Touching the stone

Eric Allen wedged his foot into a crack, and pulled himself close to the rock. His daughter Sierra stood back, watching, as he readied himself for…

Eric Allen wedged his foot into a crack, and pulled himself close to the rock.

His daughter Sierra stood back, watching, as he readied himself for the next move.

He wore no harness; he had no ropes for support.

Hanging by one hand, he stretched himself as far as he could, his other hand searching for a new lip on which to place his weight.

The tension was visible on his face — he couldn’t hold it any longer. Losing his grip, he dropped to the crash pad below.

Fortunately, he was only a half-metre off the ground.

“We’re not intimidated by the lack of danger,” said Eric Allen with a grin, as he spotted for Sierra traversing the rock face near the pump house pond on Fish Lake Road.

With only a pair of flimsy climbing shoes, some chalk on their fingers, and a crash pad, the Allens clambered up, across and under the rock.

It’s called bouldering.

It’s simple — but it’s not.

Eric offers an illustration: “There are great climbs, like Everest or El Capitan in Yosemite, that are sort of like Tolstoy’s War and Peace — and then there’s poetry, where there’s incredible meaning in five or six words — bouldering is the poetry of mountaineering,” he said. “Compacting the climbing experience into as small and tiny a package as possible — like a Japanese haiku.”

Bouldering spent most of the 20th century in the shadow of sport climbing (with ropes and belaying) and was often considered merely training for larger climbs.

These days, however, bouldering is becoming the premier climbing activity.

“The reason for that is it’s so much simpler, so much more fun,” he said. “You feel free, you know, from all the gear and all the complications.”

Bouldering is as much a mental exercise as it is a physical one. Climbers try to “solve problems,” which means finding routes across the rock.

This sometimes requires extreme contortions or strange upside-down transition poses.

“One of the great things about bouldering is you can take it home with you — like that problem I just failed on, I was just half an inch short, and I’ll go home and obsess on that,” said Allen, who’s been bouldering for nearly 30 years.

“When you’re laying in bed at night and can’t sleep, you’re working that move in you’re mind; you’re visualizing yourself doing it — it’s a great diversion.”

Bouldering is a family affair for the Allens. Eric and son Ethan organized the first Ibex Valley Bouldering Festival in 2001, and held another in 2002.

At the time there was a core group of climbers, but after Ethan left for university, the festival went on hiatus.

“It kind of faded out … the problem in the Yukon is the season is so short,” said Eric.

He added that a lack of an indoor facility with a bouldering focus is another problem. “Most of the climbing gyms here are focused on sport climbing, rope climbing.”

The Allens will host the third Ibex Valley Bouldering Festival this Sunday, and co-founder Ethan has returned from California to help out.

 Everyone is welcome, regardless of experience or muscle-boundness.

“We’ll have different categories for beginner, intermediate and advanced, and kids,” said Sierra.

Each group will have a circuit of routes, starting easy and increasing in difficulty.

“The idea is to complete the circuit at your skill level,” said Eric. It’s not competitive, hence the festival tag. In fact, it’s a very social sport.

“The classic bouldering scene is six or eight guys, all standing underneath this guy as he’s going up this huge overhang; they’re all yelling ‘go go go!’, and when he falls off, everyone catches him, and the next guy’s on.”

For the Allens, it’s all about turning people on to a great sport that offers many rewards.

Registration starts at 10 a.m. Sunday. It’s $10 for adults and $5 for kids, and lunch is provided. Bouldering instruction is available and circuit events will go until 5 p.m.

Those without a four-wheel drive or high-clearance vehicle can catch a ride in from the Scout Lake Road gravel pit. Call 456-2477 for more information, or e-mail

Hayes gets triple bronze at Transplant Games

Farley Hayes, the Yukon’s first athlete to attend the Canada Transplant Games, has come away with three bronze medals.

Hayes shot a 90 in the golf tournament, finished the bowling tournament with a 170 average, and lost in the finals of the badminton event.

He scratched from swimming and dragon boat due to injury.

Hayes had a liver transplant two years ago.

Another northerner, NWT athlete Kathleen T’seleie, from Norman Wells, brought home 10 medals.

The Grade 7 student had a liver transplant as well.

The Third Canada Transplant Games ran August 8th to 13th in Edmonton, and serve as a qualifier for the 16th World Transplant Games next summer in Bangkok, Thailand. (IS)