A few weeks ago, I had the unique pleasure of attending the 2013 International Climbers’ Festival in Lander, Wyoming—home to the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and two of the West’s most celebrated sport crags, Wild Iris and Sinks Canyon. Despite the fact that I’ve done almost zero sport climbing—ever, the trip was, for this stubborn traddie, a terrific opportunity to see how the other half lives, and how to live off a steady diet of humble pie.
Trading in my trusted wires, cams, slings and nut tool for a paltry rack of quickdraws, a rope bag, and a pair of belay specs, I arrived in Lander eager to find a secluded cliff to pad my fragile ego. Unfortunately, there was no such area to find that day at the OK Corral; as my partner, Oli, and I walked farther from the trailhead, it seemed nearly impossible to avoid the fact that flailing was imminent and I would be performing before a live and captivated audience.
Surprisingly, however, my performance anxiety was completely unfounded. As I quivered my way up the half-dozen moderate routes we climbed, I couldn’t help but notice how many fellow climbers stopped to shout words of encouragement, how neighboring groups seemed to form into my own personal cheering section. No matter who was up there or what they were on, the feeling of community was palpable, and trying hard was our mantra.
The next morning we started chasing shade at the nearby Main Wall, and though we arrived at the base of the classic line Wind and Rattlesnakes as strangers, it didn’t take long before we were all one big group, trading belays, sharing Gummy Bears and chalk. We left the draws up for one another to have a go as well.
Oli and I left the crag thoroughly knackered. As I walked ahead of him toward the parking lot, I no longer felt the pull of the Wind River Range, clearly visible off in the distance. Instead of the solitude I typically seek in the high country, all of a sudden I became aware of what I’ve been missing: that climbing can be many things—an intense personal journey by oneself or with a partner, or it can be a more casual, cooperative experience among a group of like-minded individuals.
On Friday, the 20th Annual International Climbers’ Festival began in earnest. Situated in Lander’s City Park, the venue was buzzing with activity. EZ-UPs began appearing, clinic participants were gathering, and before long folks were dropping by the SCARPA booth, eager to demo the latest rock shoes. As a shop guy I’m acutely aware that it’s often impossible for any one retailer to stock everything. And for the consumer, it’s a frustrating situation—specific models are seldom available and to find that perfect balance between fit and performance, one has to try several rock shoes. These events provide the best opportunity for climbers to dial in fit and compare models. Being invited by SCARPA to help with this process is, perhaps, my favorite part of these events.
Before long, pairs of Boostics and our new Instinct VS were in short supply—not surprising, given the steep and pocketed nature of the local limestone. As the evening wore on, Timmy O’Neill took over as emcee and every conceivable type of comp, from rope coiling to dynos, arm-wrestling to Corn Hole, captivated the crowd. There was live music, burgers from the world-famous Lander Bar, and plenty of Wyoming beer, which proved too much for this Utah transplant, accustomed to 3.2 percent. I bowed out early.
Saturday morning, the SCARPA crew was up early for the trail running race at Wild Iris. The competitors were mostly locals and it was great to see a wide age range getting after it in the 5k, 10k, and half marathon. As the winners crossed the finish, they were presented with a certificate for a pair of SCARPA trail running shoes, and I was psyched to see that nearly all our winners chose to try out our SPARK, my own go-to trail running shoe. As the last of the racers arrived to the lot, participants gathered for the last day of clinics and when the last demo shoes were lent out, it was time again to head for the crags.