If first impressions are important, then having Eric and Sierra Allen introduce you to bouldering is probably the best-case scenario.
Eric has been scrambling across the granite monoliths in the Ibex Valley for nearly 30 years, and now, Sierra, his 15-year old daughter, is about to surpass her master.
Last Friday, under a cloudless blue sky, the Allens took a few neophytes to the Ibex for a bouldering session.
When they arrived at what could only be described as a boulder garden, with the Ibex face looming above — the Allens began pointing out various “problems” (climbing routes) on the massive rocks strewn about.
“Cresta Vista is probably the first difficult problem out here,” said Eric, a crash pad folded up like a backpack on his shoulders.
After the newbies tried a few easy climbs, getting used to the rubber slippers and chalky hands, the Allens showed off a few more difficult problems.
“Way Sicker Than Average” involved hanging upside down from the ankles, before flipping around and topping out — all without getting more than four feet off the ground.
“I’ve never been intimidated by the lack of danger,” Eric said with a laugh. “Anybody can do this, the danger factor is pretty minimal, and you can find a really, really, good hard problem where your back is only two or three inches off the ground.”
Sierra started The Clutch Cable problem from a sitting position, jumped blindly up from an underhang, then lifted herself, legs free, onto the rockface. She finished the climb with what she referred to as a “beached-whale top out.”
Even without a great finish, Sierra’s clutch climb was probably the most impressive of the day. It took her a few tries to make the transition from the underhang to the face, but when she did, everyone watching let out a cheer.
“That’s beyond me,” said Eric.
When she was younger, Sierra wasn’t interested in climbing.
It was more her dad and brother’s thing, she said.
But a few years ago, she started bouldering with a few friends, and now is “really into it.”
“It’s fun — it’s very mental and at the same time, physical — the mind and the body,” she said. “You’re improving every time you do it.”
The Allens make it look easy.
But when pressed into what feels like a vertical rock face with just part of one toe hooked on a sill no thicker than a nickel, it is anything but.
“You can do it, reach, straighten out.”
The Allens are encouraging.
The soft mat and ready hands waiting to break the two-or three-foot fall are an added comfort.
And when those fingers manage to reach the top ledge and grip, there is a feel of elation.
The boulder may only be three metres tall, but it feels like the top of the world.
“Pura Vida,” said Eric, pointing to a rather imposing route. “It’s still a problem, but I think someone will send it during the festival.”
The Fourth Annual Ibex Bouldering Festival, which the Allens will host on August 19, is a chance for climbers to meet at the Yukon’s bouldering mecca.
The festival was started in 2001 by Eric and his son Ethan — after the second year, the festival went on hiatus until last summer, when Ethan returned from university.
The four-year gap between events led to some surprises for the Allens.
“I was amazed there are so many people I didn’t know into bouldering; we had something like eight pads out here last year,” said Eric, who estimated about 60 people came out to the 2006 event. “It brings these people into contact with each other.”
All climbers, beginners to advanced, are welcome, and there’s definitely enough to challenge all. But the festival is more than just climbing. Once you’re fingers are shredded (or just tired), there’s slacklining, which is a tightrope-style balance thing, and juggling — as well as food, music and more.
The Fourth Annual Ibex Valley Bouldering Festival runs Sunday, August 19. Registration starts at 10 a.m. The cost is $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. Surf to www.yukonbouldering.blogspot.com or call 456-2477 for more information, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.