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Getting a Grip

Cold and wet basalt cliff faces can be tough to grip this time of year, so many local climbers head for the indoor climbing walls of Medford's Rogue Rock Gym.

From noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19, they'll get a chance to test their skills at the 6th annual Mutant Ninja Climbers Bouldering Competition. If you've had the chance to climb the gym's 30-foot walls with a safety rope, you'll find your hands full with this competition.

USA Climbing, the governing body of the sport, describes bouldering competitions as rope-free affairs with walls no higher than 20 feet.

"Most of Saturday's climbs will be 12 to 14 feet, with a few at 16," says Joey Jannsen, store manager. "We have thick mats spread around on the floor to cushion any falls."

Jannsen is a former SOU student who has watched the competition grow during the five years he's worked at the gym. Last year, 79 climbers tested their skill here. This year, Jannsen expects more than 90, including youth teams from Bend, Eugene and Portland.

Winning this competition will take both skill and strategy. Climbers will have three hours to complete as many of the 50 climbs — designed specifically for this event — as they dare.

The strategy comes in the scoring.

"We've arranged the 50 boulder problems (routes) from easiest to hardest," Jannsen explains. "The easiest is worth 100 points, the hardest is worth 5,000. Only your top five hardest routes count for points."

So how do you maximize your score? Do you start with the toughest and most time-consuming climbs and risk coming up empty-handed if you don't make it to the top and receive your points? Do you, instead, start relatively easy to get some points in the bag, only to tire yourself out — hit the wall — before you attempt the harder and higher-scoring routes?

"We've chosen routes with a spread of difficulties," says Jannsen. "To suit a variety of climbing styles (so not to favor any particular styles)."

The Ashland Outdoor Store and Medford's Northwest Outdoor Store have donated prizes for the competition. Rather than using a winner-takes-all approach to the awards, prizes will be given out in a lottery open to all entrants. Winners receive bragging rights.

There will be ample opportunities for winning, as there are 18 categories based on age and gender. Boys and girls looking to get a toe-hold in this sport will compete in one of four age categories, beginning with 11 and younger. The junior category features 16- and 17-year-olds. Adults will compete in either recreational, intermediate, advanced or open. The gym sports its own youth team, "Team Rogue," which has 12 kids entered, including Medford's 10-year-old Cameron Thomson, who earlier this year competed in her age group in the bouldering national championship.

A crowd-pleasing "Dyno Comp" exhibition will follow the main competition while judges tally the scores. In a Dyno Comp, each participant must climb a rock wall by jumping from hold to hold with all hands and feet in the air simultaneously.

"You can expect lots of falling and lots of cheering," Jannsen promises.

To see a Dyno Comp, see www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMoBQQ4y8Vo

Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. You can reach him at dnewberry@jeffnet.org.