By PHYL NEWBECK
Ben Blackmore was 11 when he was first introduced to the climbing wall at Petra Cliffs in Burlington.
Two years later, he took his new skills outdoors and began climbing at Smugglers’ Notch. “It’s accessible and super fun and I was hooked,” he said.
Now 17 and a senior at Champlain Valley Union High School, Blackmore has qualified for six national climbing championship events, finishing as high as 12th in his division.
Blackmore explained that there are three major climbing disciplines. Sport climbing uses a rope and permanent anchors. Bouldering has shorter but more difficult climbs without ropes. And speed climbing uses a rope and only measures success by time.
Although he enjoys the competitive nature of indoor climbing, Blackmore would rather be outside. “You can have equally good results without the pressure,” he said.
After Blackmore started climbing, his parents made sure that family vacations would include places where he could engage in his passion while they took part in other activities. “It was really nice of them to accommodate me that way,” he said.
Blackmore is sponsored by Evolv, a climbing footwear company, Beta Labs which makes chalk bags for climbers, and Vermont Smoke and Cure in Hinesburg.
These companies have helped him travel with climbers of similar ability. He has climbed all over New England and has travelled to Tennessee, Texas, Utah, France and Greece, pursuing his sport. Despite all the travel though, Blackmore said he still likes returning to Smugglers’ Notch. “I’ve done most of the climbs there,” he said, “but I still love Smuggs and it’s still fun to go there.”
Bouldering climbs are rated from V-0 to V-16 with the latter being the most difficult. Blackmore has completed two climbs that were rated V-13 and is working hard on another one with that rating in Great Barrington, Mass.
He is in the process of applying to colleges with the thought of becoming a physical therapist. He said he fully intends to continue competing in climbing events throughout his collegiate career.
Becoming a serious climber has required some sacrifices. Blackmore avoids processed foods and those with added sugar. His diet is heavy on vegetables and protein and low on carbs.
A former competitive runner, Blackmore quit the track team but he continues to run in his free time, in part to cross-train. He has also recently begun doing CrossFit for the same reason. “Climbers are strong in some places but not so much in others,” he said. “Cross-training evens me out so I don’t look like Popeye.”
“Ever since I started climbing, regardless of how good I’ve been, it’s been so much fun,” Blackmore said. “I’ve always had a lot of energy and it’s an outlet for that. It’s really good exercise and super fun.”
Blackmore has also learned how to constrain some of his energy. “When I started, I was just sprinting around Petra Cliffs,” he said. “But the sport takes a lot of anticipation and you have to be calm and disciplined. When you do a climb that’s at your limit you fall for days but sometimes all it takes is one good attempt and all the pieces come together.”