New River Rendezvous Event Recap

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This year’s Rendezvous was the fifth and by far largest event. Over 1,200 people showed up from across the eastern half of the country, pitched more than 350 tents at the massive, bowl shaped National Park Service (NPS) campground known as Burnwood, and enjoyed the West “By God” Virginia hospitality that infused every bit of the Rendezvous from top to bottom. A good relationship with the NPS, highly-respectful attendees and the hard work of event organizers and 85+ volunteers were the cogs and gears that allowed the massive gathering to run its course smoothly, according to event organizer, Maura Kistler. Though Kistler did not yet have the figures on the amount of money brought in, she said it was significantly more than what was raised in the past.

The three day event, which began on Friday night and ran through Sunday, avoided the commercialism that can turn such large gatherings into marketing events rather than opportunities for community-building (ever been to Lollapalooza and bought a $5 bottle of water or $25 T-shirt?). Partially because the NPS does not allow its land to be used as a venue for sales and partially in the spirit of John Cusack in Say Anything when he explains “I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed,” the New River Rendezvous had nothing for sale. All money was collected through donation boxes that were circulated like collection plates among the jubilant throngs, through the entry fees for Saturday’s route climbing and bouldering competitions and through a silent auction that was stocked with beautiful clothes, gear and photographic prints, all donated by generous event sponsors (for a list, visit www.newriverrendezvous.com/sponsors.html),.

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Though nothing was for sale, that doesn’t mean nothing was consumed. On Friday night, a “Dessertapalooza” took place, where an orgiastic display of sweets was made available to those hungry souls who didn’t want to miss a moment of the Rendezvous. The next morning, everyone rushed to the competitions, which encompassed all of the routes and boulders in the New. Do a route or problem without falling and get two witnesses to sign off on it, and you get the points. Whoever has the most points at the end of the day wins. Interestingly, a North Carolina climber, Stephen Meinhold, won both the sport and bouldering competitions, which took quite a bit of hard climbing. “He must have the Gorge wired,” route comp runner-up Alex Lowther suggested.

While comp results were tallied back a Burnwood, crowds milled about the tents of various sponsors checking out gear and grabbing catalogs, free stickers and the like. Folks walked slack lines and setters bolted huge, glowing holds onto the big black walls of the dyno comp structure. A free, vegan diner was served up and, as the sun set and the dyno comp began. Lines formed to the free kegs of beer that were tapped. The donation jars by the beer station could be seen overflowing with dollars. Kurt Smith manned the PA system and kept the crowd cheering as competitors chucked themselves through the darkness towards illuminated jugs. A “sumo” competition where people were wrapped in pads and helmeted and then set free in a ring of cheering spectators seemed more like a cross between the Kumate and a demolition derby than a sumo match, but it was highly entertaining. To send the night off with the enthusiasm it deserved, the band Atomic Jo, out of West Virginia, rocked the place, drawing sweaty masses of climbers to the dance floor until the wee hours.

Photo by Justin Roth

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Sunday morning, mists enveloped the campground and groggy climbers stumbled from their tents into long lines for the (again, free) pancake breakfast. Those who had signed up, prepared for the free clinics being offered. Tents were broken down, trash was picked up, volunteers and event sponsors dismantled booths. Maura Kistler, still buzzing with energy despite a marathon effort to get the event off the ground and then land it safely, gushed about the respectful attitude the climbers brought to the event. When parking was difficult, when lines were long, when the port-o-lets showed up late on Friday, no one complained, she explained. The volunteers, NPS and climbers all worked together and things went smoothly. “We have exciting plans for next year that involve taking the event to a whole new level in terms of sustainability,” Kistler said. Climbers from all across the region are excited to see what they out.

For more on the event, visit newriverrendezvous.com

To learn more about NRAC, go to newriverclimbing.net