Iso: What It Is and How to Survive It
Lessons From the Inside
Isolation a.k.a. "Iso" /eye-so/
In order for onsight rock climbing competitions to work, climbers must not see their climbs or anyone climbing on them until it's their turn. In other words, they have to do it without having seen or heard other people's beta (the sequences and solutions for a particular climb). Competitions achieve this by having athletes check into an isolation area where they have no access to internet connected devices (😱) or people who have even seen the climbs.
Here's the crazy part. For events like USA Climbing's Youth Regionals, each division can have 30-50 participants, with about 4-6 min of climbing per athlete, which results in some kids getting stuck in Iso for 3-4 hours. A 5 hour isolation is not unheard of. If you have a 8 year old youth D climber, a 5 hour isolation with no parents can be very challenging.
Let us be your guide on how to help your kid crusher survive Iso and be ready to climb even after several hours.
🛑Iso Open/Close Times: With an onsight competition, you usually have an hour window to get to the isolation area. If a climber is one of the first ten climbers to be called, they should aim to get to Iso towards the beginning of the check-in window. If a climber is towards the end of the running order, they do not have to be in Iso immediately.
🕐Call Times: Every climber in an onsight competition climbs at a certain time in the comp. A running order for that competition is usually posted 2-5 days before the day of the comp. On the running order next to climber's name will be a call time. This is the time that the climber needs to be ready to leave Iso and climb. There will usually be a clock in Iso so that you can keep track of the time. A useful tactic is to write the climber's call time on their arm with a pen.
🧗Climbing Gear: Check to see of your climber has their climbing shoes, a full chalk bag, and a harness if it is a sport climbing comp. You don't want to be climbing in a comp with rental gear!
🍎Food & Water: Once the Iso running order is released, you will know how long and when your climber will be in isolation. If a climber is only in Iso for an hour, you may only want to bring some light snacks. If a climber is in Iso for more than two hours, or is in Iso around lunchtime, you might want to pack some more substantial snacks or even a full meal. Also, coaches will tell you to give them healthy food, which is good. But don't give them unfamiliar things they wont eat. Lastly, put it all in sealed containers to keep chalk off your food.
🧥Clothing: Always know when and where you are climbing and what the temps might be like. You don't want to be wasting energy trying to keep warm. Bring extra layers for warming up and keeping warm between climbs.
♣️ Games: Often a climber will be stuck in Iso for several hours. This leaves a lot of time for playing games and hanging out with friends. The best games are fast and compact because they will be more portable and players can switch in an out of a game quickly if they need to start warming up. Some suggestions include Exploding Kittens, Uno, Resistance, Sushi Go, or classic playing cards. Some kids bring kendamas, Rubik's Cubes, and hacky sacks to keep them occupied and burn time. You could also make them bring their homework. 😑
📖Reading: If you prefer to find a quiet corner and read, bring a good book.
🚫Banned Electronics: Communication in and out of Iso is always prohibited, because someone could relay pictures of the competition routes for climbers to preview, resulting in an unfair advantage for some climbers. Therefore, basically all electronics with internet connection are not allowed. An iPod without a internet capability is allowed for warming up, but you are forbidden from listening to music while you are climbing the competition routes. I guess this should be obvious, but no walkie talkies, cans on a string, smoke signals, etc.
🔥Warming Up: A climber should start warming up around an hour before their climb time and stop 10-15 minutes before their call time. A coach will usually handle warm-up climbing, but it helps to be ready to warm up. (This one really differs from kid to kid, so try and tailor warm up routines based on practice performance.)
🧘Mental Game: Everyone's style of competing is different. Some people need to be actively climbing to be less nervous, others need rest and concentration. In the end, if you're not sure how to approach it, treat the comp as if it were a regular climbing day and have fun with it. I love dynos, so I try to do some in Iso to get my psyche up. Do what makes you smile, while also being ready for the styles that you find less fun *cough*slab*cough*.
👩👧👦Buddies: If you have a younger or less experienced kid in Youth D, find them a buddy to hang out with or make sure a coach is going to be there to keep tabs on them. The younger kids get pretty squirrely.
🎒Packing Up: Around 5 min before a climber's call time, they should pack up their bag. They need to have everything packed by their call time, because once they exit Iso, they are not permitted to re-enter the Iso area.
💬Last thoughts: And lastly, here's some advice for new competitors:
From Emily, Female Youth B competitor:
Iso is like eating healthy. At first it's a new fun experience, then it gets kinda boring and you have to spice it up. But afterwards you feel really good about what you accomplished. So...
Emily's TEN Ways to Make Iso Spicy!
1: Just because you're in isolation doesn't mean you have to be isolated. WOOOO TEAM!
2: Bring lots of games.
3: Bring lots of food. Uhh, that's it.
I guess it's only 3 ways to make Iso spicy 😄😄😄Wait I can make four.
4: Be sure to check 1, 2, and 3
That's... interesting. 🤣 Thanks, Emily!
From Asher, Male Youth B competitor:
Get on the wall from time to time and hang out with friends to keep from getting stressed out.
Good stuff, Asher. This one's from my dad:
If you make lots of friends at your gym and others then every Iso will be a party!
From Amy and Camden, climbing moms:
Climbing tape, bandaids, nail clippers, back up climbing shoes, and pen/paper in case you want to take notes if they do a route preview.
From Lily, Female Youth C Competitor:
The climbing essentials: deck of cards, snacks, water, and a positive attitude! 😁
Definitely that last one.