11 climbing festivals to hit this year
Planning a climbing trip this year? Here’s a thought: Change up your normal climb-every-day schedule to incorporate one of the U.S.’s major rock climbing festivals, where you can meet loads of new climbers, test out a new area, and even involve yourself in some late-night, dance-party, sumo-wrestling action. From California to North Carolina, here are some of the biggest rock events.
Hueco Rock Rodeo; Texas
Spring break is perfect timing for a bouldering trip to Hueco Tanks, Texas, where the 19th annual Hueco Rock Rodeo, hosted by the non-profit Hueco Valley Foundation (HVF), will see almost 450 people this year. A videography clinic and two climbing films will kick off the weekend, followed by adult and youth bouldering competitions on Saturday. Organizers will direct each category of climbers into areas of Hueco Tanks where they will find the largest concentration of problems in their abilities. Afterward, folks gather at the nearby Hueco Rock Ranch for an awards ceremony, dinner, mechanical bull, and paintball shoot-out. Three more clinics follow on Sunday, including a lecture on nutrition and an “appreciation of Hueco Tanks” clinic.
The Rodeo is “about raising awareness for Hueco and giving back and saying thank you as climbers,” says Emilia Rafaela, president of the HVF. All of the proceeds from the Rodeo support Hueco Tanks State Park’s Lone Star Legacy Trust Fund for maintenance and clean-up efforts. “We have to be really conscientious of [Hueco’s fragile] ecosystem,” Rafaela says. “We’re not here just to use it up and leave. We want to show Hueco Tanks that we can get it together and give back as climbers. We can help out with clean-up efforts and give climbers more of a voice.”
Red Rock Rendezvous; Nevada
March is also prime time for climbing outside Las Vegas, where you’ll find the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. At the end of the month comes the Mountain Gear Red Rock Rendezvous, which has 44 climbing clinics each day, from “big-wall climbing to bouldering with Lisa Rands,” says Phil Bridgers, event coordinator. There are two different types of clinics—climbing and educational—that include wilderness first aid, self rescue, multi-pitch, knot tying, and many more. For those looking to branch out from climbing, the Rendezvous also offers mountain biking, trail running, and slacklining clinics. About 1,000 participants turn up for the festival, with almost that many participating in the clinics.
“We’re not the small, grassroots festival,” says Bridgers. “It’s truly a festival for everyone, with opportunities for all skill levels.” The event takes place at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, about four miles from Red Rock’s entrance, and the festival organizers provide shuttles to and from the climbing areas. Dinner, swag, beer, dancing, and a dyno contest follow the clinics on Saturday, with a pancake breakfast on Sunday. Last year, the event raised more than $20,000 for organizations such as the Access Fund, Las Vegas Climbers’ Liaison Council, American Alpine Club, and more.
March 30–April 1
24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell; Arkansas
Going into its ninth year, the one-of-a-kind 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell at the Horseshoe Canyon Ranch in Arkansas has been described as competitors’ “worst and best time of their life, all piled into a 24-hour time frame,” says director Andy Chasteen. The festival was born out of the idea of climbing as many routes as possible in 24 hours, which quickly inspired a competition. The rules are non-traditional: Climbers must team up, but are allowed to mix and match categories; i.e., an advanced climber can match up with a recreational climber. Points are awarded based on the number of routes climbed as well as other criteria.
Following the comp, climbers can enjoy a pasta dinner, slideshows, after-party, and an arm-wrestling tournament. And in 2009, Chasteen and friends started what they call the “mullet craze,” a trend that spread quickly through the festival grounds. “People kept asking where they could get their hair cut,” Chasteen says, “and Adam Peters had brought his clippers that year, so it began. Now we have people who grow out their hair all year long just to get a sweet haircut—mullet, “skullet,” Mohawk, and I’m pretty sure we’ve made some styles up.”
To avoid overcrowding on the land and on the routes, the organizers cap registration at 250. But the total population for the weekend, including spectators and volunteers, is close to 800. Registration opens on August 7, and “it fills up very quickly,” warns Chasteen. “And once that is full, it’s done. No one else is allowed [to compete], but they can come watch and party for the weekend.”
Yosemite Facelift; California
Competitions, crazy dance parties, or sumo wrestling aren’t part of the Yosemite Facelift. Instead, more than 1,000 people each year volunteer to spend a day or more cleaning up beautiful Yosemite Valley. Projects range from specific tasks such as removing old cables on Half Dome to picking up trash along the roads. Yosemite Climbing Association president—and founder of the Facelift—Ken Yager estimates that 120 to 140 miles of roadway get cleaned up. This will be the ninth year of the Facelift; the first few years of clean-ups saw 30,000 to 40,000 pounds of trash removed from roadways, campgrounds, and lodging areas. But thanks largely to this event’s success, participants have seen vast improvements in the landscape, with recent years totaling only about 4,000 pounds of small trash collected.
Participants are welcome to register for one day or all five, and are eligible for free camping. For each day you volunteer, you receive a ticket for a nightly raffle. “People of all ages come,” Yager says. “School kids on field trips, students from Yosemite Institute, and all park users get involved.” Programs every night range from slideshows to films; this year, the Facelift will show the Reel Rock Film Tour on Thursday night. “I try to make the event really fun and low-key,” Yager says. “I try to get everyone that loves the park together to do something good for Yosemite.”
Red River Gorge Rocktoberfest; Kentucky
The Rocktoberfest’s inception in 2000 came from a need to raise money for the local Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition (RRGCC). For the past 10 years, this has been the organization’s biggest fundraiser, and it’s paid off big-time: This year, the RRGCC will make its last payments on the Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve (PMRP), an area of key cliffs obtained in 2004, and will own it outright. “The event this year will be special and different,” says Bill Strachan, executive director of the RRGCC. “We’ll be thanking the community for their support over the last 10 years to make this possible.”
The festival was fairly small in its beginning years, seeing only about 100 participants. But since converging with the annual Petzl RocTrip in 2007, the number has grown more than ten-fold, with almost 1,200 participants in 2011. About 100 climbers participate in a competition held on Saturday at the PMRP. The awards ceremony, dinner, dyno comp, and climbing film are shown afterward at the Natural Bridge Cabin Company Campground. Instead of a raffle, Rocktoberfest holds a silent auction. All clinics will be held on Sunday, with the line-up still to be determined (last year, there were nine), and will be held mostly at the PMRP and the climber-owned Torrent Falls crag.
“People get a real appreciation for the Red River Gorge—the climbing, the community, the support we get,” Strachan says. “Everyone has a great time.”
$70 (includes weekend access and clinic)
We know—there are many more great american climbing festivals. Here are a few more to check out.
International Climbers Festival
Idaho Mountain Festival
City of Rocks, Idaho
A brand-new festival for climbers and trail runners!
Joshua Tree, California
Triple Crown Bouldering Series
North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama
October (Hound Ears, Stone Fort); November (Horse Pens 40)
$50 per comp
Bummer! Due to complications with a new venue, the 10th annual New River Rendezvous, slated for May 2012, has been postponed. The good news is that organizers are in negotiations with the National Park Service and are hopeful they will be able to hold the event again in 2013.