The Big Flash
Norfolk is known for its 'big skies' and there is a reason for this: there are fuck-all hills to get in the way of the sky.. If you want to enjoy climbing in Norfolk, you have to make the most of one of the indoor venues. The best of these is Highball in Norwich, and once a year they hold the Big Flash: a feast of climbing in an otherwise hungry county.First to set my stall out: am not particularly motivated by competition. I haven't followed football for years, i don't feel a crushing hungry jealousy if someone achieves something I can't, and I haven't won anything since I came third in novice class in the Durham Drystone Walling competition (prize £25).
I make an exception for the Big Flash though. I have registered weeks in advance and I am hopping with excitement when I collect my scorecard. I know my limits: I am a mid-grade climber, knackered from a recent spell of busy work and the arrival of a new puppy in our household. This has not stopped me from fantasising about qualifying for the semis, in fact - fuck it, dream big - lifting a giant silver trophy in front of a cheering home crowd and never having to pay for a pair of climbing shoes again.
The fantasy doesn't last long: I get up some easy stuff, fall off a couple I should have flashed and generally plug away. My target is to break 150 points ( I scored 124 last year on my first ever outing). After an hour I realise I am not going to and start to enjoy myself instead.
Its quite a mixed crowd, loads of familiar local faces, some familiar faces from last years Big Flash, semi-pro and sponsored competition climbers (you can spot them, they are obviously pretty good, very focussed). There is a strong showing from Highball's own Blocademy, and other junior climbers who have travelled. It is awesome watching the juniors, they are so skilled on the wall. They all outscore me. I am alright with this.
I have a tactically necessary teabreak: it is my belief that Chilli Chai tea, which I can't pronounce consistently, makes me climb a grade harder. I force a difficult choice between eating a brown rice salad which will provide slow release carbs for the next week or half a steak sandwich. The salad is still in my climbing bag as I write this, the steak has re-entered the fertiliser cycle.
A shocked looking Hannah Cowles comes up to me. At 14, Hannah is one of our local climbing talents (she makes the semis this year) with the encouragement of her dad Gareth (who makes it up two climbs this year before falling to pieces- physically, not mentally).
"There's a man who has just fallen off a problem. He got really angry and started hitting the wall!" We agree that its okay to get competitive until the point it becomes embarassing.
Much of your score depends on tactics: always worth watching other people climb the same stuff. Always worth looking at the holds and footholds: after all you don't want to miss a crucial foothold which could cost you the flash. And you definitely don't want that to happen when your mates Rob Prowse and James Boston are watching on a simple-ish Gred.
In the last hour I have become delusional that I may still be able to get some points from somewhere. My eyes roll and I froth at the mouth. In fairness, there is one problem I nearly score off in the last ten minutes, but I drop the last hold and hit the pads like a torpedo. As I stare at the ceiling I reflect that its a shame some of the best problems the wall has seen will be up for less than 24 hours.
After three hours, having scored 107 its all over. I'd have had 110 if I'd noticed that crucial, and obvious foothold on the simple-ish Gred, and I would have had more points still if I had been better at climbing generally. Fuck the big silver trophy.
I am well short of my 150 target, but I am also pretty sure the set was harder this year: ;last years qualification score was around 260, this years is around 170. I can't work out whether this means I have improved in the last year.
I would stay for the film, people are getting ready to eat barbecue and drink beer (as provided by master brewer James Boston), the catering looks amazing, but I have a duty to return home: to my son, my overworked partner, and new puppy. Coincidentally the Mother-in Law is cooking a mixed grill. I need my rest, for tomorrow I will be helping out...