Planning on attending a climbing festival anytime soon? Consider these tried-and-true survival tips from a festival-averse climber.
By Jillian Yatsko
If you’re anything like me you climb outside in an attempt to get away from the massive crowds that seem to be taking over indoor climbing gyms lately. The thought of hearing just nature and only having to converse with your belayer sounds ideal. No small-talk with strangers, no watching someone load their Grigri backwards, and no small children running around yelling. Just nice, peaceful climbing.
Now, if you are indeed like me and generally find the above ideas quite pleasant sounding then you may think that attending a climbing festival—like the Red Rock Rendezvous, for example—with over a thousand people would be your nightmare. A climbing festival sounded like a surefire way to not enjoy climbing. It’s the type of event that had never made it to my bucket list until I got a text message from my good friend and go-to, last-minute, wild adventure partner, Amy.
Amy and I have spent a good amount of time exploring the east side of the Sierras both on our own and together. This past winter we relished in some winter camping on the side of Mt. Whitney and also White Mountain in a marathon 3-day weekend of little sleep and lots of bad pancakes. When I got a text from her on a Wednesday about leaving for an adventure the following Friday, I just figured it would be another one of our traditional whirlwind trips.
“Dude!” Amy said. “Can you come to Red Rock Rendezvous with me this weekend!? Cameron just had to bail! FO FREE.”
If there’s one thing that can make me do something I don’t want to do, it’s making that thing free. So, we packed up Amy’s Prius and headed off to the Rendezvous.
Instead of giving the play-by-play of how the weekend turned out, Amy and I spent our heinous, traffic-filled, 14-hour drive home thinking of some of the best dos and don’ts from our weekend. Here’s what we came up with.
Do – Go into the event with an open mind
I didn’t really know what to expect out of the weekend. Amy had been to the event for a few years in a row, and although she said it was super fun, the thought of being around a huge crowd for so long really made me anxious.
I also questioned if I would be strong enough to get a lot out of the clinics that we planned to do. It can be a little nerve-racking at first, but know that there is something for everyone and if you are open to it you can take advantage of a lot that the event has to offer.
Don’t – Trust the weather report
The weather said sunny skies and mild temps. NOPE! The first night we got there it was so windy our tent was folded down on top of us. Then the rain started; then it got cold; then it magically got even windier. This pattern continued on throughout the weekend.
Neither of us had a hard-shell jacket, and although we still had puffy jackets, it was a constant cycle of getting wet in the rain and trying to dry our jackets in our tent. Since it’s all car camping there’s no reason to pack light so play it smart and pack the extras. My rule of thumb now is if you say, “Do I really need this?”, bring it. You’ll be glad you did.
Do – Make friends with your guides and fellow climbers.
Many of the guides who teach the clinics have come from all over the country and even from Europe. They have lots of knowledge and fun stories to share. On top of that, they may have traveled solo so make friends with them!
On the first day, we had a really awesome guide that actually grew up not far from where I did and we shared some good laughs about it. Later at the group campground, we met up to share a beer and even dabbled in some acro yoga. You end up spending a good amount of time at the campground, and the more friends you make, the more fun you have. (And more people to hold your place in the free food line!)
Do – Be realistic about your abilities.
Our first clinic was an intermediate sport clinic. We expected to get on a bunch of fun climbs ranging between 5.10-5.11. There were some people in our group who had only been climbing for a few months and it really changed the dynamic of our clinic.
We had new climbers who needed to be on easier routes at a slower pace and were separated from the more advanced climbers. Then, we had more advanced climbers bummed that we couldn’t get on more routes because the group had to move at a slower pace. I’m always all for pushing your limits in climbing, but it is important to know where you’re at not only so that the guides can follow the plan they had already set, but also to minimize your risk of being outside your knowledge and experience zone.
Don’t – Be intimidated by other climbers.
RRR is a huge melting pot of all different types of climbers. There were boulderers, big wall climbers, advanced trad climbers, weekend warriors, and even adaptive climbers. While it can seem a little intimidating to strike up a conversation with a climber from a discipline you know nothing about in the dinner line, DO IT! Share your experiences, learn something new, and make cool connections with other people in the community.
Do – Protect your climbing!
This one can’t be stressed enough! This festival pushes 1,100 climbers through Red Rock Canyon in a single weekend. That’s a lot of people! It’s important that each and every climber practices leave-no-trace principles so that we set the precedent for how our environment should be treated. It’s also important to know whether or not it’s okay to be climbing.
Pay attention to special wildlife nesting areas and plant rehabilitation zones. Red Rock Canyon can become very fragile after rain. The rock can easily be broken off if enough rain comes through so make sure to contact the Bureau of Land Management office if you are unsure if you should climb.
Last, but not least, know where to go when nature calls! While there are some bathrooms throughout the canyon, they aren’t always in the most convenient locations! Always bring a wag bag just in case.
Do – Remember to be present in the moment.
Amy and I live incredibly different lives. She’s a lawyer who just bought her first house and I work in the climbing industry and just bought my first Tacoma. We don’t get to see much of each other, but climbing trips are arguably the best way to reunite. Even though we sat in an exorbitant amount of traffic and made frequent dashes to the tent to avoid passing rain, we had fun the whole time. We laughed a bunch, climbed a bunch, and really took the time to appreciate how fun it can be to step back from life and reconnect with climbing movement.
These kinds of festivals can be quite a whirlwind, but always give yourself a few moments to appreciate how special climbing is.
Interested in attending a festival? Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular upcoming events.
- Bozeman Ice Festival, December 7-11, Bozeman, Montana
- Cody Ice Climbing Festival, February 8-11, Cody, Wyoming
- Hueco Rock Rodeo bouldering competition, February 15-18, El Paso, Texas
- Red Rock Rendezvous, March 16-19, Las Vegas, Nevada
- Flash Foxy Women’s Climbing Festival, March 23-28, Bishop, California