After 20 years of attending consumer climbing events I thought I’d seen it all. But over the weekend I came across a gathering that is one of a kind. I’m not one for hyperbole so believe me when I say that the New River Rendezvous is the best outdoor adventure festival I’ve ever been to.
I know that I’m going out on a limb for making such a bold statement. And in the interests of full disclosure the organizers invited me to Fayetteville, West Virginia for the soul purpose of reporting on their event. But without qualification the NRR brings together the most essential elements of promotion and advocacy to encourage the enthusiasm of those eager to lead an active lifestyle through outdoor recreation. Biased only by my sincere enjoyment of this truly great event here’s an account of what happened.
Now in its eighth year, the annual climbing fest draws more than 800 registered participants from around the country to the New River Gorge National Park. The venue itself is quite small and makes for an intimate get-together where climbers of all abilities can indulge their interest in the sport.
“It was really nice to have such a small group in the clinics,” said one young woman from Washington D.C. “Everyone was super supportive and I didn’t feel dumb asking stupid questions.”
Long time climbers like Patagonia sponsored athlete Brittany Griffith of the American Alpine Club and Malcolm Daly founder of the equipment company Trango, were on hand to offer instruction. Infinitely patient these and other knowledgeable instructors provided skills training that ranged from crack climbing to setting anchors to emergency rescue. In a highly specialized sport that requires a great deal of expertise to be proficient, these clinics are vitally important to beginning and novice climbers. And they’re included in the price of admission.
“We wanted to make it affordable to all the participants,” said event organizer Maura Kistler, co-owner of Waterstone Outdoors. “All the food, clinics, comps, Dessert-a-palooza are part of the event and we wanted everyone to be involved.”
It’s that kind of inclusiveness that makes NRR such a terrific event. Dessert-a-palooza is a massive buffet of cakes, pies, cookies, brownies, cupcakes and bars made by local folks in the community for everyone to share. Climbers and paddlers in the area rallied to make everyone feel welcome.
“There are plenty of other festivals out there, but the New River Rendezvous is different because this is a real community,” said Buck Branson of Evolv Climbing. “Other events try to create buzz and excitement in a venue that has no community around it. This community is already here and the event invites people to come and share in the excitement.”
Within a village of tents set up in the Burnwood campground the NRR has a carnival feel, maybe even a bit like a circus. Complete with clowns, acrobats, contortionists, even tightrope walkers this community of climbers celebrated their passion for the outdoors well into each evening. Events included slideshows by deep-water boulderer and sport climber Chris Sharma and mountaineer Mike Libecki. Adventure filmmaker Charles Fryberger presented his feature climbing film “Core.” Rapper Kris “O-Dub” Hampton partnered up with artist Jeremy Collins to create a visual spectacle of painting and music in the Odub-Jer Artastic Jamnation. And the funk band Freakbass slammed out dance tunes to a raucous crowd until 2am.
With so much going on all at once it was remarkable to see this community come together so cooperatively. Though alcohol flowed freely throughout the weekend the many drunks were far from disorderly. The brawls were limited to a prize fight between Clowny the Clobberrer and the Tickle Monster and two bouts of men and women’s crash pad sumo wrestling. Beaver Theodosakis, president of Prana, took a $2,000 pot in a game of poker to benefit the Access Fund. Tie finishes for second place in the bouldering comps where settled with a around of rock-paper-scissors. The only real controversy was the judges’ decision in the winner of the Dare-to-Wear Your Lycra runway competition sponsored by tech fabric maker Schoeller. But any way you see it a parade of men in tights on the verge of a drag show will always make for a good time.
Rain persisted into the evening on both Friday and Saturday. Though it was more than a little wet for festivities after dark, no one’s spirits seemed to be the least bit dampened. Dancing into the wee hours concluded with Southern Comfort and Coke cocktails and a co-ed hot tub.
Despite a late night of revelry on Sunday morning the event closed early with a pancake breakfast. I confess that I slept through it and spent the morning sorting through almost 900 photographs to post to this blog. But when I finally arrived I was amazed to see as each tent slowly folded there was not a single piece trash or discarded beverage container to be found on the ground.
“We wanted to go this distance and keep the trash to an absolute minimum this year and go to zero-waste,” said event organizer Kenny Parker, co-owner of Waterstone Outdoors. “Everybody used their own plates, cups and forks. So there was a lot less to pick up.”
Even beer was dispensed in reusable containers. Kenny hauled away a single pickup truck filled with refuse, the bulk of it recyclable. With a minimal impact of garbage, the footprint on the park was limited to compressed grass and tire impressions in the mud. And as most attendees where encouraged to carpool even vehicle exhaust remained as low as possible.
What makes the New River Rendezvous an incredible event is that it speaks to all the most positive aspects of an active lifestyle. A commercial enterprise to be sure, the proceeds of the NRR go to benefit the maintenance of area climbing and other recreational resources for the enjoyment of everyone. Though supported by business interests, retailers and manufactures of outdoor equipment and clothing, the event is not so much about consumption as it is a celebration of fellowship with those who share your passion for life outside. – JEM
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