November 25, 2022

Allison Vest becomes the first Canadian woman to climb the V14

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On February 5, 2022, after 11 days of effort over several weeks, Allison Vest sent Show your scars, in Ogden, Utah. It was her first of the rank—and a first for a Canadian.

Founded by Pete Lowe in 2017, Show your scars is perched on the western slope of Wasatch, in Ogden, Utah, and its sustained, athletic movements have made it a tough classic in the Salt Lake region. Vest first attempted the climb briefly eighteen months ago, in the fall of 2020, but only began her concerted efforts in January this year when she decided that one of its objectives for 2022 was to send a V14.

“I quickly became obsessed,” she said Climbing by telephone. “I was going there day after day, day off, until I did. It took me 11 sessions, but they all happened in the space of two or three weeks.

Vest was born in the United States but raised in Canmore, Canada, and she’s no stranger to national accolades. She is a three-time Canadian national champion, and in 2019 she became the first Canadian to climb the V13, sending The Terminator in Squamish after another flurry of condensed efforts. She’s also well-known for her comedic challenges on Instagram, many of which co-star U.S. Olympian Kyra Condie, and her insane finger strength (she works to snag an 8mm crimp with one hand and once shot down a no-al while hanging a 20mm edge).

Climbing caught up with Vest by phone to discuss hard bouldering, competitions and what it’s like to be the first Canadian woman to send the note.

Allison Vest crimps hard up the problem. (Photo: Sean Faulkner)

Climbing: In the video about your shipment of the terminator, you talk about having an equally obsessive approach to the projection process. Is this a common approach for you?

Vest: [Show Your Scars] was a mental battle similar to The Terminator. I’d say I’m not like that on every rock, but there are a few that get into my brain so much that every time I train, that’s all I think about. I fall asleep thinking about the beta. I have a relatively obsessive personality. Or sometimes obsessive.

Climbing: I’m a little jealous of that. If I can’t make a move in a few tries, I tend to give up.

Vest: It is definitively the most sessions I’ve ever done in a block. It helped me remember that it was fun. The rock is high on the hill, and it gets direct sun, and sometimes it’s above the inversion, so you get out of the smog hanging over Salt Lake. It’s really nice there and it helped me to remember that if I didn’t [send the problem] today it just meant I could have another session later. I could present it as a positive thing instead of being frustrated.

But I haven’t yet had the capacity to commit myself to an issue for [a really long time]. I think it would be cool to have a project that you could do sporadically – to recognize that you want to do it and work on it, but not be so obsessed that you have to put the rest of life on hold just so you can do it.

Climbing: What about this problem? You said it was a logical candidate once you set your V14 target, but was there anything in the block itself that lent itself to this more passionate kind of projection?

Vest: I think for me it was a process of poetic projection, which doesn’t always happen. Often, for whatever reason, you have regression sessions. Maybe you’re not feeling very well one day or the weather isn’t great. But I only had one day like that, and that was when I tried to climb two days in a row on the block. The second day was almost full. But apart from that, almost every session I felt like I was progressing, which made it really motivating.

Climbing: What was the crucial point for you?

Vest: It’s kind of an interesting rock. The first movements are not very difficult, but the others are of a very similar difficulty, and [the crux] ends up being tying them together, figuring out what your beta is. I think I fell with every move at least once. So I would say that if the final section [which features a large slam dunk move] isn’t super difficult in isolation, once you’ve done all the other moves you’re pretty gassed. It is very regular in difficulty. The meat and potatoes are in the middle of the rock, but it’s relentless until you get to the lip.

Climbing: Did you do any specific preparation?

Vest: Not really, but I read Ethan Pringle’s article on breathing that you posted, and I thought about it a lot. Conscious controlled breathing. I thought about it a lot and I think I was able to develop new mental tactics thanks to that. So that was pretty cool: reading about it and then seeing it work. I messaged Ethan after reading it and said, “I gotta do more!” And I did. And it worked.

Vest on Show Your Scars slam dunk final move, Ogden in the background. (Photo: Sean Faulkner)

Climbing: You’ve done four V13 or harder boulders in the past five months, which is more than you’ve done before. Is it the result of training or your change of focus to outdoor climbing, or both?

Vest: I think it’s a lot of things. I have decided to take a step back from competitive climbing this year. Partly, it’s like I said before: when I focus on something, that’s kind of all I focus on. Throughout my climbing career I’ve focused on competitive climbing, and it’s been mentally difficult for me to go out and find a project and work on it because I feel like it’s time that I get out of training for competitions. Taking time off from competitions has allowed me to push my goals and motivations outside, which has allowed me to find new ways to challenge myself in sport.

I also learned that outside you can find rocks that look good on you or that you like. You can play to your strengths, playing on the things you’re good at and avoiding the things you’re not as good at or pushing them to a lower level. You can’t do this in comps. So I had the opportunity to explore more outside and find rocks that matched me. I also learned what it means to try really hard on rock, to push your limits there.

Climbing: Is this break from competitions permanent or is it just something you did to change things up a bit?

Vest: The intention has always been to return to competition. But I needed to take a break because I wasn’t excited about it anymore. I found myself dreading competitions and fearing failure, which was not a healthy mindset for me as an athlete. So I decided to take a break and come back to it when I was excited to challenge myself in this way. I plan to go back, but haven’t missed it yet, so I don’t know when it will be.

Climbing: You are the first Canadian to send V14. What does this mean to you?

Vest: I mean, it’s really cool. In my head, it was cooler that it was my first V14, rather than being the first Canadian to ride one. But it’s cool, of course. It’s cool to see the sport growing in Canada, especially for women. We’ve had very strong male climbers in Canada, both in rock and in competition, and we’ve had strong female climbers over the years as well, but the level is increasing in Canada. There is a very strong generation of Canadian women behind me, and I hope that pushes them, shows them what is possible. If that could be the impact of that, that would be what I would want to get out of it.

Climbing: You set a goal to do V14 and 2022 and you more or less accomplished it right from the start. And after?

Vest: I would like to set my sights on other hard rocks as the year progresses. I haven’t really traveled either. I climbed Squamish when I lived in Vancouver. And I visited areas close to Utah. But I’ve never really bouldered outdoors, so this year I’d like to do some more trips to new places. I’m going to Hueco in a few days, which excites me, because I’ve never been there. I’m also happy to try some of the sport climbs in the area, even just for mental training. I’m a bit of a wimp on a rope, so it’s always good for me to get out of my comfort zone.