Early First Block, climbers were rushing to Worner with a gleam in their eyes—word had gotten out: tickets for Reel Rock 11 were now available. With tickets in hand, amateur and seasoned climbers alike found themselves wondering what the event would bring this year and building up “stoke” in and out of the climbing gym. On Sept. 28, Reel Rock 11 finally arrived at Colorado College.
Founded by CC grads Josh Lowell ’94 and Peter Mortimer ’96, Reel Rock is a climbing documentary series sponsored by The North Face that travels across the continent, typically sharing five diverse climbing or adventure related films over a couple hours. In addition to the film showings, Reel Rock features fundraising by climbing and outdoor organizations and sponsors, prize giveaways and raffles, and entertaining contests among audience members. CC is lucky to be one of the few locations where this unique experience takes place.
To kick off the festivities, CC’s own Ritt Kellogg Climbing Gym hosted a pre-party entitled “Get Pumped for Reel Rock,” with “pumped” taking on a double meaning—excitement, and the stiff feeling one’s forearms develop after a tough climbing session. The event included pizza, Adidas Outdoor posters, a raffle, and naturally, some solid climbing. Climbers then congregated at the Kathryn Mohrman Theatre to continue the celebration.
Awaiting students in Armstrong were two visiting organizations: Colorado Mountain Club (CMC) and Pikes Peak Climbers Alliance (PPCA). CMC is primarily focused on getting people outdoors to learn new techniques and safety skills in a wide variety of activites—ice climbing, rockclimbing, hiking, fly-fishing, and more. Equally committed to outdoor recreation in Colorado, PPCA works to protect climbing areas across the state, replacing bolts and anchors and cleaning and restoring highly frequented areas. Both groups disseminated information about their work to get students involved, as well as distributed stickers—an instant attention-getter for the Nalgene fiends of CC.
Once students and Colorado Springs community members had a chance to talk to the organizations, the film began. The first two films were entitled “Young Guns” and “Boys in the Bugs.” “Young Guns” profiled 15-year-old Ashima Shiraishi and 16-year-old Kai Lightner, two incredibly young and gifted climbers that are currently dominating the climbing scene and are assuming the face of the sport. On a different note, “Boys in the Bugs” followed the four-year quest of the bumbling and somewhat-drunken professional crack climbers Will Stanhope and Matt Segal to send a 5.14 finger crack in the Bugaboos of the Canadian Rockies. During intermission, Outdoor Education staff members ran the annual handstand contest, a perfect physical and humorous interlude with prizes for everyone.
The following three films “Brette,” “Rad / Dad,” and “The Dodo’s Delight” brought just as many smiles, laughs, and gasps to the audience as the first two. “Brette” focused on professional climber and free soloist Brette Harrington in her pursuit to travel far and wide to find new climbs, while “Rad / Dad” demonstrated how adventurist Mike Libecki learned to balance time between feeding his outdoor passions and being there for his daughter Lilly. Perhaps the most hilarious film of all was “The Dodo’s Delight,” an epic tale of climbers Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll, Ben Ditto, and brothers Nico and Olivier Favresse, as they sailed the seas to reach big walls in the arctic. Aboard their ship, the Dodo’s Delight, the climbers shared jolly jam sessions and practically gourmet meals—a highly spirited and amusing film.
Clearly, Reel Rock is much more than a collection of films; it’s an event that engages the community. By getting climbers into the Ritt Gym, making connections between students and local organizations, and exposing all levels of climbers to different angles of the sport, Reel Rock makes a sometimes inaccessible-seeming sport into one that everyone can enjoy.
Beyond its engaging nature, Reel Rock is so important to the climbing community at CC due to the atmosphere it cultivates. Students new and old to climbing can share the love of the film, and the connections they make translate to the climbing gym. As Assistant Director of Outdoor Education David Crye put it, “[the event helps] draw new people into the climbing community at CC and work towards taking their own climbing to the next level.” Moreover, he noted that not only are the films inspirational, they’re also “a great way to celebrate adventure and [see] who in the industry is pushing the limits of climbing.”
In addition to the inspiring aspects of the documentaries, audiences gain an appreciation for the ways professional climbers approach the sport. As first-year Annemarie Lewis pointed out, “the main theme behind every single video was having fun and being goofy,” a goal that the CC climbing community also strives for. Having attended other outdoor film festivals, Lewis noticed that most outdoor films are “all about sending the next record” and that “the fun and adventure gets lost in that feat or pursuit.”
On the other hand, as Reel Rock demonstrated, the absurdity of what climbing entails, along with the type of people it attracts, highlight its genuinely silly nature. Though climbing can be quite goal-oriented, taking it too seriously would ruin its magic. As long as Reel Rock returns year after year and CC climbers continue fostering such a welcoming and easy-going community, this magic will undoubtedly remain.