A little worse for the wear and with a smashing headache, I made it to the apartment in el centro de Queretaro. It’s been nearly 21 hours since I started traveling. I need a cervesa.
So far my Spanish is enough to navigate, and to ask silly things like, “what’s the name of that mountain with the snow on top?”. I spent much of the time on the plane(s) thinking through sentences that would be useful, and which are probably grammatically incorrect. And which most certainly contributed to my headache.
It was a different game when I had to say things out loud. Mumbling and timidity are not for the language learner. Like many con-games, I found speaking with poise more effective than quietly whispering in the wind.
Why am I here anyways?
Over the past few years I’ve been returning to the question: “Is this all there is?”
It started with a crisis of confidence when I left startups in 2015 and I’ve been trying to figure out what the hell this is all about ever since.
It has little to do with startups themselves and a lot to do with a search for truth and meaning. In short, I bought the bullshit of silicon valley entrepreneurship and realized I was living according to a value system I adopted, but which learned I didn’t agree with.
It was a bit of blind faith; I let a tool shape the user, willingly at first, then sightlessly, and that’s the issue.
After the fallout, I started to wonder, “what else have I been following without much thought?”
This brings us today: I’m in Mexico for the foreseeable future to write and climb.
Basically, I don’t have many answers from these past few years. But I do have more clarity.
I know that I value independence (of spirit, mind, inquiry) and that I care about the essence of a thing. The pursuit of writing is about having freedom of location and choosing how I make money. In the spirit of journalism, it’s also about presenting truth. Climbing is a simple, if contrived, unadulterated act that is aesthetically pleasing, and physically enjoyable. I like it a lot.
Another observation I’ve come across is that you’re probably better off pursuing things that fill you up and get you excited about the world, than not. Hence, even if climbing is nonsensical at face value, so are most things in this world when deconstructed. Or, you might as well enjoy it.
Everything hasn’t been roses and glory, though. Admittedly, I’ve become much more inward (solipsistic, trending towards selfishness) and isolated. This isn’t the right path either.
We’ll see where the ledger balances out. Viva la Mexico!
Feature photo of La Peña de Bernal. Source: pixabay
James Stewart is one of the most recognizable faces of Nova Scotia. As the official town crier of New Glasgow, he is part presenter, part historian, and part global ambassador. He’s also the man that delivers Boston’s Christmas tree most years. In this interview, we talk with James about what it’s like to be one of only 400 town criers in the world.
The hand bell explodes with the deafening vigor of a fire truck siren at 2am. It’s piercing ring fills the ear, shakes the head, and shatters the silence of the small municipal room in the town hall of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. We are seated in a semi-circle like school children during show and tell.
“Oyez!,” bellows a man in a tricorne hat; It comes out elongated, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh yaaaaaAAAYYYY!” The bell clangs four more times (I count), followed by another, “Oyez!”
The producer of boisterous noises is garbed in 19th century Glasgow Tartan regalia, and the glint in his eye indicates that he enjoys the ruse. He unrolls a scroll and begins bellowing his Cry: “My lords and ladies, boys and girls, I welcome you to the township of New Glasgow.” His voice carries depth and reverberation. We settle in for the show.
James Stewart is one of the most recognizable faces of Nova Scotia. As the official town crier of New Glasgow he is part presenter, part historian, and part global ambassador. He’s won numerous awards in world town crier competitions. Aged 64 years old, he’s a burly man with a ruddy face that accentuates his snow white beard. He has been the crier for 27 years, and one wonders if he is only getting better with age.
Stewart accompanies Boston’s Christmas tree most years, the big one you see in The Common, which comes compliments of our neighbors up north.
Why is that? On Dec. 6, 1917, catastrophe struck Halifax and Boston helped in the aftermath.
Here’s what happened: The French ship, the SS Mont-Blanc, was preparing to exit the harbor to carry high explosives needed for the war overseas. But it didn’t make it very far. The cargo ship collided with the Norwegian vessel, the SS Imo, precipitating the largest man-made explosion at the time.
Approximately 2,000 people were killed by the blast, fires or collapsed buildings, and an estimated 9,000 others were injured. One of the main culprits of injury was high-velocity glass shards ripping through the air leading to eye trauma. Roughly 5,900 eye injuries were reported. (The Canadian National Institute for the Blind would go on to become internationally recognized as an important center for eye-injury research and rehabilitation.)
Nowadays, Halifax, and Nova Scotia as a whole, sends Boston a locally grown spruce as a way to commemorate the support and to spread good tiding from the annals of history. Each year, around this time, a ceremony on the Boston Common welcomes the delivery. Alongside the commanding tree, chaperoning Dave, the truck driver, is, you’ve guessed it, James Stewart, town crier of New Glasgow.
If you’ve attended the event before, you may have noticed James as the man wearing a kilt and Inverness cape in winter. He’s the one who opens the spectacle. This year, he will be delivering the tree on Tuesday, Nov. 19, and you can be certain he’ll be presenting it with a loud crash and a Cry.
I chatted with James to find out, well, why he’s a town crier, and like the hokey-pokey, what it’s all about.
Aaron: Let’s start with the basics: What is a town crier?
James: Traditionally, criers were one of the few people who could read, which allowed them to translate cables, announcements, etc. and share it with the public.
They were like the earliest form of public broadcasting.
How did you first find out about town criers?
I’m the second town crier in New Glasgow. The first was Ian Cameron. I wear his cape, the same tricorne hat.
He was the crier from 1988-1992, then he decided he would retire. There was an article in the local paper stating the town was looking for a new crier. My wife read it.
At that time we were doing a lot of community theater, dinner theater, drama festivals. Very busy in the theatrical community.
She came to me and says, “Oh New Glasgow is looking for a town crier. You should do it, you’d be good at it. If you don’t, I’ll kick your butt.”
So I drafted a letter (because that’s what we did in those days), then a month later I got a call. They asked if I could do a cry in front of a committee. “When?,” I asked. “How about in 20 minutes?,” they said. I had to throw together a costume, a cry and present in 20 minutes. This was in 1992.
How did you prepare for the role?
Every time I do a proclamation it is like theater. But, I was a crier for four or five years before I started to learn how to do it properly.
[In the beginning I was] very much like a singer that sings from their throat. A trained singer sings from their diaphragm. It took me going to competitions and watching other town criers, and seeing what they did, learning by watching, and experimenting [to get the hang of it].
What opened my eyes was a competition in Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh. It was the North American Town Crier Championship, and it was MC’d by Robin Leach, from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
It warranted being written up in one of the airline mags. Delta, maybe. I saw it on the plane on the way there.
That was when I saw Francis Taylor Slate, from Alexandria, VA, 80 years old, still crying. At that time I was in my 30s. I thought to myself, “Is this something you just do for the rest of your life?”
This was the first introduction to criers who were really, really good at what they did. I didn’t place anywhere near the top. I don’t even know where I finished (they only told you who the top 10 were).
Next year, at an event held in Hamilton, Ontario. I came in 5th. Then at the the World Championship in Sidney, BC, with 100 town criers from around the world, I came in 15th.
Every time I go to a competition I observe and learn. I’m still learning.
What is it like to be part of the town crier “fraternity” (using this term loosely)?
It’s a very social thing. There are only about 400 town criers in the world.
Odds are pretty good if I’m in another city, and someone says, “Oh, we have a town crier in our town,” about 50% of the time I know them or know of them.
When I gave my first proclamation, which was on June 30th, 1992, there were two other town criers in area, from Trenton and Westville [Nova Scotia]. Still are. They were welcoming of me to the fold.
What are competitions like? What are the events?
Generally, they give you a list of topics for a 3-day competition. One day is your town cry (I’ve been doing this [same] one for years), and there are other topics, usually related to the area.
In Bermuda, for example, they might choose a bird, or something native to the island:
When the island was first founded, one of the first ships had pigs or hogs, as they were called then. They went forth and multiplied. Or a bird that is native, called the cahow. It has a weird cry that almost sounds like someone screaming. Bermuda was called “the island of devils” because of the sound the birds would make. [These are things I might incorporate into my cry.]
For grading, you are judged on clarity, volume, content, poise, etc. Your voice needs inflection, to be “listenable.”
How do you research your proclamations for competition?
It depends on the topic.
In respect to the tree for Boston, there’s so much documented history. But, sometimes you just can’t find information.
Last year, at the Nova Scotia Championship, it was held at a seaside community and we had to write a cry about “women in the age of sail.” I ended up writing about how frustrated I was trying to write this. But I had absolutely nothing about the topic itself [just how hard it was to find information].
Here’s a story: The Founder of Bermuda, when he died, they put him in a rum barrel and pickled him. That’s how they sent him back to England. I used that for a cry.
…I’m a trivia buff. I enjoy telling stories.
How did you form your costume?
Some of the stuff I have was from a short-lived project, the Historic Costume Co-op. I don’t always wear a kilt, I do have britches. But I probably only wear those 2-3 times per year. The kilt is so comfortable, and it matches my cape.
The kilt was made locally by MacIsaac Kiltmakers. My other cape was made by the Historic Costume Co-op.
When they made the original cape, the design was called an Inverness Cape, or a coachman’s cape, from the 1780s. That’s basically the period when New Glasgow was first founded.
The joke I made in England [during a recent competition]—over the two days they gave out awards for best dressed, I won both of them—“I’ve been trying to get a new uniform for years, and this won’t help at all!”
My cape is 31 years old, same as the hat.
Have you made any additions to the kit?
When I got the original uniform [with britches], it was all velvet. Rarely wore them because they didn’t have any pockets. I went right to the kilt off the bat because I had one.
I’d love to get a uniform that was similar but a different color. Perhaps in Nova Scotia’s colors.
One guy in Ottawa has 26 uniforms. When you go into competition against that, you go, “There goes the best dressed!” He travels with 2-3 uniforms, and his partner is dressed in a matching set.
What is it like to present the tree to Boston?
It’s special. I think, “How lucky I am to be the person to deliver it to Boston?”
Every time I go down, I hand out hats from the province. Last year, I was staying at the Omni House and shared Nova Scotia touks (Editor’s note: A knitted winter hat popular in Canada) with the staff outside. I usually have a lot of pins from Nova Scotia and New Glasgow and give them out as well.
When I put on my uniform and do a walkabout, to the Common, let’s say, I get approached quite a bit. One time, I went to Macy’s to buy a bottle of perfume. The lady behind the counter goes, “well aren’t you the cutest little Paul Revere-Santa Claus I’ve ever seen in my life!”
Where does the tree come from?
The tree this year is coming from Chance Harbor in Pictou county, outside New Glasgow.
Where I’m sitting right now (Editor’s note: He was calling from his home), is in Chance Harbor, where I grew up. My dad had a place down here. When I was born, I was taken from the hospital and the first place I went was Chance Harbor. The tree, like me, is from here.
I’ve lived in New Glasgow nearly my whole live, but spent the first 25 summers in Chance Harbor. I built a place here in 2013.
I am actually two km from where the tree is. If I were to walk, it would take about 15-20 minutes to get there.
Is history important to you?
When I travel, maybe people know about the Halifax Explosion and maybe they don’t. We take it for granted that it’s something that everybody knows about [here in Nova Scotia].
In England, I toured two museums, the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds and the Imperial War Museum in Manchester. Didn’t see anything about the Halifax Explosion. I did see a few things about Nova Scotia, but nothing about the explosion. There was a made-for-TV movie about 15 years ago, but never a major motion picture.
It’s a really well known secret. And it’s something I get to help educate people about.
You’ve been doing this for 27 years, do you see yourself doing this much longer?
As long as I can continue to do it well, and not embarrass myself. I’m a firm believer that one should know when it’s time to quit.
Maybe I’ll continue to my 70s or 80s? As long as my voice holds up.
I’ve talked with the town about secession planning.
I see the value in it when I see the look on people’s faces when I interact with them. The majority of time it’s approval and warmth. When I’m dressed the way I am, people feel I’m very approachable.
It’s funny, when I’m in Boston, they think I’m a tour guide. They are always asking me for directions.
Screeching trees and silent birds. Wind gusts blot out all beyond the chatter in my head. I am a cone cut off by walls of thrashing air. We are a skipper within a rushing sea, we are pods against the current, we are looking down on the world. Eyes watering.
For the next hour my ears ring with an acquired tinnitus. Emergency radio broadcast signal or post-concert hum. Chili at 10:40 and a muffin with “blueberry filling.”
“I’m tired.” “Oh me too. “Do you have to walk back down?” “No.” “Lucky.”
I lunch at a table with a view out the window that shows sky but censors everything below the sill: undulating mountains, rolling silhouettes that fade from deep blues to whites as they drift away and fall off the edge of the earth. I can’t see them but I can sketch the angular pop outs from the contours I traced with my legs on the hike up. Families gather by the glass to snap photos.
Today it’s just me and travel, me and conquest, me and stringy cheese catching in my beard. I dab my face with a paper napkin after each bite.
The air inside is stuffy and cold like a dirt cellar. I want to bounce but my body has captured the mind and I fade from the room daydreaming of sleep.
I take my time. The passing of the clock means little beyond accumulated fatigue, or recovery in this instance. There’s no dark to beat back, no deadlines.
On the way down an older gentleman in a yellow wind jacket is battered about in the gales. He teeters on each landing, catches himself and readies for the off-balance maneuvering of the next step. He reminds me of a circus clown on stilts performing an exaggerated expectant tumble. He lets me pass.
Mounds as distance markers, wind as companion, clouds as serpents slithering over crests and shadow monsters crawling on the granitic carpet. A free market landscape of vastness and motion.
I wonder, what if I moved the world back with each step instead of pushing myself forward over its surface? How would that change things, to know you remained in place? It’s not that different than the lived experience, I decide, to feel as if everything revolves around your center of gravity.
Instead, what if you could experience the world barreling through space, or rotating on its axis? Would you feel enlarged, battered, guided by outside forces?
I’ve also heard walking described as controlled falling.
Descending uphill, I see dots in the distance that become human presence. Approach, smile, pass, approach, smile, pass. Each is a sample of tenderness or grief or tension or levity. How are there so many emotions on the trail?
An old man in a green AMC shirt works the lodge with a gaggle of a younger generation who giggle lots, fall into summer flings, and play pop music loudly from the kitchen.
The younger male attendant gives cleaning orders to the predominantly female staff, which consists of soapy water on floor for mopping and is met with gaiety in fulfillment. He moves to the window overlooking the west side of the ridge, a friendly companion sliding up on his right as they gaze out and talk of yesterdays ascent. They sneak intimacy in public view. She kissed him by the bathroom door, out of sight. I wonder what the old man does for companionship.
I wasn’t going for style points today, or hygiene; I’m hoping the clean boxers and shorts mask the day old damp and miasma that comes from climbing and no shower.
Some couples have full on matching dead bird kits: raging red, athletic cut, sunglasses atop head, uniformed to showcase they are on the same team. We talk about the wind.
No Everest lines here, but plenty of eager train-goers who paid the price of admission for a summit push and mob the sign declaring top. “You should let someone who earned this view through brawn take a picture,” I think to myself.
They are accustomed to standing on an escalator for their chance at cherry pie, elbowing about for a shot, of what I wonder? What does getting to the peak of a mountain under mechanical means mean to someone of able body? “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington” and other such silly messages we display.
Mostly I’m annoyed that people push through while I wait my turn, then take so long for photos commemorating a cheap thrill. It’s a bit like a trophy for showing up, or paying your way into Harvard.
But maybe that’s because I relish in movement, of covering distance on my own accord, of seeing where you end up under motive power. The journey is me, the reward is my own. If I just wanted fast kicks I’d go to an amusement park. Oh curmudgeonly me…
The drive home is a route I’m getting accustomed to. Weekends at Rumney: climbing up then down, careening up then down, emotions up then down.”
Some people say they get depressed after sending a big project, “post-send blues” they call it. It’s a low after a long, hard push: of achievement and the release of emotional toil. These goals become a driving force in their life. Once achieved, there’s an overriding sense of not knowing what’s next, of what you are, and why you exist, to some extent. Mountaineers who spend 3-5 months in the Himalayas talk about re-entry to home life with similar complexity.
I don’t experience this, but I have a micro-lull come Monday. The come down is like withdrawal, I imagine.
Partly I feel utterly free on a good day of climbing. All concerns vanish and I wade in an ocean of unconcern until I get back. Climbing helps me reset and recalibrate. It’s a step back that let’s me see things with clear eyes, like emptying the cache in your browser and not getting guided suggestions on your every query. The history vanishes and you can attune yourself to what’s important now.
Outside the window, overlooking the pool, cherry blossoms are flowering pink bouquets, bright against the grey, and tulips rise up with slouched shoulders and frumpy bed head. Water percolates, circling back to collect in clouds, weighted vest air compressing, then streams its way into puddles. In the early morning it’s cold enough to chill the tip of my nose. Spring.
Last year I missed this.
I had fast forwarded to summer by flying through to acclimatize on another continent. In a matter of hours I advanced the months, April became June, like the the flippant spin of a radio dial. From where I’ve lived, only in New England does spring get it’s fair share of the calendar’s quarter system.
Last summer there were no lobster rolls. No fish flaked wet sand between my toes. No end-of-the-earth-piering off into the depths of the Atlantic. No heavy-packed days in the Whites. No barbecues (my god!).
Instead I traipsed about another eastern boarder, cross stitching old lines of Latin and Cyrillic, Capitalism and Communism, place and no place.
Actually, it has been like this the past four years (where does the time go?): Mountain View (2015), Accra (2016), New Paltz (2017), Budapest, Plovdiv, Lviv (2018). I, a roving settlement, a stick in one hand, a canvas sack with my belongings cantilevered at the protruding end. Leather straps on my feet.
If I had died before last year I may have been discontented. Pardon the macabre. My point is that I had wanted to travel since uni—I’ve since tasted the fruit and can put sense and color to a wanderlust palette, the wine glass has been tipped back.
That tipping and sipping could have continued while overlooking a wine-dark sea. After all, I should be writing this in Albania.
I was supposed to fly out last week: to Dublin, Budapest, Tirana. Flight 2233 ended up with an extra seat. Maybe it made the journey more comfortable for some other lone passenger.
Those feelings have two-stepped and shadow boxed together, seesawed and smelted, fusing at odd angles throughout the travels. A short time in new places make good on that urge to keep going, nothing and no one securing you somewhere. Until its not, and until that melts away too.
For the most part I was rootless, and felt increasingly so as the trip continued. No roost, much roaming. That’s what I went for, though.
Alas the tether was wearing, the leather thong frayed to thin bits. It snuck up on me, didn’t notice until I had been walking several miles on without a shoe. The gravel had been running roughshod underfoot, blisters and stubbed toes alighted the mind to pay attention, eventually, then abruptly.
The last few months were a bit of a trudge, then I came back for my brother’s wedding. It was supposed to be a temporary stay.
In a recent conversation, a young, spirited woman offered, “I think we travel to figure out which places are meaningful to us.” She’s settled into her own nest for awhile, to regain and rebuild a sense of place.
Something changed for me too. Something about wanting to feel connected, about shared memories; a return to old grounds and the chance to look at the land with new perspective. While the lure of the ponderosa pine or mediterranean limestone shrills from time to time, it doesn’t feel right to go back, or elsewhere, right now. In my neck of the woods there’s no Poseidon to piss off or siren’s lullabying; Destiny can be my own.
There are wood nymphs and granite gargoyles, though, schist golems and sonorous stream temptresses, wily foxes and three sisters. We’ll have our fun.
In the end, I had to step back from all the experiences of the past year to see the bigger picture, then step in close to examine the sand grain mosaic for what it is: A lot of little pieces, a collection of days.
For now the grand adventure follows a storyline closer to home, one day at a time.
In 2015, Stanislav “Stas” Kleshnov took his place on the podium, waved to the crowd, and walked away from competition climbing as the Ukrainian champion.
For 25 years, this had been his life. The competitive spirit is marked in his sharp-features and stern look, which cracks with an occasional smirk or glint in his eye. His determined expression offers clues of the hard work it took to rise from the 10 year old kid who was inspired the first time he saw the limestone cliffs over the Black Sea.
He knew then the sport was his escape from a life of mining or metallurgy, the likely paths for those from Donetsk.
Climbing offered a way to see Europe after the dissolution of the USSR, and it exposed him to the training resources and gyms in other countries. For years Ukraine had a strong showing in international competition, from Olga Shalagina (1st, boulder), Olena Ryepko (1st, speed), and Maksym Styenkovyy (2nd place, speed), claiming medals as World Champions in 2005 to multiple podium placements across the three disciplines (speed, boulder, lead) through the early 2010s. Danyil Boldyrev remains one of the best in speed, but the country has seen its position passed in the other disciplines by the likes of Japan, Slovenia, China, and others.
In the end, Stas was proud of the national team’s accomplishments, but disappointed in the state of things and where they were headed.
“The government just hasn’t invested in the sport like other countries. They didn’t build any modern gyms. They thought professional sportsmen would grow up in the private sector [at commercial gyms], but those gyms [here] aren’t designed for that. Ukraine is falling behind,” Stas demurs.
When he decided to hang up his boots, he wanted to leave a legacy beyond his medals. He used what he learned from international competition to open the country’s most modern climbing gym, The Wall, in Lviv, and to welcome others into the sport.
Stas says, “Before the modern gyms, you could only start climbing in a sports institute or in school. There was no other way: Only children’s school or a sports school. We make climbing more open.”
The Wall is taking an innovative approach borne out of necessity, some luck, and a rise in accessibility to the sport, such as climbing gear being more easily available and rising wages.
Stas flashed a smile and greeted me in English, a language he hadn’t had to use in months.
“Добрий день (dobryj den, ‘hello’),” I offered, and he showed me around the gym.
Tucked into the side of an office building, The Wall offers a unique model that is perfectly suited for the small, but growing climbing community in Lviv. At 210 sq. meters (689 sq. ft.), it is tiny by conventional standards, but it suggests a viable “micro” gym for corporate and residential buildings as climbing continues to increase in popularity.
In Lviv, this size works just fine given the cost constraints (rent can be as expensive as in Germany), shifting cultural acceptance around paying for sport, and the gradual but developing interest in climbing in Ukraine. Still, The Wall welcomed over 1,200 unique climbers last year, most of whom tried the sport for the first time.
The gym itself is bathed in light with floor to ceiling windows on three sides. The place is cozy without feeling cramped, and amazingly, it packs in over 50 routes up to 14 meters high. Given the strength of the instructors (many have competed on the national team), the setting is high quality, catering to the moderate range. There is a bouldering area with plenty of features to keep it interesting, and a workout space that doubles as a yoga room.
I spent August, 2018 in Lviv and this was my first dedicated time to top-roping. The instructors were personable and friendly, and were quick to offer encouragement in the form of yelling “давай-давай (davai davai, something like ‘let’s go!’)” at me.
It was a fantastic place to learn the ropes.
Yoga, hang boards, plyometric boxes, personal instruction, instructors who will happily belay you, changing room.
About Lviv: Lviv is a fascinating city with a long and complicated history. It is on the western edge of Ukraine and is one of the cultural centers of the country. There is beautiful architecture from the Hapsburg days, vast parks throughout the city, and a lively tourist scene with many restaurants and bars.
Road tripping is part of the great American mystique, it’s a rite of passage, and for climbers, it can be a way of life.
If you’re keen to head out on the road in 2019, for climbing of course, here is a list of some of the coolest climbing festivals to organize your trip around. From ice farming classic lines to bouldering on an uninhabited island to a bean-based fete and even a 24 hour suffer-fest, you’re sure to find something to catch your eye and make you want to hightail it the hell out of Dodge.
The largest ice climbing event in North America, the Ouray Ice Festival started with a little luck. Scratch that, it started with a little leak.
Many moons ago, climbers in the area found a dripping penstock which carried river water to a century-old hydroelectric plant. The result of the holey pipe was fantastic ice features, including icicles as high as 100 feet.
Fast forward to today, the Ouray Ice Park manufactures over 200 routes using a gravity-fed irrigation system, making this one of the highest concentration of easily accessible ice climbing anywhere.
Thanks to Jeff Lowe and gang, this event now attracts 1,000s of attendees a year, from pros to beginners.
Nearly all of the funding for the Ouray Ice Park comes through donations. The easiest way to support the Park is to become a member, and much of the money raised for the festival goes towards the operational expenses. When you sign up, be sure to consider extras like the Gear Card, which lets you demo gear from the sponsors, including crampons, axes, gloves, jackets, backpacks and more.
Date: January 23-26, 2020 (25th Anniversary of the Ouray Ice Fest!)
Where: Ouray, Colorado
Cost: Free! But you can sign-up for (paid) clinics during the Fest weekend. Clinics run from Intro to Advanced!
Food: Check out Brickhouse 737, Bon Ton, Thai Chili, KJ Wood Distillery or one of four breweries in town, including Colorado Boy Tap Room and Red Mountain Brewery. Like chocolate, be sure to visit Mouses Chocolates. More info.
What to Bring: Ice climbing gear. Warm clothes to be a spectator. A thermos!
How to Get There: About a 5.5 hour drive from Denver, CO and 6.5 hours from Salt Lake City, UT, and just under an hour from Montrose Regional Airport. If you need transport to Ouray, check out Western Slope Rides.
Known as the “anti-climbing festival,” this irreverent event used to be passed along by word of mouth only (so, like, shhhh). It’s a little more accessible these days yet still maintains much of the haphazard good-clean fun of its origin.
Well, maybe “clean” isn’t the right word here. N00bies are likely to be “beaned” by the Bean Master which ceremonially beatifies them into the bean-loving ranks. This consists of having beans smeared across your forehead. Welcome to Beanfest.
Why beans? It all starts when Ray Ringle, Scott Brown, John Steiger, Don Gallagher, Fig, and Steve Grossman, local climbers, got rained out one evening in Bear Canyon. They decided to bide their time with a hot pot of beans and a bottle of tequila. Shenanigans ensued and the rest is history.
Of course there’s plenty of good climbing to be had in the rugged canyons and towering granite domes, which keeps people coming back year after year. And the remote location means no one will hear fart, after you eat all those beans that are good for your heart.
Leavenworth is a tiny town with a massive climbing footprint. At 1.25 square miles and a population of about 2,000 people, the town’s Rockfest, surprise surprise, is actually Washington’s largest climbing festival.
Why’s that? Because of bomb ass climbing! Leavenworth has some of the best alpine climbs in the country, from the big granite spires of Liberty Bell to the West Ridge of Prussik Peak (400 ft, 4 pitches, Grade III, 5.7) to the stunning rock of the North Ridge of Mount Stuart (9,415′, Grade IV, 5.9). If you like staying closer to ground level, there is a ton of bouldering, which makes this the go to destination for Seattle boulderers.
Organized by the Leavenworth Mountain Association, the event is now in its 20th year and features all sorts of goodies from climbing clinics, gear demos, a bouldering competition, raffles, and talks by pro climbers, Will Stanhope and Brittany Goris (who just completed the first female ascent of City Park, once, and possibly still, the hardest crack climb in Washington).
All the money raised during this event goes towards conservation efforts (the dry climate makes erosion problematic), trail maintenance, and even simple things, like paying for porta potties (which are actually desperately needed in the area).
In the words of Adam Butterfield, the Vice President of the LMA, “People should come to the Leavenworth Rockfest because this is one of the north west’s best climbing areas. It’s beautiful, has amazing climbing, and you can ski, climb, and boat all in the same day, where else would you get that?” Another insider tip: Once you’re in town, be sure to try the Timber Town Brown from Icicle Brewery or grab a glass of the homespun Huney Jun kombucha.
Big mountains in a small town and great beer? Um, yea. Who’s coming with me?!
How to Get There: About a 2 hour drive from Seattle.
Flash Foxy Summerfest
Summerfest is about inclusivity, which strikes a chord for climbers of all genders because these events sell out in a minute. That’s right, one minute.
Flash Foxy began in 2014 as an online platform to celebrate women climbing. It has since grown into a series of climbing festivals, women’s outdoor leadership training, and climber education. What started with a women’s only focus has expanded into Summerfest, an event that encourages “all genders” to attend in an effort to move away from binary characterizations. “Our goal is to create and maintain a safe and diverse space where consent and respect are our first priorities,” notes Shelma Jun, founder of Flash Foxy.
If you want to help “shift the climbing culture to be a better reflection of all of us,” as Jun declares, be sure to register before sales close on May 31!
Accommodation: A list of places to stay can be found here.
What to Bring: Mostly sport and bouldering gear.
How to Get There: ROAD TRIP! Fayetteville is centrally located in WV, about 4 hours from Charlotte, NC, Louisville, KY, Columbus, OH, and 5 hours from DC.
Rock the Blocs Bouldering Fest
Come on lucky #7! Okanagan Bouldering Society has turned in a masterpiece (going into their 7th year) in this 2 square kilometer boulder field with over 1,000 problems–with countless FAs to be had.
The Kelowna Boulderfields is one of the largest and best bouldering areas in this part of North America, consisting of highly-featured gneiss for varied holds, styles and terrain. Okanagan also happens to be one of Canada’s most favorable climbing climates, so you’re bound to get good sending conditions. Thanks to locals, Jason Duris, Doug Orr, Andy White, and others, the bouldering scene grows by leaps and bounds each year.
The festival includes a bouldering competition, area development projects, clinics, and fun comps like a pinch and pull-up contest. For British Columbia natural beauty and stellar bouldering, make this your Canadian destination of choice for June.
In its 26th year, this is one of the most renowned festivals in the U.S. And they go BIG in their production: Big attendance (over 600 climbers annually), big list of activities, big mountains, and big swag (from what I hear).
Here’s a sample of what you can expect from this cowboy and climber haven: Plenty of sport climbing from Wild Iris and Sinks Canyon and alpine trad in the Wind River Range, a mini film festival, a Limestone Rodeo red-point competition, nighttime bouldering, a dyno competition, a writer competition with Climbing Magazine(!), an art walk in town, a lip-sync battle, beer, bluegrass, and more clinics you can shake a quickdraw at. Yee ha!
And just look at the pro list…
Volker Schoffl, Craig DeMartino, Kitty Calhoun, James Edward Mills, Kris Hampton, Brittany Griffith, Kate Rutherford, Tommy Caldwell, Elaina Arenz, Chelsea Rude, Eric Horst, Maria Fernanda Rodriguez Galvan, Jessa Goebel, Kai Lightner, Marcus Garcia, Dru Mack, Colette McInerney, Molly Mitchell, Shingo Ohkawa, Becky Switzer, Jonathan Siegrist, Matt Segal, Ben Rueck and more… And more they say!
Yep, go big, Wyoming.
Attendee perspective: “This past summer, a close friend, myself, and a cute dog were on a three week long climbing road trip. We had no set plan, and no itinerary. The general idea was to just cruise around, and see what we could find. After getting chased out of Salt Lake City by thunderstorms, we ended up in Lander, Wyoming.
Unbeknownst to us, we rolled in right in the middle of the 2018 International Climber’s Festival. We took to the festivities, and found a welcoming, vibrant community. We slept in the city park, sampled beers at the Lander Bar, and took to the local crags.
Some locals showed us around Sinks Canyon and Wild Iris. We had a great time, and it reminded me of how awesome the climbing community can be. I hope to attend the ICF again in the future. If anyone wants to meet up and chase down some Alpine route in The Winds, then I am all game!” – Timothy Carlson at Hike the Planet!
Cost: $60 early access, $80 regular price. $25/ clinic.
Food: Grab a pint and a burger at the Lander Bar.
Accommodation: Free camping in Lander at the City Park for 3 days.
What to Bring: Camping gear, climbing gear, and a lot of energy.
How to Get There: About 4.5 hour drive from Salt Lake City, UT and about 5.5 hours from Denver, CO.
Dover Island Boulderfest
Known as Nova Scotia’s Granite Playground, Dover Island provides sweet serenity and over 100 boulder problems on a little plot of Canadian paradise. The festival is only accessible by boat, and Norm, the local blacksmith, will happily ferry you across. No joke. You can also rent kayaks and paddle the 1km from shore to shore, if you please.
Think this sounds more like a chilled out summer canoe trip with your buds than a climbing festival? That’s about right. The organizers, Climb Nova Scotia, cap the number of attendees at about 100 in order to keep the uninhabited landscape closer to it’s naturally low-key ambiance. After all, you’ll be sharing the island with over 50 endangered species.
Oh ya, and there’s stellar boulder problems ranging from V0 to V10, situated right along the shore, next to docile lakes, and in the shade of pine forests. I hesitated to include this because, well, I just hope I can snag a ticket!
You won’t find a lot of spuds here, despite it being in Idaho (branding opportunity?). But, you will get a plate full of off-kilter activities to help you cope with your forlorn potato deprivation.
For one, this is a mecca of moderate trad climbing and a treasure trove of granite bouldering and fun oh fun sport climbing. The festival takes place at Castle Rocks State Park near Almo, Idaho which is next door to the well-known City of Rocks National Reserve.
Some of the shenanigans include a booty easter egg hunt, in which the trails have been magically filled with Ergonomic-Gift-Guards (E.G.G.s) overnight, for you to discover in the morning in child-like reverie. If you’re into trail running, there is a 6-mile trail race, and a climber’s rodeo if you want to playtend at being a cowboy.
And if all that is not enough to keep you entertained, try and rally the 350 climbers to play a game of hot potato. Could be fun.
Food: Breakfast and dinner provided (thanks, sponsors!).
What to Bring: Maybe some empty bags to carry all the swag you win.
How to Get There: About a 3 hour drive from Salt Lake City, UT and a 3.5 hour drive from Boise.
24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell
“We are lions in a field of lions!” The proclamation rises in a roar, The Climber’s Creed, the crowd hoots and hollers as they prepare for a merciless 24 hour hunt of the finest sandstone sport climbing around.
“Partner! Do not freaking drop me!” The throng repeats from the MC, making declarative statements of partnership, climbing, and jokes. A lot of jokes.
Teams of two can compete in the 12 hour or 24 hour endurance climbing event (over 300 routes), with a chance to win sweet swag for things like best haircut, best costume, most routes climbed, and most biners returned by team.
Once that’s over, the festival lasts four more days with food (including a Kevin Bacon Bacon Station), camping, music, games, parties, and fellowship. Oh, and costumes! And tattoos!! And haircuts (most likely buzzed, leaving some sort of graphic on your skull)!!!
If you thirst for tomfoolery, go have a hearty chuckle with your lion pride in Arkansas.
How to Get There: About a 4.5 hour drive from Memphis, TN or Kansas City, MO; 5 hour drive from Oklahoma City, OK.
Red River Gorge Rocktoberfest
Celebrate another successful climbing season with the Red River Gorge’s biggest fundraising event of the year. With over 2,000 routes, and hundreds in the moderate range of 5.11-5.12, the RRG is one of the best destinations for sports climbing in the country.
Given the popularity, the area has experienced access issues over the years. Which is where The Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition (RRGCC), a volunteer led org, comes in; They have been the leading advocacy voice since 1996.
The money raised enables the RRGCC to make their mortgage payments, manage over 1100 acres of climbing land and roads, and to save money for future purchases. In the past, this fundraiser has helped pay for the purchases of the Bald Rock and Miller Fork Recreational Preserve.
And what better way to celebrate their Herculean efforts than with climbing and a party! If you want to help protect this magical place, be sure to join them in Rocktober!
Food: Some meals are provided. Bring your own and/ or dine on local fare. Beer on tap.
Accommodation: Camping at the Land of Arches campground.
What to Bring: Sports gear, trad, camping stuff.
How to Get There: About an hour drive from Lexington, KY and 2 hours from Louisville, KY.
Color the Crag
CtC is the first-ever climbing festival to celebrate diversity in the climbing community.
You might wonder why that’s important. Well, take a gander at any climbing magazine (or the expanded outdoor industry, for that matter) and you’ll see a lot of white. As in people. Yet, 38 percent of Americans are people of color. Hmm.
The mission for the festival is to “celebrate diversity in the sport of rock climbing. Our mission is to build community, promote leadership from people of color (POC), provide a positive narrative of underrepresented communities in the outdoors through inclusive and educational climbing festivals and events..” They do this by bringing together orgs like Brothers of Climbing, Brown Girls Climb, Melanin Base Camp, Natives Outdoors, Flash Foxy, Latino Outdoors and more, along with people from all backgrounds to climb for four days in the backwoods of central Alabama.
In the words of Stormy Saint-Val, a participant at last years event, “it completely changed my life! I’ve been able to eradicate this false narrative that black people don’t climb. There were [like] 300 people there! These are a bunch of people that are also climbing that don’t look like what the magazines are showing, and what narratives you have grown up with. It’s been a fuel.”
With very little cell service, a lot of friendly faces, and excellent bouldering, you’ll be sure to make friends and find community here.
Well, my friend, let me offer a heuristic: Plan your 2019 travels around The Coolest Climbing Festivals in Europe!
Each festival offers “climbing and…”a little something extra:
Climbing and… neon Lyrca and fresh terry headbands. Check! Climbing and… developing lines in a post-communist country. Check!! Climbing and… partying with 700 other people in one of the most stunning places on earth. Check!!!
But I am saying you might want to put your credit card on ice now because it will be hard not to sign up for the lot.
Without further adieu, read on for The Coolest Climbing Festivals in Europe.
La Sportiva Rjukan Icefestival
Ice climbing reigns supreme in the Norwegian town of Rjukan, which boasts 170 waterfalls (frozen in winter, of course).
This festival is packed with learning workshops covering topics such as an introduction to randonee skiing (or as the Norweigans would say, “topptur”), avalanche awareness, steep skiing technique, alpine climbing and winter aid climbing, drytooling, and much, much more.
Though not exclusively a climbing festival, the 7th international highline meeting takes place in Geyikbayiri, one of the premiere locales in the Mediterranean (over 1,300 climbing routes ranging from 5a to 8c+).
The festival is 8 days long and will be rigged up with 20 highlines from 15 to 100+ meters long (woo wee!). All of the lines are within walking distance of the camps; Once you get yourself to Geyik all you have to do is step out the door of your dorm (or tent, or guesthouse) and you’ll be mere minutes from climbing.
Remember: Bring a costume — it’s a CARNIVAL after all!
Cost: Suggested donation of 25 EUR / 29 USD. Food: The closest village, Akdamlar, has several markets to stock up on produce, meat, and other foods. Hitchhiking is commonly practiced here.
Accommodation: There are plenty of campsites and bungalows for rent. I’ve personally stayed at the Flying Goat and would recommend them. Wild camping is strictly forbidden.
What to Bring: A rack of 12 to 15 quickdraws and a 80m rope.
How to Get There: There are cheap flights to Antalya. Transfers from the airport can be arranged with the camps. Car rentals are cheap at the airport. More information here.
Paklenica International Climbers Meeting – Croatia
Paklenica is considered one of the top European climbing destinations. With over 600 routes the limestone cliffs of the Velebit Mountain range offer routes from 40m single pitch to big wall up to 350m long.
Heading into its 20th year, this festival features unique challenges including the Big Wall Speed Climbing, a Kid’s Speed competition, the “From Dawn to Dusk” climbing marathon, and the Paklenica Film Festival, an amateur films showing about, what else, climbing.
Need a rest day? There are over 150 km of hiking and trail running paths.
What to Bring: A rack of 12 to 15 quickdraws and a 70m rope.
How to Get There: Located about 46 km/ 28.5 mi from Zadar.
Prilep Boulder Fest – Macedonia
Tucked away in the south of Macedonia, Prilep is the fourth largest city in the country (with just over 70,000 inhabitants). The Boulder Fest itself is entering its ninth year, and the event has grown in attendance as has the number of new lines.
Complete with a new guidebook, feast on over 400 projects (or go about setting new ones). The area is quickly becoming one of the premiere bouldering destinations and was one of the sites for the Petzl RocTrip through Eastern Europe in 2014. Expect crimpy holds on sharp granite.
How to Get There: Skopje is the closest major city (about 130km away). You can take a bus or train to Prilep.
Albanian Climbing Festival – Albania
Help develop climbing in Albania!
Albania is a small mountainous coastal country lying on the Adriadic Sea, north of Greece and south of Montenegro and Kosovo. Climbing is young here and this festival — celebrating its fourth iteration — was started to develop the community and showcase the country’s potential. For perspective, the first climbing gym in the country was opened in 2012 and according to the article, “Five years ago, one could have counted nearly every rock-climbing-Albanian on two hands.” Things are changing.
The festival moves around in order to show off the best that Albania has to offer from locales like Gjipe, Përmet and Bovilla. Many of these places are remote, have stunning natural beauty, and limited economic investment for the villages. Through the promotion of adventure tourism, the organizers hope to empower small local businesses and communities.
Climbing routes range in difficulty from 5a – 8b+, from single pitch (12 – 35m) to big walls. All the money from the festival fee goes to equip new routes. And for your money you will get a guidebook, swag, yoga, and a party on the beach.
Integrowanie Przez Wspinanie (Integration Through Climbing) – Poland
Poland’s biggest climbing festival takes place in the Będkowska Valley, less than 20km north-west of Kraków. The setting is fantastic, simply wake up at the campground and walk 100m down the road to start climbing. There are dozens of crags and hundreds of routes all within a 30 minute walk.
At the festival you’ll find workshops for beginners and advanced climbers, extreme rope games, climbing competitions, mountain running, and a focus on activities for children this year. There’s a great guidebook you can pick up at the E-Pamir Mountain Shop in Krakow or use the super helpful online topo repo, Portal Górski.
What to Bring: A rack of 10 – 15 quickdraws and a 60m rope.
How to Get There: Closest airports are Kraków and Katowice. 20-30 minutes by car from Kraków, about an hour by bus.
Dolorock Climbingfestival – Italy
2019 will mark the seventh year for the event organized by the Alta Pusteria climbing club, Gamatzn. The festival takes place in the Landro Valley, which combines natural beauty and rock climbing history as the area has been under development since the 1980s. The Höhlenstein valley sits near the famous Three Peaks (Tre Cime), some of the most photographed mountains in the world.
The Redpoint Fight is a competition for fun and personal challenge. Climbers are awarded points for their five hardest routes, based on criteria such as on-sighting, flashing and redpointing. There are four categories for competitors: Youth (under 18, F+M); Professionals (F+M); 50+; Amateurs, with awards for each. Yoga, kids climbing, dancing and talks round out the festivities.
Grades here range from 3 to 8c+ and consist of slab, flat wall and overhang climbing. The length of routes vary between 8 and 35 meters.
This Lake Faak festival is all about celebrating the joy of climbing in some sweet, sweet spandex style and flashy terry headbands. A nod to history, the 5th edition celebrates the Lycra tights and colourful outfits worn by the early climbers in the area in the ’80’s.
These crags offer over 300 routes, which means you’ll get to sample plenty during the 8 hour climbing marathon as you try and earn as many points as you can. Kings and Queens will be crowned at the evening party, and awards will be given to the team with the most routes complete and team with the hardest route (among other awards). Of course, the place is buzzing with the one question on everyone’s mind: Who will win the “Golden Lycra Award”?!?!? (The trophy for the best outfit.)
Other features include: Climbing workshops with Alex Megos’ Coaches, acro yoga, via ferrata hiking, bouldering, slacklining and talks by professional climbers.
Food: Grocery stores in the area but they close at 6.50pm.
Accommodation: Hotels and apartments in the area.
What to Bring: A rack of 15 quickdraws and a 70m rope.
How to Get There: The closest airports are in Salzburg and Ljubljana (just over the border). Hire a car as crags are spread out.
Pecka Rock Climbing Festival – Bosnia and Herzegovina
May is reserved for the oldest sports climbing festival in B&H. Held at the largest collection of rock routes in the country, Pecka features “a kingdom of the pockets” and fantastic local food. This is a combo event, teaming up with the Forest Party, the Forest Cinema, and the Pecka Outdoor Festival.
Enjoy more than 120 routes from 5a to 8b, with lengths between 15 and 35 meters. For the low price of 15 EUR, receive a printed guidebook and a Pecka Rock Climbing shirt. The event organizers like to keep things simple: “Come, climb and have fun!”
Heading into their 4th year, the festival aims to promote participation in climbing and encourage a community of support. Their stated aims are: To help beginners transition from indoor to outdoor climbing; facilitate women in outdoor leadership; and to create a network of female climbers
In 2018, they had 200 participants from as young as 8 to over 60 years old. Everyone is welcome, even if you’ve never climbed before!
The event has the expressed mission to, “be a platform that allows female climbers to meet likeminded individuals in our sport” and to promote the idea of sustainable recreation.
The festival feature workshops on route-setting (by setters on the French National team!), forest conservation, morning yoga and afternoon parkour sessions, evening talks, and a focus on mentorship. And of course, best-in-class climbing. Attendees last year included the likes of Caroline Sinno, who has done multiple 8B (V13) ascents, and Alice Hafer, a former Blokfest champion.
Herculane was a Petzl Rock Trip 2014 stop which has put this crag on the world stage. It’s still off-the-beaten track but good enough climbing for Adam Ondra to visit in 2018, and free the first 9a in Romania.
In other words, if you’re looking for high-quality climbing (Cerna Valley has hosted the National Rock Climbing Championship) and economical value, all without the hordes, you’ve found your place. 2019 will offer up the 17th edition of this festival with three days of climbing and 30 designated routes for the competition. Movies, yoga, and celebration are in store for the off-wall hours.
Drill & Chill Climbing And Highlining Festival – Bosnia and Herzegovina
Who knew Bosnia and Herzegovina had such a strong climbing culture?! This marks the second festival from B&H on the list.
Join in to make your mark (literally) with ten days of bolting, climbing, and highlining. Organized by Climbing club Extreme Banja Luka, they set out to “playfully combat the status quo.” If you like to travel and climb off the beaten paths, Bosnia and Herzegovina offers a diverse landscape of forested mountains and an abundance of untamed limestone
Last year the festival focused on the development of the Tijesno canyon, which is nestled in alpine terrain and offers a plethora of multi-pitch climbing.
The Gods shine bright on this rock climbing Adonis of crag and sea.
(Just don’t piss off Poseidon or he’ll blow you straight back to Troy — where the climbing isn’t quite as nice.)
Today, the island has over 2,500 sport routes on Mediterranean limestone. The majority of the routes are single pitch, around 20 to 30m, with some 3-5 pitch climbs as well. You won’t be able to cover it all during the three day festival, naturally. Like laying eyes on Helen, you may find yourself drooling uncontrollably… at the anchors staring out at the breathtaking blue Aegean.
The festival features a Climbing Rally, clinics, the chance to chat with pros, deep water soloing, traditional Greek dancing lessons and, of course, parties.
In the words of Rock and Ice, “The search for climbing paradise ends at the greek isle of Kalymnos” (Feb 2001).
Perched in the North West Highlands of Scotland this festival offers some of the best scenery and landscapes in the UK — plus pure dead brilliant climbing!
Organized by Hamlet Mountaineering, they cater to all your Scottish needs: Salt water, clean lines and a pub two minutes on from the campsite. Workshops are offered for those who want to improve their skills or deepen your understanding (and appreciation) of the sport you love with the “Geology for Climbers” talk. Want some evening entertainment? Rope up in your Highland dress for the Saturday night Ceilidh with accordion accompaniment.
Other activities include a half-marathon, kayaking and yoga. Gie it laldy!
Four days in Mediterranean sun. In November? Yes, please. The tenth edition just wrapped up, for what has become a hallmark event in Sicily, Italy and around Europe. The festival features big names, big sponsors, and big crowds (hundreds of people attend) in this idyllic setting of beach, history, and climbing.
Activities include the “Baby speed climb” (for 6-10 year olds) and the main draw, the “Crazy Idea Boulder Event” where competitors can go against national athletes. For non-climbers there is mountain biking, trail running, slacklining (including a 160m line), stunning beaches, and the opportunity to test new gear, in addition to film screenings, live music, and social hours. Of course, if you want more climbing there are over 600 routes in the area.
What to Bring: A rack of 12 – 15 quickdraws and a 70m rope
How to Get There: Cheap flights to Palermo. Rent a car or take a bus to San Vito.
Leonidio Climbing Festival – Greece
Can you name the three most popular crags in Europe for 2018?
If 8a.nu’s Tick List is the be-all-end-all, we have 1) Frankenjura, 2) Kalymnos, and rounding in to form, 3) Leonidio (which saw more ascents in 2018 than the beloved Rodellar, Arco and Railay Beach combined).
Just three hours south of Athens, Leonidio is sheltered along the Peloponnese coastline and surrounded by red and grey cliffs that keep temperatures warm and wind down, making it an idyllic winter climbing destination.
The festival itself is only entering its fourth year, yet attendance skyrocketed with over 700 participants in 2018. Come to enjoy more than 1,000 routes from single pitch to multi-pitch up to 250m high, ranging from 5a to 9a.
Hopefully you found the list useful (and even signed up for one or two!).
If you have been to one of these events or are planning on attending, I’d be keen to hear about your experience. Any festivals that we missed?
Please note: The aim wasn’t to be comprehensive, but rather to focus on interesting festivals. I was hoping for more ice climbing and from places like Scandinavia, Ukraine, Poland, the Baltics, Macedonia, Bulgaria, etc. And nothing for Spain? Really?!
If you have any festivals to add, please share them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list.