tweaked in order to present a challenge to the finalists. Route setters modified the finals problems behind the scenes while Taylor de Lench premiered his movie Sick: Climbing In New England.
At 6pm, the Heart Of Steel’s level of intensity soared to new heights after a tarp was dropped to lay bare the amended first finals problems. Behind a smokescreen, spotlights, and a soundtrack governed by climactic industrial and metal music, an already unorthodox climbing competition was transforming into an epic production of a finals round. While cash was being taped inside of boxes along the course of the first finals problems, Gavin explained the rules of engagement: each finals problem was endowed with a $200 cash value for each competitor’s attempt. Within the ten minute time parameter set for each climber, the problem could be attempted an unlimited number of times and the only goal was to pull as much money off of the wall as possible. The cash left hanging after the ten minutes expired would be awarded to the first place male and female finalists. After the finalists previewed the problems, they went to war in a face-off boasting a more similar appeal to an episode of American Gladiators than to your traditional bouldering finals competition. All of the female finalists flashed their first problem in an impressive display of fortitude, still managing to outperform the expectations of the route setters. Meanwhile, Bautista dyno’d to his final bill in a fit of bouldering theatrics and Vorotnikov pleased the crowd by fluidly breaking intended beta and easing the plight of a long, exhausting boulder problem that climbed more like a sport route.
Finally, it was time for the mob of spectators to relocate for the second finals problem where, as Gavin had confidently promised earlier, “minds would be blown.” It was then that a second tarp collapsed to unveil the event’s main attraction: the Dark Crystal. The Dark Crystal is a diamond shaped climbing feature littered with climbing holds that dangled in mid-air attached to an adjoining climbing wall. No words can do the revealing moment of the Dark Crystal justice; only a panoramic view of the hundreds of jaw-dropped thunderstuck witnesses to its grandeur. Gavin quickly noted that the looks on the finalists faces upon preview were like, “this isn’t bouldering! What the hell is going on in this room right now?!” The spectators immediately thought the same thing. But nothing short of sheer bouldering insanity ensued thereafter.
The finalists, after a jam packed day of seriously technical and difficult bouldering, were presented with the challenge of conquering the Dark Crystal during their final climb of the evening. Before a massive crowd, each finalist put his or her heart of steel into gear and battled the Dark Crystal in an adrenaline-fueled duel likened to some obsessive video game rivalry between the player and a monster impeding on his or her triumph. None of these finalists had climbed as hard as they did all day to be put to shame by some outrageous climbing feature, and they were out to prove it by way of brute strength and superhuman trickery. It was exhausting to watch. And afterward, we’re all left with the same questions in mind: how will Heart Of Steel one-up its futuristic display of a finals competition next year? How will it accommodate the increasing multitude of climbers and spectators who want to be a part of it? The sky seems to be the limit for the innovators at the forefront of the Heart Of Steel.
All photos courtesy of George Lucozzi/ASA Photographic
Final results in order of how much money each competitor won are as follows:
Sasha DiGiulian-     $450
Francesca Metcalf- $450
Sidney McNair-       $300
Vasya Vorotnikov- $830
Michael Bautista-    $280
Rob D’Anastasio-    $90

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