Man with a mission: Russel Dean Jones on Onsight Friday
With Onsight Friday starting to pick up pace a peloton is forming of climbers learning from each other, each aiming to be first to successfully lead climb a test route. There is a pot of competition money that rolls over each week if it's not won, but it's not about the money, as Russel explains.
Russel is from beautiful Bloubergstrand in South Africa, where he cut his climbing teeth in the Western Cape in spots like Rocklands and the Cederberg. A mate of Chris Taljaard he was travelling (he spent three years teaching in Chengdu, China) and came to Vietnam, and specifically Saigon where he's been for six months.
“I love HCMC,” he nods, his trademark beaming smile breaking out as he talks. His route to Onsight Friday was something of a natural progression: “I started out bouldering and then took to top roping as it was more fun, more interesting, and hey you get equipment to play with - all the toys, the quick draws, the ATCs. I prefer lead climbing. Yes there's more risk but it's also more Zen as you have to be more focussed – it's a bit the case of more risky, but more fun.”
The first Onsight Friday took place in the first week of July, and drew a hardcore nucleus of competitors and a crowd to watch. The idea is that the demon route setters of the Push team set a route to be lead climbed. You put 20K in the pot and you get your go. First person to onsight it (climb the route without errors) gets the pot. If the pot isn't won it rolls over to the next week but beware; the route will change.
Onsight but Outta ya Mind?
“Onsight Friday is an awesome competition, with a lot of spectators. Ken got close the first time but nobody sent the route which is good - we don't want people to send straight away, it's not about the money, it's about your mates yelling for you, and that feeling as you only get one shot and you don't want to stuff it up.”
Aussie Josh was the first up on the first night and he did well for what was his first time leading. “He did well and he loved it”.
Which begs the question of whether there is a strategic position to put yourself in – waiting a while means you get to watch what others try, but also means the risk that they will beat you to it.
“So you kind of cheat as you watch someone do the route and as they do you're thinking 'I would lean a bit more to the right, or not put my foot there'. But it's a very independent and expressive sport and we're all different. I'm six foot four [193cm] so mine is a very different movement and there are things that smaller climbers can do that would be too difficult for me.”
Of course it wouldn't be a challenge without the element of risk and Russel took a bit of a tumble.
“Yeah I did have a fall. Depending on where you last clipped in it could be a couple of metres [before the safety rope catches you] and when you're struggling to hold a grip you are really aware that if you don't make it to the next clip you're going to fall those metres. The thing is that the adrenaline rush means you climb better and that type of controlled panic brings out the best of your abilities – you just have to get to the next clip so you pull out the bit extra you need to send it. From there for the rest of your climbing life you know you can suck twenty per cent from nowhere.”
So will he be back next Friday?
“I had a freakin' awesome time so yeah I'll be competing on Friday; I will be here and I want to send it.”
Come see if he does, and maybe learn a little more about lead climbing while you nurse a beer and shout for the Russel and the other competitors.