Sharp looks to push the limits on rock wallBy Janice Kurbjunjkurbjun@summitdaily.com Hanging from his fingertips in a cave arching over Clear Creek is an experience Will Sharp seeks - regularly.Yet, rock climbing is not always an adrenaline rush, the 12-year-old climber says. "The experience (of being on the rock) is the weirdest thing to describe. You've been there, you know it. ... But it's hard to explain. You might not get that adrenaline rush (all the time)," he said. The 12-year-old is ranked No. 1 in the nation for his age group for bouldering, the art of climbing with nothing but shoes, chalk and crash pad on an unprotected rock face, with skill being typically tested in indoor rock gyms. He reached the No. 1 position after the Oct. 20 competition at Breckenridge Recreation Center - and after just a year-and-a-half of climbing. But Sharp is also an outdoor rock warrior, conquering climbs ranked as high as his age - a prestigious feat for anybody, let alone a 12-year-old. "It's fun to push the limits, I find - because it's easy to do in climbing," Sharp said. He plans to "climb his age," meaning he's aiming to be able to climb 5.13-rated sport routes when he's 13 and so on until he tops out of the rating system. This summer, he and his father, Kent Sharp, conquered Crystal Ball, a 5.12b on House Rock outside of Montezuma. Will is a bit of a daredevil (he started his adventure career on the ski slopes as a racer and continues to race in winter, when the snow flies and climbing competitions wane), enjoying skipping his last two bolts at the gym and taking a whipper, or jumping off the top of the wall at Chizzled to be caught by the rope. Beth Sharp, Will's mother, introduced her son to the sport through a home-school physical education opportunity. She had long since forgotten that her husband, Kent, was an avid climber during his college years in Boulder. Intrigued by climbing, Will reawakened the love of climbing in his father. It's an ongoing joke in the family, that Will and Kent participate in a harrowing sport, and that Beth was the cause of it all. She says it's strange and surreal to watch her husband being belayed by her 12-year-old son. After the initial introduction to the sport, the climbing team came around. Will participated in a competition, where he was offered the opportunity to join the team. Again intrigued, he jumped at the opportunity. But climbing indoors is different than climbing outdoors. "It's almost like a different sport," Will said. "Inside, it's going to be controlled. Outside, you can use everything that's there." Will looks forward to the days he can compete not just on the bouldering wall but also on ropes - which his mother says is his strength. "I think it's less scary outside than it is inside," Will said. Will heads to Fort Collins in a month to test his skill against fellow regional climbers. He aims to travel to the divisional competition in Arizona and, he hopes, the national gathering in Colorado Springs in March. He estimates there are 200 kids his age competing nationwide.
Competitions can be intimidating, particularly when your only support is your family. When Will headed to The Spot in Boulder, the youth without a team T-shirt of his own was faced with herds of youth who knew each other, had team unity and were versed in competition. Enter another of Will's strong points: "He is calm and collected naturally," his mother said. "He doesn't worry about it." Will has gone through his share of coaches, which have moved him between Chizzled Fitness & Climbing Club and Breckenridge Recreation Center. His sixth and latest coach is Audrey Gawrych in Breckenridge, but Will is quick to say he's more a fan of the Chizzled rock wall. He also says his best coaching so far came at Chizzled from Martin Trtailak and Brady Kendrick. Now with a new coach, Chizzled may lure Will back. When Will began climbing year-round, it's when he began improving in the sport and making it more of a focus. And this summer, he was able to tackle something like Crystal Ball. "I had been working on it all summer," Will said. "I felt really excited (to finish it) with all the little crimps and really big moves." Father and son pilgrimaged to the rock daily for a week until they practiced and memorized enough of the moves to complete the climb without relying on ropes (though the ropes were there). Beth Sharp said climbing 5.12b routes is a level few of her husband's Boulder friends reached, but Kent Sharp tells his wife he's perfectly comfortable climbing with his son. "He says that in the middle of an intense climb, Will trusts his judgment - or blows Kent out of the water and does something he doesn't expect him to do," Beth Sharp said. "To make such decisions at this age develops a sense of trust and responsibility."