“This place is special,” Michael declared. I drove to Bolton, Vermont to see what he meant.
Driving West along the backroads of Route 25, and across the Connecticut River from New Hampshire to Vermont, a change is immediate:
Vermont smells different.
It’s all cow pies, farmland and pine trees, like it was bottled in a can then freshly cracked open. First sip supernova. Piquant.
Here the land is more maple syrup than metro. More timber-lined ridge than car parked mall. Instead of New Hampshire’s concentrated range, mountains rise and fall away like waves at low tide. Troughs are unfurled rugs of mauve fields barricaded by rounded peaks with a tarmac running through.
The car pulsed along, wind rushing through the open windows. Scott Hutchison’s tiding brogue drifted from the speakers, my lips and tongue moving in synchrony.
302: Past Berlin, Middlesex, Waterbury, continue by a flea market perpetually being set up, then take a sharp right to a steep drive.
There, a black barn.
“You must be the writer,” a hulking man with snow white hair and a braided beard declared.
“Something like that,” I said.
He stood up gingerly and extended his hand, “I’m Kirk. Welcome to paradise.”
Michael Hunter looks a lot like his father, and sounds like him too. All rumbling motor engine and belly laughs.
The Hunters are developing the 37+ acres of the Black Barn Farm into an outdoor hub. In what is likely to be the first bouldering hostel and campground in Vermont, you can sleep right next to the rocks. As it stands, his property has one of the densest concentration of erratics in the state.
When you visit you’re bound to meet friends, family, and people from the community. The place is always open, and it was designed that way.
Michael’s angle is “coming into resonance” with others, a practice he’s cultivated over 15 years as a mental health counselor. On his property, that means creating space for others to enjoy the land.
While I was there I chatted with Michael about his vision and what the hell “allemansrätten” means.
Aaron: What are you creating here?
Michael: We bought the place five and a half years ago, and we decided as a family that we wanted to share this beautiful spot. We’ve been improving the land, figuring out how to steward it the best.
We focused in on the natural resources: Bouldering, there’s steep terrain for backcountry skiing, disc golf, fly fishing—there’s brook trout all along the stream here. We want to create an outdoor recreation hub.
I also like craft beer, and we do beer shares; Sipping barrel aged stouts [things like that], we sit in the barn and talk about the different flavors. (Editors note: He laughs).
What about the boulders?
My friends, [Pete Cudney, Sam Simon, and others] the ones developing the boulders here, tell me that [outside of Smuggler’s Notch] the boulders in Vermont are few and far between.
You’ll have this big boulder, it’s awesome, but then have to walk two miles through the woods to another one, then a half-mile to another after that.
According to them, this is such a high concentration of good quality rock with amazing lines, all in a 300 square foot area.
That’s the wizard boulder (he points to the hunk of rock over my right shoulder), and the first climb that went up: “It’s complicated being a wizard [V5].”
There are other lines: Dharma Bum. Society of Solitude. Ghost in the Sky. All these are beer names from different breweries [in Vermont].
Why steward the land? To share it?
The previous owners [before the last] actually spread glass along the river on the property. They didn’t want people using the land. We thought that was ridiculous.
There’s a Scandinavian word, and actually it’s a law, called allemansrätten, that translates to “the right to roam.” Everyone has the right to walk through, fish, whatever. You can’t camp right behind someone’s house—you have to respect the land and the people on it—but basically this land is for everyone.
[At Black Barn Farm] we share everything. If you’re here and you’re hungry, you’re going to eat. People just kick money in the moonshine jar. I had a hiker that came for one night, stayed for a week. He helped around here, did a bunch of chores, pitched in a couple bucks.
How are you building this out?
In developing this, I’m in conversations with CRAG Vermont, to see how this fits in with their broader initiative of making climbing available to everybody.
The Catamount Trail, which is the cross country ski trail that goes from Jay Peak down to Harriman (300 miles from the border with Canada to Massachusetts), it goes right up here over the back of my property.
There’s a cabin up there called the Bryant Cabin that sells out in minutes each year. We’ve talked with them about building a spur down here and a yurt or a cabin [to offer another option].
We’re dong this slow, starting with primitive camping to get going. The next step is to make this into a small campground: Lean-tos, a couple of teepees, etc.
How did you make your way here?
I grew up in Connecticut and moved to Burlington for grad school. I had worked in residential care for younger kids, and got my Masters in Counseling at UVM. I’ve been a licensed mental health councilor and drug councilor for the past 15 years. So I was living here.
My mom passed away, six years ago. My dad was still living in Connecticut in a three story house. We wanted dad to stay with one of us; Sister lives in California, brother is in Texas. He went out to California for about a month and a half, loved it. He went to Texas for awhile, and Texas sucks (he laughs), so he didn’t want to go there.
Then he came up here. He was coming up here all the time anyways because it’s close.
We had dinner on a Sunday night, and he told us, “Okay, I’m going to sell the house in Connecticut and move in with you.”
On Monday, my friend sent me the listing for this place. It had just come on the market.
“It’s everything you’ve ever wanted,” he said.
Everyone that buys a house has a bucket list of like 30 things, and you maybe get two of them. We had that list and everything was there at this house.
On Monday, I drove past after work. The previous owners were out front moving stuff and packing. They invited me in. I stayed for two hours, told them about my mom, how I grew up jumping in rivers like this, just told them the whole story. By the end of that, they told me, “We want to sell this house to you and your family.”
Two months later, on the Summer Solstice, June 21st, 2013, we closed on the house. And it was ours.
I spent the first night here with my best friend, the one that showed me the listing. And we slept on a couch in the backyard because we didn’t have furniture or anything. (He laughs).
We walked to the upper meadow under a full moon, and the whole meadow was covered in daisies. Daises were my mom’s favorite flower. Growing up, my dad always used to give her daises on anniversaries and her birthdays. I get goose bumps thinking about it now.
The way it all worked out—the way my dad decided, the way that we found it, the way I talked to those people. This place has an energy about it that shit like that happens all the time.
You said the way you grew up—you would jump into rivers, and things like that—was that something you wanted for your own children?
Oh ya, absolutely. My dad used to take us up to the Zealand Campground, near Mt. Washington. That’s the Ammonoosuc River. Every summer we’d go up and stay there, and jump in those pools.
I grew up doing that and I wanted my kids to have that.
When the previous family walked me around, everything in my head was, “My kids are gonna grow up here. They are going to love it!”
The Black Barn Farm is hosting a bouldering competition as part of the first ever Vermont Climbing Festival on Saturday, Sept. 21.
In this interview series we talk with people who spend their time traveling and climbing, while still holding down a steady income. From nurses to coders, writers to outdoor guides, we want to show that you don’t have to go full dirtbag to live the itinerant life. Because contributing to your 401k while seeing the world doesn’t sound so bad.
Name: Jacob Bushmaker
I came across Jacob’s blog, The Wandering Climber, earlier this year when I was researching cheaper travel/ climbing destinations in South America. There were surprisingly few resources, but I eventually landed on TWC’s The Top 6 Rock Climbing Towns in South America – Why Should You Go?. It was great! I quickly dove into the rest of his pieces on Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and others. His articles are well written and full of useful bits.
1) What do you do?
I currently have two jobs.
1) I work as a sales agent for a company called Unbundled Attorney, where we connect people with lawyers who are looking for affordable legal representation.
2) I run a blog called The Wandering Climber, which focuses on providing climbers with beta on the world’s best rock climbing destinations [Editor’s note: Typically lesser known places].
I’ll be answering the questions in respect to my work with TWC.
2) What are some of the perks of the job?
A few things. Probably the most notable is it is completely remote, meaning that I can work from just about anywhere in the world. This is pretty much a necessity for anyone who wants to travel long term… unless you have some other source of income!!
Second is that I’m my own boss. I don’t have any set hours, deadlines or anyone to “answer” to.
It is also great to be creating something. It has its own intrinsic value which is sort of hard to explain. [I like to be able to] look back and be like, “yea, I did that.”
Lastly, this is a way for me to give back to the rock climbing community with my unique experiences and knowledge. This is a perk of the job I really didn’t anticipate, but it has been awesome to get so much positive feedback from people who have read my blog and used it.
“The only people who think this is easy are ones who haven’t done it before.”
3) What are some of the challenges?
There are a lot of challenges with running a blog as a business.
The only people who think this is easy are ones who haven’t done it before.
With the incredible freedom which comes from being your own boss comes the pretty obvious drawback that there is absolutely no one keeping you accountable.
This is particularly difficult when you’re posted up in one of the world’s top climbing destinations. As you might imagine, these environments aren’t exactly conducive to “hard work.”
Also, it is always an ongoing challenge that I have to learn how to do things on my own. I have never had a “teacher” [for this stuff]. At times things can be super frustrating.
4) What motivated you to pursue this path?
The whole journey started when I read the 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. It really opened my eyes to what was out there and has fundamentally changed my life in just about every sense imaginable.
I went from a 9-5 office job (I was a Civil Engineer) to working remote, visiting about 30 countries in 4 continents, and living abroad in South America.
There were the obvious perks of living abroad, such as learning another culture/ language and meeting new people/ traveling which appealed to me.
In addition, there are also some financial benefits of working abroad which don’t get mentioned as much, such as having a huge reduced cost of living.
5) How does this job allow you to travel and climb?
If I was just doing one of the two jobs, I would have plenty of time to dirtbag. I did so for about 2-3 years, but there sort of came a point where I started taking work more seriously again.
Over the past six months I have been much more “buckled down,” you might say.
The site launched in February of this year, and [so far] I’ve always had another full time job which takes up a ton of time. If all goes well, within the next 6 months to a year, I’ll be able to comfortably support myself with the income earned off the blog. [At that point] I’ll be able to make the decision whether I’d like to pursue it full time or not.
Right now, I work more than full time between my two jobs, probably in the 50-60 hours a week range.
“Travel and being an entrepreneur is romanticised, but I’m here to tell you that sometimes it just sucks.”
6) What do you wish you knew when first starting out?
The hardest thing about this lifestyle has always been things I left behind when I was an engineer: The “steady” job, “good” career, friends, family and security were all sort of thrown aside to live the dream.
Travel and being an entrepreneur is romanticised, but I’m here to tell you that sometimes it just sucks.
7) What is one lesson learned from your journey so far?
It is better to focus on the process than the goal.
Once you get going it just becomes another day in the life, and before you know it your on your way.
8) Anything else you’d like to add?
You overestimate what you can do in a year, but underestimate what you can do in five.
My point: Just get started now, be patient and incredibly persistent!
You can learn more about Jacob, his work, and his travels:
Past a skate shop and bulky shirtless crossfitters, and opposite an axe throwing bar, sits a climbing gym in the old Daily News garage in Brooklyn.
Amateur climbers were gathered to compete in the adidas Ticket to Rockstars event. Many, like myself, were there for their first ever competition, while the crusher few were vying to win entrance to the Finals in Stuttgart, Germany, and the chance to compete against pros.
For the intro price of $25, I signed up for some cheap thrills, swag, and this story. Considering the notoriety of World Cup comps and the upcoming Olympics, I wanted to see what the hell this was all about.
Would the experience live up to the hype?
It was 2pm on a hot and hazy Saturday, the sun is radiant and the blacktop is radiating heat. Children in green shirts are spilling out into the street chattering with the enthusiasm of a sugar high. Heavy baselines boom from the open doors of the stucco entrance that reads, “THE NEWS – BROOKLYN GARAGE BOULDERS.”
Inside, the chalky air rises in convection flumes and settles in back quarters and on black mats. Friendly faces check me in, while pint-sized competitors and families with cameras gather around for the award ceremony in the background.
“The prize for the top female… well, uhh, girl,” the announcer pauses. “The top finisher in the girl’s Kids Jam category is Tessa Huang who flashed nearly every problem!”
Cheers give way to pounding music, which pulses through the speakers thrashing my eardrums. I’m surprised you can’t see sound waves in the thick mist that hangs like humid air over a seaside beach. It’s like preparing for a night in a hostel with a loud snorer; “Gonna be a long one,” I think to myself.
“The Open Jam starts in 10 minutes,” the MC hollers over the sound system.
I dash outside for free ice cream: Strawberry jam crumble in a cone. Ice cream before a competition, you say? I was prepared to do whatever it takes to win. Just kidding. Damn do I like ice cream.
“Welcome to the first ever adidas Rockstars event here in New York City,” the MC declares without exclamation points. “We’re going to go over the rules then let you get to the fun.”
Logistics are confirmed, scoring clarified, and a count is given.
“3, 2, 1. Go!”
Cheers amass and the mass disperses in the way a drop of soap slowly spreads across the top of a bowl of water.
Despite the sludgy speed, the stoke is high and volume higher.
A woman behind me starts on problem #6, a slightly more than vertical jug-haul on green holds. She makes a few moves, tentatively, trying various body positions, and falls.
Lines queue up quickly around low grades and where others already are. It was a peak into human psychology: People were attracted to the manageable and the masses.
I walk through the central corridor under the Brooklyn Bridge facsimile to the back left corner where there is a nook with easy problems. A booming speaker and the only meaningful fan in the place complement the space.
Climbers cruise a slightly overhanging moderate comprised of downward facing pinches on sloping feet, pink holds. The feeling I always get in a new gym washes over me: “I wonder if I’m gonna eat shit on these?” As if all of a sudden I’ll forget how to climb and any technical ability beyond flopping will escape me.
After watching a train of people repeating the same refrain, I jump on and flash the problem in similar effect. “Okay, this is manageable,” I assure myself.
Turning away from the nook unveils the cave. It is comprised of an upward slanting roof covered in hard problems and a flowy jug-haul on an arete. The movements look fun so I wait in line for the yellow moderate.
There are big cheers for top outs and proud parents phone-filming their daughter. She starts strong but the transition out from under the roof proves difficult for her feet. She tries—fights once, twice, three times to kick her legs up—but falls in the end and returns to the line for round 2.
Scoring is straight forwardish. Three levels of difficulty: Blue (easy), Red (moderate), Black (hard). Each problem equates to a total number of points between 100-400, with harder sets worth more. Points are divided by the total number of people who complete the problem. For example, if 2 people finish a black worth 400, they each get 200 points. If 100 people do the same blue worth 100 points, each person gets 1 point. Most points gets a trip to Stuttgart. There are 40 problems total.
Thus proved one of the challenges of the event: 40 problems for 280 participants (or so the rumor went) meant a lot of waiting around.
“I didn’t know it was going to be this crowded,” demurred Victor He, who was supposed to be in the office until 4:30pm that day. He came down at the behest of his significant other, bicycling from Midtown.
“But I’m glad I came,” he says. “It’s a good environment to practice finding happiness in, which I’m being intentional about.”
I move towards the entrance to a cupcake shaped peninsula and try a harder piece, white holds.
The problem starts on crimps and is off-balance, with only the right leg on a sticky sloper. Then it goes into a falling lunge to a right hand pinch on a half moon while simultaneously latching on to a slippery football sized dihedral with the left. The next sequence was a left heel hook match to the left hand then a left hand reach up to an open palm crimp on the corner of a dihedral. Hold body tension and slowly bring your legs under, then right foot up and into the crescent, maintaining balance and grip on slippery hands the whole way.
I didn’t get this one. “Interesting,” I thought to myself.
The problems were lavished with what Laurent Laporte, the head route setter of adidas Rockstars, described as “funny.”
“What do you mean?,” I probe.
“We want people to smile while climbing,” he explains. “There are different styles, we try to incorporate some surprises, like no hands or unexpected movements.”
We look around and see plenty of smiles.
“Americans love lining up,” an Aussie mused to me before boarding the bus in Boston. Her observation played out accurately as the respect for queues was strong at the comp. On the plus side, it gave you ample rest.
After tiring of waiting for the white moderate, I proceeded to the back, returning near the fan and a problem that begins with a jump start, black holds.
Stepping up lands you on a peanut-sized undercling that you catch with your thumbs, holding tension on a right-footed pedestal and left-footed friction on a sloping dihedral. Steady yourself to officially start. The next moves were a traverse left on tricky slopers for feet to a downward angled dihedral you needed to match hands on. Leaning left and holding with your right hand, jump around the corner to a deep-pocketed sloper that required keeping your right hand on for compression while cutting feet.
“Fun setting today,” remarked Courtney Billig, who regularly climbs in New Jersey. “A lot of dynamic moves, which is not something I tend to try.”
About 2 hours in a few crushers arrived and make quick work of the cave problems. This includes Ray Hansen (who won the comp) and Téo Genecand (who took third).
The green set in the cave was a strongman contest. The problem starts low on overhung pinches and moved to a dead point two-finger pocket. This was followed by a shallow jug then a series of Tarzan-like swings through 3 two-finger pockets that required rotating one’s body 180 degrees. Climbers hung and swung their whole weight on two fingers at a time. This led to a toe-hook out from under the roof, then a hand match, finishing up with technical face climbing on small crimps. The problem was #38 (out of 40), making it one of the most challenging of the lot.
I tried working a pink in the mid-30s, what others called, “maybe a V9.” Not knowing the grades and in the light of competition, it was fun to jump on random problems that caught the eye.
“It’s a cool opportunity to see what comps are like,” noted Josh Greenwood, a coach at Brooklyn Boulders who was participating in the event. “What’s nice is it encourages people to try something new, different problems they might not normally do.”
Riley MacLeod, an editor at Kotaku, agreed. “I’ve only been climbing three months,” he starts. “But the woman who taught the intro class said ‘you should do it!,’ so I signed up. I almost turned around on the way here.” He continues, “I tend to wuss out near the top, but today, it only counts if you get to the top, so I’m going for it and completing the climb! This has definitely inspired me to push a little more.”
Nearing the end and with ears ringing like a steel drum, I call it a day.
My cheeks are sore and I realize I’ve been smiling the whole time. Seeing the participants enthusiastically try problems and cheer each other on lit me up, and is a reminder of how special the climbing community can be.
Never turning down a free beer, I cash in my drink ticket for an ale and kick back to watch competitors attempt their last climbs. There’s back slapping and hand clapping, high fiving and laughing, all in the name of camaraderie and fun.
“I like to compete with myself,” says Victor, “not other people.” “Which means you can celebrate everyone else instead of rooting against them,” I add. “Right,” he says.
The lens cap wouldn’t go back on. I was fumbling by the greyscale schist, turning ‘round the plastic piece like a steering wheel.
“Uhh, what the fuck,” I mumbled, confusedly, to myself. The circular pissant had started on the lens, I was sure of that, those two pinchy prongs, when squeezed, clearly released the cover from the concave portal. Then why won’t it go back in? I tried jamming it, clomp, clomp, clack, into the hole.
Turns out the camera needed to be powered off in order for the lens to recede and the cap to fit in place.
“Ah, just first day blunders, it’ll all be easy sailing from here!,” I reassured myself.
I was recently commissioned to write about climbing at Rumney in New Hampshire, for—humbly—what is my first paid article, inreal dollars… potentially… because the check hasn’t been cut yet.
In order to complete the research and take photographs for the piece, I spent a few days on location. This article is about lessons learned, and mostly the mishaps, from my first climbing trip “on assignment.”
Rumney is the mecca of sport climbing in New England, a destination crag for rock scalers within a 5-hour drive radius. Québécoise? Sure thing. New Yorkers? No problem. Bostononians? Of course.
On good weather weekends the parking lots are stacked before the first Regular cup of Dunks and “crawlah” has been washed down by BPD.
Luckily, weekdays see lighter attendance, and less people to witness my flailing with the flagellating camera around my neck.
Lesson 1: Know How Your Equipment Works
No amount of editing was going to fix the blurred images.
Sitting at home the photo previewer showed one out of focus shot after another: A close up of rock here, faded climber in the background there; Censored cliff and a verdant tree wearing a liberal application of green blush; Oh this shot of my boot and dirt is crystal!
Eventually I figured out the settings and how to target the focus. I also learned plenty of settings not to use!
Lesson 2: Get off the Ground
The most interesting shots were ones from non-traditional vantage points, like “soloing” a slab slate to grab some setting sun or tying in to a first bolt on an adjacent route in order to capture a climber up close.
The difficulty in framing climbing shots, aside from knowing how to use the camera, came down to not losing the climber in the frame. A fellow photographer I met there remarked on how easy it is for the climber to get lost, whether from the scale of the wall, the muted colors they are wearing, or from poor lighting. Getting closer and properly structuring the shot made a world of difference.
Lesson 3: Plan out the Shoot and Know What You Want to Capture
The next day my thighs felt leaden. I haven’t done much hiking lately, but in reality I scaled a few thousand feet of vertical over those days, often on steep inclines heading up and down to the different cliffs along Rattlesnake Mountain. Some areas are more than half an hour from the parking lot.
Simply traveling to each locale took a few hours of the day, and time away from photographing.
At the wall, climbers can take a surprising amount of time “hanging out” on the cliff waiting for their next burn. While I took a few of these convalescent frames, they weren’t the epitome of an action shot. Add up travel time, stop and wheeze time, photographing (waiting around) and this became an all day excursion.
I planned the types of shots I needed—action shots, lifestyle, and ambiance—and I knew generally the order with which I would go to each location. This helped keep me on target and set a route for the day.
Lesson 4: Pretend to Be Friendly and Nice so People Talk to You and Let You Take Photos of Them
Photos of big hunks of rock can be quite boring, lack scale, and generally leave one uninspired if you don’t showcase people demonstrating what’s possible (on them).
So, I had to try talking to people *groans* to see if I could photograph them while they did interesting things on these big hunks of rock. In the end this was less awkward than sitting there taking pictures and leaving without a word.
Lesson 5: Don’t Listen to Someone When They Say Not to Pay for Parking
This one is self-explanatory. Support the local park.
Lesson 6: Shooting Is One Half the Battle, Editing Makes a World of Difference
Do you need to amplify the purple longsleeve of the climber to make her pop out against the wall? Coming right up, alongside the bleaching backlighting!
The editing process, thanks to a free online program, was instructive and useful. Turns out you can do quite a bit to manipulate a pic, from tinting people’s skin color to look like the Hulk to sandpapering away all the details to leave an image akin to squinting your eyes.
On the other hand, editing made too dark pictures turn out vibrantly, and things like cropping or manipulating contrast did wonders for highlighting the subject of the image.
Lesson 7: Beats Working in a Coffee Shop, or Library, or at Home
The main challenge was wanting to climb more, which is really a difficulty I have most days.
It was only due to my herculean grit and vast reservoirs of restraint that I was able to complete the assignment relatively on time. And with that, my first paid piece and on assignment trip are officially in the books with maybe a check in the mail as my reward.
In the end, it was fun, and it was work, and I’d like to do more of it.
Ya, ya. We all know about Fountainbleau, Frankenjura, RRG and the likes, but there are plenty of climbing areas that have a ton to offer without the hype and the crowds.
This here (hear ye, hear ye!) is a call to celebrate the lesser knowns, the under the radars, and the off the beaten tracks. They may be smaller, recently opened, just being developed, or harder to navigate (read: Adventurous!).
For the lucky few, these may be home crags, like Thacher State Park sitting 20 minutes from Albany; Or require a bit of self-reliance, like the bring all your food and potable water destination of Dover Island; Or even serious daring spirit to visit the unheralded yet prodigious country of Montenegro.
To round up this list, I called on a little help from my friends, from fellow bloggers to kind folks on Mountain Project. Read on for 10 destinations you probably haven’t heard of, but will be grateful for next time you’re looking at something under the radar.
Climbing type: Sport
Josh Cook puts up routes and bolts the Balkans to this list:
“What if I were to tell you that there is a European climbing area that overlooks a UNESCO World Heritage site, has tufa-filled limestone, boasts routes from 5.8 to 5.14, is well-bolted, only a ten minute walk from the Old Town tourist center, and never has anyone there?
‘Lies!’, you’d say.
Welcome to Montenegro.
Škaljari is a crag I recently bolted and, in the two years that I have been climbing there, I have seen a total of fifteen other climbers—most are ones I brought myself.
Too good to be true? Well, there is one con: a local paranoid schizophrenic thinks climbers (i.e., me and my climbing partner) are killing the goats that sometimes are up at the crag. So he blocks the trail with trash and yells at us occasionally for going up there. Also, you need to come with a climbing partner; there are almost no climbers in this country, so you won’t randomly find someone to belay you.
But glorious are the days climbing that limestone and looking out over Kotor Bay. Well worth a stop on your Balkan tour.”
Opened in 2017, this is the newest sport climbing area in the Northeast, and only the third NY State Forest to allow climbing (Minnewaska and Harriman being the others).
Located 20 minutes from Albany, Thacher sits between the Gunks, 75 miles south, and the Adirondacks, 120 miles north. And if you want to get audacious, it is 170 miles from Rumney, NH, the sport climbing mecca of New England. All of which is to say, climbers of NYC no longer have to drive 5.5 hours for stellar sport, they now have it in their, relative, backyard.
There are currently about 65 routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.12a, and they will appeal to gym enthusiasts as most climbs are roughly 50 feet high, with none longer than 90′. Thacher is special for its dark-gray limestone, which stands out against the granite of New England, the conglomerate of the Gunks, or the anorthosite of the ADKs.
Krista deMolitor makes the case for island bouldering off the coast of Nova Scotia:
“This secluded island with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean is home to arguably some of the best bouldering problems on the East Coast of Canada. The razor sharp granite makes for superb friction which is excellent for sending, but tortuous on the skin. Dover offers an array of problems falling in the easier to intermediate range, but is also notable for some of its harder classics such as White Trash V7, Blacksmith Dyno V9, Exciter (sit) V10, and Horizontal Matter V11. Visit www.cnsmobeta.ca for a list of all problems.
There are no amenities on the island, so one must bring camping gear and food. The island is very exposed on sunny days with zero tree cover so packing sunscreen and a generous amount of water is strongly advised. The easiest access to the island is by boat. Contact Rod at OceanSpray B&B to book a round trip boat ride for a fee but make sure to give him at least 3 days notice. Boulderfest is a huge event put on every August by Climb Nova Scotia and is a great opportunity to visit the island with lots of climbers who are equally psyched. A visit to the maritimes would not be complete without a trip to Dover Island.”
High-Clip tells you why you need to visit King’s Bluff next time you’re near Nashville:
“Perched up on a 40 foot climb with 2 bolts, I internally chastise myself for not checking out the bolt locations before climbing the route, but then tell myself it’s totally cool because it’s only a 5.5, and I’m the High-Clip. Easy peasy.
Except, routes at King’s Bluff are STOUT. The run-outs are pretty bad, especially given that the wall height ranges from 30-60 feet (most are around 45-55′). And rusty bolts/chains never make anyone feel any better, but at least most of these have newer protection placed adjacent to them. Other than that, this place is the bomb!
King’s Bluff is located in Clarksville, Tennessee, about 45 minutes from Nashville. Managed by the Southern Climbers Coalition (SCC), the area is very well labelled and approachable. The SCC keeps it gated, though you can ask for the code as a climber. There’s a short path and some stairs, on either side stretch the sick walls. Even more, the routes are labelled with their names and their grades. With Mountain Project, it’s almost too easy to find star routes, like “Touchy-Feely,” “Chimney Sweep,” and “Wired for Sound.”
While it is moderately scary climbing, it is rewarding. At the top of each route you’ll see a beautiful river running past. The walls extend far into the green abyss of trees on either side, and if you listen all you’ll hear is perhaps the light jangle of quickdraws against rock. Despite any fear you may feel while climbing, the peace at the tops of these climbs is unbeatable.”
Ryan Siacci sings praise about a lesser known crag in Peru from up high, 4000m up that is:
“When folks think about South American sport climbing, they think about Hatun Machay – the sacred rock forest of the Andes. But this famed crag has had problems in recent years, including the destruction of the refugio and chopping of many classic routes. Route developers from the nearby city of Huaraz have since abandoned the once celebrated crag, instead focusing attention on the ‘recently discovered’ Inka Waqanqa.
Although there are still fewer than 100 routes, Inka Waqanqa offers high quality climbing and oodles of potential. The orange-black ramparts have tons of room for development, with the volcanic rock forming pocketed, technical face climbs and thin, difficult slabs. If bouldering is more your scene, the scope for new problems is almost endless.
Still something of a hidden gem, climbing at Inka Waqanqa is nothing short of idyllic. The rolling green fields are dotted with wildflowers and the swirling Andean mists lend the scene a sense of grandeur. An excellent campsite can be found among the crumbling stone ruins, complete with running water and a remarkably clean pit toilet. Best of all, it’s free!
But remember, take some time to get acclimatised – sport climbing at 4000m sure ain’t easy!”
Massachusetts’ highest concentration of bouldering problems (over 1,100 listed on MP) is located, unexpectedly, in Lynn, Lynn the city of sin.
Only 10 miles from Boston, it should be frequented more often, but the woodsy terrain and vast expanse of the park–at 2,200 acres!–make finding the erratics a little challenging. Approaches can be up to 30 minutes of hiking. Ya know, because it’s a big place.
Don’t let that daunt you, Tim McGivern and Dave Twardowski, local climbers, put all the problems on the map. Literally. You can download it here to help you navigate around. You’ll be glad you came as there are plenty of classics from easy (try Bear Grease, V1) to moderate (Holly the Happy Heel Hooker, V3+) to oh damn that’s hard (Green Haze, V7+). There’s even some trad too. Nestled in an idyllic setting, the offering rivals the better known bouldering options in the area, Pawtuckaway and Lincoln Woods.
Wesley Payette proclaims wilderness climbing in southern Illinois. Who knew! Well, now you do:
“For those craving a bit of wilderness in their sport climbing experience, Jackson Falls in the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois might be just the place. Ancient mossy boulders and chuckling streams create a peaceful and wild destination. Powerful crimps, shallow pockets, slopey topouts and technical vertical climbing give rise to unique movement and whacky beta.
While predominantly low- angle climbing, the canyon caters to all styles, from thuggy overhanging to heart-breaking slab. In addition, it’s fairly uncrowded even on the nicest days. Those used to waiting in line at the Red may find themselves alone on a four or five-star route. Despite having fewer routes than more popular sport climbing areas, Jackson Falls contains incredible quality and variety. Some of the most classic, unique and interesting routes include Groovy Marcia 5.9, Cheerio Bowl 5.10a, Group Therapy 5.10c, Wild at Heart 5.10d, Lasso the Vulture 5.11a, Who Needs Friends? 5.12a, Detox Mountain 5.12a, Butcher of Baghdad 5.13a, Red Corvette 5.13a, and East of East St. Louis 5.13c.
Jackson Falls is well off the beaten path, so make sure you prepare for wilderness camping if you want to hang about (primitive camping is located atop the cliffs).”
“The Dolomites in Northern Italy are one of the best places in the world for hiking or climbing. The Catinaccio Mountain offers one of the best views of the nearby mountains from its peak at nearly 3,000 meters above sea level.
The start of the climb can be reached via a 3-hour hike and via ferrata from the top of Kölner Hut chairlift. The climb itself starts at Santnerpass Hut consists of two two-hour legs with an elevation of 170 and 190 meters and a difficulty of 6 SL.
After enjoying the incredible views of the surrounding mountains, the descent brings you back to the Santnerpass Hut where you can have an amazing Tyrolean meal or a drink before heading back. If you are not leaving early in the morning, staying overnight at the hut is also an option.
This will also allow you to see the sunset and the sunrise from 2,700 meters above sea level.”
For the first time since 1990, Bolton Dome is being re-opened to the public. And to great fanfare. What used to be the area’s most popular cliff in the 70s and 80s, it was closed due to the private landowner’s concerns. Poof. Gone went the best climbing near Burlington, VT.
But not anymore, says CRAG-VT and the Access Fund! They purchased the land to the cool tune of $358,750 last year, proving the value (once again) of conservation orgs for keeping climbing areas open, accessible, and sustained.
Join the fun and celebrate the momentous occasion with the launch party on May 18. If you want all the beta, Travis Peckam’s Vermont climbing guide, Tough Schist, is your best bet. Or you can get them on the app version of the book in Rakkup.
Staunton State Park, Pine, CO, USA
Climbing type: Sport, Trad
Todd Rawls is boosting Staunton for the adventurist climber near Denver:
“Nestled amongst ponderosas and pines just fifteen minutes west of Conifer, CO and requiring a 45-minute approach for even the closest crags, Staunton State Park offers a secluded getaway for the adventurous sport-climber despite its relatively close proximity to the Denver metropolitan area.
Perhaps one of the finest features of the climbing here is the abundant offering of classic, steep hard climbs located just minutes from shorter, well-bolted moderates, making this an ideal spot for climbers of all abilities. There are also plenty of moderate trad lines and harder mixed stuff for those more inclined towards placing their own protection.
The Tan Corridor and The Dungeon are the crème of the crop, with the Tan Corridor offering numerous well-bolted and utterly classic 10s and 11s, and The Dungeon throwing in pump-a-thon routes all the way through mid-13. Reef On It! (10a), The Opportunist (11a), and If and Only If (13b) are all some of the best single-pitches of their grade in the state!
As of 2018 there is now camping available within the park as well, and free water to boot.”
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.
“I was really excited to meet up with you because I knew you’d be gone in two weeks.”
Maybe I should have read the writing on the wall.
It’s that modern romance, man, the kind that starts with a match. We got to talking during a dreary February in Budapest, a city known for arresting architecture, stag dos, and Eastern Europe’s most blatant political swindler. I’d come to the city with dreams of writing and soaking in thermal baths, the idea stemming from a Wes Anderson flick that actually had nothing to do with Budapest itself. I’d only end up doing one of those things.
She caught my eye, and my swipe, because she was into climbing and had a rad photo of her scaling a steep sun-baked rock face with a siren’s call of sparkling emerald water in the background. That day, the sun shone brightly in the pixelated universe, you could feel the heat emanating from the screen.
We messaged back and forth and she’d speak to deeper topics, respond with thought and care. Intriguing. I’m no good at flirting, but we did a little of that too. We planned to meet at a bouldering gym for our first date.
The match moved towards the striker.
We met at UjjeroBoulder Terem, which loosely translates to “Finger Force,” on the south side of Buda, near the Petőfi Bridge.
She was taller than I expected, and late, which would be something I’d get used to during our relationship of ups and downs and angst over delayed periods.
She came striding into the cave-like entrance in a grey petticoat that she tied around her waist with the built-in belt, mid-calf black leather riding boots, and a blood red scarf wrapped around her neck.
I stood up to greet her.
The climbing goes and we spoke all the while like lost souls do: About life, dreams, poetry, the call of the mountains.
It all sounded wondrous, impressive, inspiring. I’d never met a woman who had climbed so extensively and she talked about these things cooly, like they were nothing special. She was smooth and smart and funny. I thought I’d hit the jackpot, and that the date was only going so-so.
It was my first time back to climbing in nearly 8 months, and she was much stronger and more technically sound. We ended with her traversing the entirety of the gym and my forearms too pumped and fingers too weak to do much but watch. I tried to act cool and not focus too intently on the leggings she wore. I decided to start climbing again that evening.
On the walk to the tram we were in the middle of a conversation about personal values and what it means to live well. We were about to part ways, or so I thought, when she asked if I wanted to get drinks.
I had tempered my expectations about the evening, figured she was only mildly interested and that maybe we’d have a second date. I guess I wasn’t so good at reading the route that night.
“This is an interesting conversation, so I’d like to continue it,” she said.
She’d end up making the first move after two fröccs, a Hungarian wine spritzer. She shuffled around the table to sit next to me and gave me a look that invited me to kiss her. So I did.
The match struck.
We fell for each other and decided to give it a go.
But not before some discussion. In a moment of blunt honesty before I left for Boston, she’d tell me, “I was really excited to meet up with you because I knew you’d be gone in two weeks.” She wasn’t of the mind to date, she said, but I had thrown a wrench in her plans.
We were together for the better part of the year. She’d teach me to lead and we parlayed that into my first and second ever climbing trips.
And yet imprinting is hard to shake, her comment would run through our months of quasi-commitment. I learned to expect the unexpected on the terrain ahead, that trust in your belayer is as important as the trust you have in yourself, that a partnership needs a common goal to succeed.
My guess is you can read the writing on the wall at this point.
The funny thing is, the gym no longer exists. They shut the doors and moved on to a new venture with the hope they could make it work out better.
Spaces come and go, but they hold memories, that’s what gives them significance: She’d learned to climb there and I’d gotten back into the sport because of it. Our lives danced about because of climbing, and it started at that gym.
Eventually the lights turned off and we’d never be able to go back to that place again.
SKAI is a play on the English word “sky” and the Romanian “scaiete,” (Cirsium vulgare) a common thistle that sprouts a vibrant pink and purple rosette, and which is one of the most bountiful nectar producers across Europe.
Just like the high-stemmed namesake plant, SKAI Urban Crag offers climbers bounteous boulder problems in their pursuit of gravity defying dynos and pumpy high-flying stunts.
Tudor Cristea, 27, is one of three co-founders and he chatted with me about the gym. He looks like a Romanian Chris Sharma complete with shaggy locks and just-throw-it-on beanie. He relayed his interest in starting the gym, and what makes it unique, “The routes in our gym are very bouldery [in contrast to the other gyms in Cluj], not so classical with crimps. We use more volumes, and for the crux we use boulder moves.”
The gym itself is flowering in its second year, just like the scaiete.
Upon entering the space you feel right away what they are about: The place is bright and radiates with popping neon colors. It is welcoming and attractive.
Actually, because it’s in an industrial park, and tucked around the back of the complex (without signage guiding the way), it feels like you’re descending upon a secret pop-up shop. It has a sort of underground coolness.
Rounding the corner in the parking lot, the one-person trailer across from the entrance is a giveaway that dirtbags are nearby. Once inside, the lounge area is a mix of urban-industrial chic, handmade elements, succulents (because of course), those lights with dangly wires, and a big fridge of beer (nice).
Each time I went there were throngs of devotees climbing about, and people were friendly—in fact, climbers actually came up to me to chat (which Poland, if you’re reading this, try taking some notes). There was a mix of beginners to more advanced (for example, a guy was climbing a 6a route, lead, without using his feet at all), and plenty of space and problems for everyone.
Membership is made up of a core group, according to Cristea, “Our customers are very, very good friends with us. With our crew, we are about 40 people. We all go together to go climbing, outdoor or indoor.”
They often travel together, having recently visited Berlin just to check out the gyms. You don’t hear that every day.
The routes on the lead wall cluster around 6a-6b and 7a. There are typically 30-40 routes at any given time and only three top rope lines permanently set. I hadn’t seen this before, and liked the idea of emphasizing lead. The walls are 10m high.
Upstairs there’s a big systems board and an inclined wall chock full of holds if you’re there to train, and just train, and then train some more.
Yoga, hangboards, rings, TRX, campus board, some free weights, resistance bands, a clean changing room and shower.
How to Get There:
The only downside is that the gym is a bit far from the center of the city. The 31 and M31 bus will get you there from downtown. Uber is available in Cluj Napoca if you want to make it super easy on yourself.
Once you enter the gate, walk to the back right corner of the park to find the gym.
The sun beat down on the orange-hued sandstone, the faces of our party burned red and their shoulders glowed. I was surprised by the heat at Smith Rock in May. The sweltering sun couldn’t diminish how much fun I was having. That experience, that exposure, would influence my life in unexpected ways years later.
What is it about climbing that is so powerfully transformative?
For me, climbing was about being outdoors and the freedom of movement. I loved it at first pitch. That’s not the case for everyone.
For Stormy Saint-Val, climbing has been about catharsis and rejuvenation. It’s been about feeling comfortable in her own skin and learning to appreciate what you can accomplish today, while maintaining dreams of progress for the future.
She fell in love with climbing eventually, you could say.
“Do black people climb?”
It’s emotionally taxing to be a stranger in a strange land. When Stormy started climbing she only ever met two other black people at the gym, and one of the guys worked there.
Naturally, one might wonder, “do black people climb?”
“I’m black, I know I climb,” She laughed over the phone. “Is there a like a group or a Meetup? Some[place] where I didn’t feel marginalized?”
She wanted to know the answer, so she googled it. Naturally.
That’s how she found Color the Crag. CtC is a climbing festival in Alabama with a mission to help build community among historically marginalized peoples in the outdoor space.
She found her answer but she needed to figure out how to make her way down there, and how to pay for it all.
“I was so excited [to find it], but then I thought, I can’t afford this,” Stormy noted, dismayed.
Climbing isn’t cheap
The irony of course is that climbing can be free if you just walk into the woods and find a large rock to scale.
But it’s rarely that simple, especially as a beginner in a sport that requires a slew of technique and safety equipment. For perspective, climbing has become somewhat of a hoity-toity trending activity where a day pass at a swanky gym in NYC costs close to 50 bucks. Want to buy your own gear? An intro trad set, biners, a rope, shoes, and harness can easily put you back $500+. If you’re a working adult, sure, maybe that’s nothing for you, but for a college student or a guy working at a self-financed startup, money can be hard to scrape up.
For years I was living a white color paycheck-to-paycheck existence, meeting investors whose car cost more than I would make in the next 36 months. (Yea, I’ve made some questionable career choices, but that’s a topic for another day).
In Stormy’s case, five months at her local climbing gym would put her back nearly $800. As a student on a barista salary that’s taxing.
She resorted to clandestine tactics like pretending to be her friend and using her membership card. (She doesn’t recommend that). Eventually the gym worked out a special deal for her as a local ambassador.
“I found the grant three days before it was due. ‘Oh my god, is it worth it?,'” she asked herself. “‘Is this worth my time? How late am I going to stay up to write this application [tonight]? What are my intentions and goals [with this]?’”
She went back and forth contemplating the fear and disappointment of not receiving the grant, “And then [I thought], what if I do get it? It’s so much greater. And it was. I didn’t want to miss out on the potential opportunity.”
The everyperson adventure grant
The LYD grant is designed to help “the majority of climbers to pursue their goals, whatever those goals are,” according to Howard Sebold, the Metro NY Section Chair and head of the LYD Northeast selection committee.
This is specifically not for the professional climber. After all, they already get free gear, sponsorship dollars, and most grant money anyways.
Howard relays his own story, “I remember when I was first getting into climbing, and reading the mags—you read all this stuff these guys are doing that are rad, badass kind of things, and you’re like, ‘yea, I’m probably never gonna do that.’ Then occasionally you come across a story about [someone] going to Wind Rivers [or the like], and you’re like ‘whoa, that’s totally accessible to me, that’s something I could do.’ And that got me personally excited.”
That’s why the AAC decided to start the grant, “[the thing is] most of the membership is the everyday climber, the weekend warrior, guys [and women] like me— work five days a week, got a family, don’t climb as hard as I used to. I bring my kids out to the crag, just have fun.”
In the end, it’s about helping people go out and accomplish their own mountain dreams, “it really gives back to our members to help them get outside and climb, to pursue their personal goal.” Whatever they may be.
For the love of climbing
Life is often punctuated and defined by key inflection points, with a lot of smaller connecting-the-dots in between.
According to Stormy, Color the Crag has been a life changer: “Months later, thinking about all the experience and friendship that I gained from the festival, it completely changed my life.”
She goes on to say, “I’ve been able to eradicate this false narrative that black people don’t climb. There were 500 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,” she accentuates.
She still stays in touch with friends she made at CtC and has found a deeper appreciation for the sport as she’s progressed from VB to V2: “That’s what Color the Crag taught me: ‘be proud of your achievements and honor them for what they are.'”
Overall, the sport has “been a big tool in helping me build my awareness and my confidence in myself. It’s more than physical. And the problem solving aspect of it, too, is so fun. [I’ve been able to] apply problem solving to my own life [outside of climbing].” She’s come a long way from sneaking in to the gym and feeling intimidated by the VBs. She’s hoping to get over her fear of the harness and start sport climbing this year.
On my end, from that initial day at Smith Rock to leading my first 5.11a this past year, learning to climb has been a process of pushing through the fear and going after what I truly want to pursue. That is, in the face of the self-doubt, financial concerns, or whatever other objection I make up for myself.
This year, I’ve got a lot of normal, everyman-achievable goals: Climb 5.11 consistently. Do a multi-pitch trad route. Summit a 5,000m peak.
In the past I may have chalked these ideas up as unattainable, or at least highly unlikely. Probably wouldn’t even have tried. I’ve learned to let go of pre-conceived notions and to let myself dream, even if just a little.
We all have our reasons for climbing, and for some, our love of the sport is really about finding love for ourselves. Sometimes a little help along the way–a friend, a community, a dream–can make all the difference.
Want to apply for the Live Your Dream grant?
Howard shares some advice on what they look for:
1) Well-researched climbing objective. Be specific of the why, what, and how. For example, some people have detailed spreadsheets outlining their training plan and gear list.
2) Be clear with how this goal will help you personally progress as a climber. 3) Think about what it is like to review hundreds of applications. How will your application stand out? For one, tell a good story. (Everyone has a story to tell).
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.
The Icelandic Alpine Club‘s annual event visits popular and remote ice climbing spots across the country. In 2020 they are headed to Westfjords, a large peninsula in the northwestern part of the country.
In 2019, they climbed at Breiðdalur and Berufjörður in the east, which ÍSALP described as “the least explored quarter of Iceland.” These festivals offer the opportunity to climb classic lines and forge new ones.
Though not exclusively a climbing festival, the 8th 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 160+ meters long (60 meters higher than last year!). 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. JoSiTo and Rido Camp are other popular options. 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.
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.
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 21st year, this festival features unique challenges including the Big Wall Speed Climbing (on Friday), a Kid’s Speed competition (on Saturday), the “From Dawn to Dusk” climbing marathon, and the Paklenica Film Festival (on Saturday), 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.
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.
The area is on notice by the pros: Adam Ondra climbed here in 2018 (and bolted the Balkan’s hardest route, The Dream, 9b), which Seb Bouin sent just before Christmas of last year.
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: A talk with Thomas Huber and other pro climbers, workshops, crag cleanup, acro yoga, via ferrata hiking, bouldering, and slacklining.
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.
Integrowanie Przez Wspinanie (Integration Through Climbing) – Poland
Poland’s biggest climbing festival is entering its 5th year and 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
2020 will mark the eighth year for the event organized by the Alta Pusteria climbing club, Gamatzn. The festival takes place in the Höhlenstein Valley, which combines natural beauty and rock climbing history as the area has been under development since the 1980s. The location 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.
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!”
Perched in the High Atlas Mountains, savor clean air and nearly 800 problems in the 7th edition of the Oukaimeden Boulderfest.
Boulderers have been coming for years, and organizing a semi-regular event, but the last few years have crystalized into a full-on festival which now includes a competition, in what is probably the world’s highest bouldering field.
Get ready for fingery movements on generally solid sandstone, and plenty of opportunities for FAs all in the thin air of 2,700m above sea level. The price of admission includes entrance to the competition, lunch, dinner, and live music on Saturday night.
Note that by going you can help make a positive impact, as part of the aim, according to the organizers, is to “help stimulate economic and social development as well as promote climbing in Morocco and encourage local Moroccan boulderers and climbers.”
Join during the first weekend in June to find the whole town on board for climbing, mountain biking, highline, yoga, singing, dancing, eating and drinking, all centered around a big campsite in the middle of the village.
Ikaria is limestone perfection budding out of a cerulean North Agean sea. The island is gifted by the gods with over 300 bouldering problems among 9 sectors and 120 sport routes dashed about 5 crags.
The slivered parcel, sits closer to Izmir than Athens, and is renowned for its tranquility and summer-long festivities. Argyro Papathanasiou, a strong Greek climber who has been visiting the island for over 13 years, describes the place as a “vibrating with its own particular energy.”
2020 will mark the second ever festival. Last year featured a climbing competition, not enough Icariotissa beer or Karimalis wine, live music late into the night, a pool party, and visiting athletes, Said Belhaj, Cris Daniil and Victor Sebros. If you’re looking to extend your stay or need a rest day activity, there is ample nature walks and surfing at Mesakti beach.
Development began in 2012 thanks to Evaggelos Kastanias, but it seems they may have only scratched the surface of this Mediterranean gem.
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!
Accommodation: Information coming soon (location changes each year).
What to Bring: Trad rack (if you have it).
How to Get There: Information coming soon (location changes each year).
Women’s Bouldering Festival in Fontainebleau – France
2018 marked the first year for this festival at the world’s premier bouldering destination, and 2019 brought over 120 participants to the festival.
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. 2020 will offer up the 19th 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. Over 500 people attended, including Adam Ondra.
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 3,400 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.