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Craggin’ Classic ’09: A Rockin’ Good Time

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Craggin’ Classic clinic members approach Gate Buttress in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah. [Photo] Erik Lambert

More than a few inches of snow already have fallen in the Intermountain West this October. For climbers, winter’s early arrival threatened more than cold temperatures–it also could have doused the region’s biggest autumn climbing festival, the Craggin’ Classic.

But last weekend in Salt Lake City the clouds parted. White granite glistened under bluebird skies. And more than 200 climbers from at least 13 countries found themselves in high spirits for 48 hours of boozing, schmoozing, caffeinating and climbing–in that order, and then all over again.

The Craggin’ Classic is an annual social gathering for climbers of all abilities. The tradition began last year in Golden, Colo., home of the American Alpine Club, which organizes and hosts the yearly roving festival. The event travels to a new location each year to connect with awesome communities and climbing around the country. This year the festival was held in Salt Lake City at the suggestion of Events Coordinator Brittany Griffith.

Climbers gather for breakfast at the Spruces Campground in Big Cottonwood Canyon on Saturday morning. [Photo] Erik Lambert


Climbers pitched their tents at the Spruces Campground in Big Cottonwood Canyon on Friday afternoon. That night, they traveled up-canyon for slideshows, food and general merriment at Brighton Ski Resort’s Milly Chalet. The next day, they headed down-canyon to get their climbing fix on the miles of granite and quartzite crags hidden in the canyons just outside the city. Then it began all over again, with music by local bands Use As Is and the Tolchok Trio on Saturday evening–and perfect temperatures on Sunday for another day of cragging, or lending a hand on service projects with the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance. A film fest and billiard contest at Brewvies downtown brought the weekend to a close.

Alec LaLonde finds his own way up Half-a-finger (5.9+). [Photo] Chris Dickey


On Saturday Kitty Calhoun, Kate Rutherford, Jasmin Caton, Caroline George, Mikey Schaefer, Steve House, Nancy Feagin and Cedar Wright led clinics and locals’ tours throughout the canyons.

I tagged along with Cedar, Nancy and a handful of locals eager to pick up some pointers. We introduced ourselves and each climber discussed what he hoped to learn from the clinic. Then we geared up and headed to the Dihedrals area of Little Cottonwood Canyon. Cedar racked up and kicked off the morning by placing only two TCUs on a notoriously stiff 5.9+. The rest of us were impressed.

“Two pieces,” said local Matt Jesperson, shaking his head at Cedar. “That’s another level. I would’ve used a whole rack–if I had the balls to do it.” While Matt climbed, Cedar and Nancy offered tips. And on round two, Matt had no trouble sending the route cleanly, technique solid.

“That’s major progress,” Cedar told him. “From flailing to scaling.”

Another local, Alec LaLonde, climbed the last overhanging section by bear-hugging the rock on toprope. From below, Cedar tried to entice him back into the crack, unsuccessfully.

“As far as preparing for the lead,” Cedar told him back on the ground, “you wouldn’t want to get up there and spin off and take the most back-slapping, bone-shattering, cheese-grating whipper ever.”

But Alec pulled the rope, clipped some gear to his harness, and gunned the lead. Again, he avoided the crack and hugged his way up the top block. That time, Cedar was impressed.

The group hopped on another half dozen climbs, then traded email addresses. But some weren’t ready to pack up. At dusk, Alec and I found another route to smear and jam. We hitched a ride back up the hill to find the perfect end to a long day of climbing: bottomless beer, good people and an all-you-can-eat taco cart.

Cedar Wright and crew prep for more pitches. [Photo] Erik Lambert


One of the hallmarks of the Craggin’ Classic is the intermingling of young and old, veteran and novice, friends and not-yet-friends.

“Climbing is one of the few pursuits in which many of the heroes and innovators of the craft are unpretentious, down-to-earth members of the same club as the everyman,” said Dave Maren, marketing director of the American Alpine Club. “And the Craggin Classic really embodies that.”

On Friday night, Brian Smoot captured the crowd’s many generations with a hardman’s history of climbing in the Wasatch. His vintage slides and stories were followed by a fast-paced digital presentation of modern Salt Lake climbing by local photographer Andrew Burr. Steve House gave a slideshow that outlined his climbing evolution, from awkward teen to world-class alpinist.

On Saturday, 15-year-olds climbed with 60-year-olds, and 5.6 leaders roped up with some of the world’s best. That night they danced together.

On Sunday, invested locals and first-time visitors pitched in to improve Salt Lake’s climbing resources. Then they all kicked back together, poking pool cues at Brewvies.

“The club attributes the success of the event to Salt Lake Climbers Alliance volunteer efforts,” Griffith said. “And to the support of local Salt Lake City climbers.”

“Our community is vibrant and dynamic,” Dave said. “We celebrate the passion and camaraderie that climbing fosters.” Yeah, that–plus the good weather and exceptional beer.

Thanks to Chris Dickey for the 2009 Craggin’ Classic video.

Steve House gets his crag on at Green Adjective Gully on All Chalk and No Action (5.12a). [Photo] Erik Lambert