This past June, I had the pleasure of working and shooting the American Alpine Club’s (AAC) 15th annual Rockfest 2014 in Leavenworth. I didn’t know what to expect since it’s one of only a few PNW climbing gatherings of its kind and probably the only one of its age and scale on this side of the state. I’d been to a few festivals across the country, from the Red Rock Rendezvous to the now defunct New River Rendezvous and the recently reborn Phoenix Bouldering Competition. These are, and were, some of the biggest climbing festivals in the country and kind of like attending the equivalent of your first Lollapalooza. The Rockfest however, is nothing like that… yet.
Rockfest was the brainchild of a couple of employees from the Feathered Friends shop in Seattle – spearheaded by Marshall Balick and later changing hands to Eddie Espinosa. When Eddie moved on to become the AAC Regional Coordinator, he adopted it as an AAC sponsored event.
Over the years, Rockfest has been in a few different locations, from Mazama to Pashastin Pinnacles, and for this year, Fromms Field in Leavenworth. I didn’t make it to the past ones, but I have to say, I hope it stays at the Field. It’s a great place. There’s a camping area, separate from the event staging area (to keep the late night hooliganism just out of earshot), and it’s just a couple minutes from Icicle Creek Canyon where the trove of Leavenworth’s climbing lies.
This event was a little different from previous years in that it included the Der Klettergarten, an informal bouldering competition sponsored by Leavenworth Mountain Sports (LMS). Their goal was to add more fun to the Fest and raise a little extra for the American Alpine Club; a welcome and ingenious addition with the huge popularity of bouldering in the Icicle.
Starting at nine a.m. on Saturday, climbers from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and farther, had the option of attending a variety of clinics going on throughout the day. Ranging from gear anchors and belay station transitions (instructed by Petzl & Black Diamond), climbing technique (one for bouldering and another for rope – by Petzl Pro Athlete Audrey Sniezek and Mountain Gear, respectively), rappelling techniques (Northwest Mountain School), climbers first aid instruction (Longleaf Wilderness Medicine), and the bouldering competition.
By four p.m., the clinics and comp wrapped up. Dehydrated and bonking climbers were rewarded with juicy burgers, world famous grilled onions, and enough beer to fill an olympic sized baby pool. Encircling the field like a wagon train, the event sponsors consisted of outdoor brands (Wildcountry, Petzl, Outdoor Research, Mammut, FiveTen, Black Diamond, prAna, Asana, Arc’teryx, Salewa), guide services (Leavenworth Mountain School), retail shops from Leavenworth, Spokane, and Seattle (Second Ascent, Leavenworth Mountain Sports, Mountain Gear), and others like Icicle Brewery and Leavenworth Mountain Association.
With the audible crackling of a portable, battery operated PA system, the MC for the event, LMS’s Adam Mckenney, kicked off the games and antics for the evening. The air alternated between his muffled but hysterical commentary and the unexpected upbeat sounds of motown and disco music.
The games involved feats of strength challenges, like how long one could hold a much-heavier-than-it-looks polished river cobble, to how far a crashpad could be tossed. The climax of the games came when Matt McKellar introduced the slackline rodeo challenge. This event amped up the physical demands and mental dexterity of anyone that was brave enough to throw a leg over the “bull”. About eight mondo crashpads lined the ground and every one of them was apreciated as riders were bucked up, down, sideways, and even around for multiple full rotations. I believe 15 seconds was the longest one person was able to hold on. We finished the challenges with a speed tyrolean traverse and winners of each challenge got choices of different booty from Sterling Rope and Asana.
AAC volunteer Cat Cahoon coordinated the awesome raffle with over a few thousand dollars in prizes, and as a finale to the day, Washington climber Audrey Sniezek gave an inspiring slideshow on her journey from beginner to pro. A few of us stayed up after the show and enjoyed swapping stories, beta, and even a guitar jam around the campfire.
When the sun rose the next morning, hangovers were shared by many, but were thankfully accompanied by the very welcomed, sweet smell of blueberry pancakes and coffee – provided by Mountain Gear and Marmot. Before heading home, I had a great afternoon bouldering session with a few good folks and enjoyed the last weekend of mild temps for the season.
Rockfest was exactly what a climbers’ gathering should be. It was the perfect size with around 150 people and was held at a great place. There was plenty of rowdy climber debauchery, I made many new friends, and I’m already looking forward to next year.