The International Climbers' Festival
, held last weekend, has been around for 21 years. I found out about it two days beforehand.
My friend Emma called with a proposal: "Hey, I have nothing to do this weekend before I leave on Monday at 5 a.m. for a research trip. Let's go to a climbing festival!"
I am a climber; at least, I was for the three times I've been to a gym in the past year. As an Independent
intern, my "projects
" include news briefs and a few short stories. I "send
" emails, occasionally. So when I climb with Emma, I make sure backs are turned to the wall where I'm bouldering
. Emma tackles 5.11s
and makes conversation with the 5.12 climber who lives out of his van, free of commitments and accustomed to accidentally running into the most picturesque landscapes in the country.
I want to go to these landscapes, too.
"OK, I can make that work," I respond to Emma. "Where is it, again?"
Two days later, I find myself in the back of a '96 Ford Explorer with little air conditioning, heading to camp in Lander's City Park. My newfound climbing family and I will enjoy free T-shirts, food and gear, and test our strength at one of the most concentrated climbing areas in the nation. Other events include dyno and pull-up competitions, trail runs, live music and TED-style talks.
With over a thousand routes of sandstone, granite and limestone, the area surrounding Lander is a cragsman's paradise. It's no wonder world-famous free-soloers such as Alex Honnold
, and late greats
like Lynn Hill
, flock to the hidden treasures of Sink Canyon
and Wild Iris Crag
While there, I half-led my first climb (a 5.7) and send a 5.9. Not bad for the resident yogi tag-along. I am proud — until I attend a photo clinic led by George Bruce Wilson of Three Peak Films
. He's recently done a shot movie
capturing the "Send Bros;" aka 11- and 13-year-olds Jonathan and Cameron Hörst
, both of whom are in the nationwide elite of crag-crushing kiddos.
Jon Hörst on "County Ten Gunslinger" (12.c). Wilson set up a cable cam to document his ascent.
As I watch the "Send Bros" do what they do best, I look around at other photographers and climbers posted at the crag. What have we really
done with our lives?
Jon and Cam's father, Eric Hörst
, is a climbing guru and author of several books on how to get fit enough to climb 5.12s. While I'm considering whether or not I should read these books, I'm watching Cam Hörst on "Ghost Moon," a challenging 5.13d up an arête with small pockets and a gnarly overhang. His father is coaching him through it.
Cam falls. Cam swears. Cam rests. Cam tries to move again. I'm exhausted just watching this kid try for the hold, and praying he doesn't rip off his tiny fingers.
"Stay positive, Cam!" Eric encourages.
Cam Horst falls after attempting a tricky move on "Ghost Moon" (13.d).
Staying positive is all you can do when you're hundreds of feet off the ground. As Lynn Hill says in a presentation later that day: "Put your ego to the side." The festival is about celebrating climbing in its truest sense, and encouraging younger climbers to continue the sport.
I hike out of the crag with my fellow photographers, stars in my eyes, and meet Emma in the parking lot.
"How was the clinic?" she asked.
"I met an 11-year-old that could kick my ass."
Cam Hörst, age 13, completed his first 14.a in Red River Gorge two years ago.
The top of "When I was a Young Girl" (13a). Jon's 4-foot-6 frame doesn't hold him back.