A 32-foot-tall climbing wall towered over Buckley Park on Tuesday, waiting to be conquered by a group of adventurous young climbers.
Ten climbers – mostly locals, although at least one was from as far away as British Columbia – competed in an unusual event that combines elements of ice and rock climbing.
Tuesday was the first day of the UIAA (International Climbing and Mountaineering Foundation) Youth Mixed International Climbing Competition. The event will continue Wednesday.
Marcus and Tambri Garcia, who own the Rock Lounge in Durango, got the backing of the UIAA and a handful of corporate sponsors.
Ice climbing was featured in a demonstration at the Sochi Olympics, and boosters hope to elevate the sport to a full Olympic pursuit. Marcus Garcia trains many young climbers at the Rock Lounge.
“These are future Olympians,” he said.
Garcia said the movements in mixed climbing make it perhaps the best form of climbing for spectators.
“People really like watching it,” Garcia said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen.”
A modest crowd watched the action Tuesday, as the sight of a climbing wall in Buckley Park drew interest from passers-by. Away from the climbing wall, kids sledded on the hill.
Walker Christensen was watching his children sled. He said the climbing wall is “a great use” of the park.
“It would be kind of cool if they built a permanent one,” he said.
Many of the climbers had been practicing mixed climbing for only a few weeks.
“It’s just really fun,” said Nathan Parker, a 13-year-old Miller Middle School student. “You have a free feeling. It’s not like you’re going against anyone – it’s just you and the wall.”
Brad Tafoya, who serves as Nathan’s mentor in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Colorado, said climbing has been good for Nathan.
“He’s already got a lot more confidence in himself – not just in rock climbing, but in life in general,” Tafoya said.
Karlee Hall, 17, came from British Columbia just for the competition.
“I love rock climbing, but I have to say I like dry-tooling the best,” she said. Dry-tooling involves climbing rock with crampons and ice axes.
Nainoa Umbhau, a 14-year-old Miller pupil, said climbing clears his mind.
“It gives me time to think,” he said. “Because you’re not really thinking of anything.”