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For the past six years, the New River Alliance of Climbers (NRAC) has sponsored an annual three-day festival to kick off the spring climbing season at the spectacular New River Gorge in southern West Virginia. But after a few low-key events, word of the world-class climbing and partying combo spread through the climbing community and last year, the ‘Vous exploded.
In 2007, 1,200 people crashed the New and after three days of hard climbing and harder partying, the crowd left Burnwood base camp behind, buried under piles of trash. Determined to stick to “Leave No Trace” principles, even when hosting a big event, Rendezvous organizers challenged this year’s climbers to “Step Up or Stay Home!” Sure enough, all 800 participants stepped up.
Rendezvous organizer Maura Kistler traditionally judges the success of the annual festival on the dance floor. “If people are digging the ‘Vous, they really let loose!” she laughs. Sure enough, last Saturday night, Massachusetts-based band The Amity Front cranked it and made the 2008 Rendezvous yet another back flipping, hand springing, hula-hooping, swinging, krumping, waltzing, whirling success.
This year, Maura also kept her eye on the venue’s trashcans, which remained satisfyingly empty throughout the weekend. Sunday evening, soon after the last camper rolled out, Burnwood was already back in order and the dumpsters, which had been overflowing last year, were virtually empty.
So how did the Rendezvous crowd go from producing tons of trash to almost none? Simple. A new online registration system not only kept sheer numbers in check, it also gave organizers a way to get in touch with all of the party-goers and tell them to bring reusable plates, cups and sporks and plan to pack any other trash home. That’s really all it took; no waste turned out to be no problem.
Why is it a bunch of rebellious, renegade rock climbers took a no waste initiative in stride while the rest of the world clings stubbornly to disposables? After all, climbing-types aren’t necessarily known for doing what they’re told to do. Maura thinks she sees the answer on the dance floor and, after boogying late into the night with the rest of the revelers, I understood exactly what she meant.
Climbing attracts a certain kind of personality and when those personalities come together at an event like the Rendezvous, their energy is magnetic. Everybody at the ‘Vous, from the 5.13 rock stars to the 5.7 amateurs, shared a common passion, not just for the feel of rock under fingertips, but a love for living life in the here and now. Not only do climbers dance like nobody’s watching, they dance for the pure joy of music and movement. From the hula-hoop ballerina to the grinning guy spinning round and round in dizzying circles, people danced their hearts that night. On the dance floor, as in life, climbers do their own thing and they do it passionately.
These days, nobody needs to be told the planet is in trouble. Our highly consumptive, disposable society is producing more garbage, greenhouse gases and pollution than the Earth can bear. Our waste is in danger of throwing the planet off a four-billion-year-old balance and yet, many people stubbornly refuse to make even the most minor lifestyle changes. Recycle, ride a bike, turn off lights, use reusable cloth bags. It’s not hard to make a change. All you need is initiative, but initiative takes passion and that’s what the world is lacking.
I saw a lot of incredible things at this year’s New River Rendezvous. I saw a guy lead a 5.12b in a steady rain. I saw a kid hula-hooping on the slackline. I saw a teenager flash a V9 boulder. I saw a dance floor full of strangers united into a tribe through music. And, most inspiring of all, I saw hundreds of passionate people make a big difference through a simple change. Maybe rock climbers should be in charge of saving this planet. More than anything else, change takes passion. And climbers have passion in spades.
To see more photos from Mary Caperton Morton CLICK HERE