“We sold out at 1,100 attendees,” Bridgers says, “our biggest festival to date.”
I dropped by Saturday night to visit with family participating in the rock-climbing confab and was stunned to see the huge crowd gathered at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, which serves as base camp. By the time I arrived, around 6 p.m., buses were bringing people back from their afternoon climbing clinics scattered around Red Rock National Conservation Area, and folks were lining up for the chow served by Rollin’ Smoke Barbecue. Music was blaring; flexibly-clothed, messy-haired people buzzed around the vendor booths that encircled the lawn in front of the stage where Super Summer Theater plays; and, adjacent to the stage, climbers competed in a dyno competition — timed wall-climbs won by performing vertical leaps and grabs. Occasional “Ooo!”s, “Ahh!”s and applause erupted as competitors nailed difficult holds.
Paul Fish, president of Mountain Gear, and Dennis Gafvert, a sporting goods salesman who represents the North Face, got together and launched the first rendezvous in 2003, Bridgers says. “They thought it would be cool for athletes and sponsors to get together in the spring and kick off the rock climbing season. It started with a couple hundred people and, over the years, has morphed into what you saw Saturday night.”
He’s been unable to nail down the exact economic impact of the event on Southern Nevada, but says his team uses local vendors for services whenever possible and makes donations to participating nonprofits such as the Las Vegas Climbers Liaison Council.
Surveying last year’s registrations, Bridgers noted attendees from all 50 United States, as well as Canada, England ,France and South America. Besides offering a fun place for them to rally, the event teaches climbers to hone their skills in clinics and practice Leave No Trace ethics in the outdoors.