Climbers rally at Save the Sandstone Festival

Rock climbers ascended abandoned sandstone quarry walls at last weekend’s Save the Sandstone Festival, zigzagging across the straight-lined dynamite grooves left from the rock harvesting days.

About 250 climbers joined the outdoor festival in Robinson Park along the Kettle River in Sandstone, Minn., to help raise money to buy a 108-acre slot of well-loved bouldering land across the river on the east bank. Bouldering is a type of climbing in which no ropes or harnesses are used, and climbers typically stay within safe falling distance from the ground.

Last Tuesday, the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota (PTCM) finalized its purchase of the once privately owned property. Now, the Minnesota Climbers Association (MCA) is trying to raise $30,000 by the end of December in order to pay the PTCM back for the land purchase.

“The money we’re raising today is for closing costs,” said Jeff Engel, event coordinator and member of the MCA. “Parks and Trails are going to have to hold the land for probably four years. Taxes are about $4,500 a year over there. And there’s other insurance costs, so it’s about $5,000 a year to hold the land.”

PTCM is holding the land so that it can eventually become a part of the Banning State Park system and become a secured climbing spot.

The festival raised money with a $10 entrance fee and raffle tickets for donated climbing gear. The MCA is also accepting donations on the Access Fund’s website.

Climbers came to the festival with their families, friends and dogs to enjoy the various climbing activities: slacklining, sport climbing, overnight camping, drinking in the beer garden, socializing around a campfire, grilling out and watching a climbing movie projected onto one of the wall faces.

The event also introduced a new wall with climbing routes rated from upwards of 5.12 to 5.14 out of a rating system that starts out with an easy 5.0 and ends with the almost impossible 5.15.

“I might give it a shot at the end of the day,” said Will Cumming, a 2010 UMD grad. “But I don’t foresee it going very well.”

In fact, the new routes haven’t gone well for any of the climbers so far. Because of this, the routes are still yet to be named. Only once a climber reaches the top can he or she name the route.

Climbers were also unable to boulder their new land because of the on-and-off rainy and snowy weather this past weekend.

“The bouldering is too wet,” said Ryan Angelo, owner of Escape Climbing and a festival sponsor. “With sandstone, once the rock gets wet, you can risk breaking it off because the sandstone is porous.”

According to UMD senior Paul Yager, when the bouldering area is dry, it is one of the most preferred bouldering spots in Minnesota.

“It’s the best V5 route in Minnesota,” he said. “It has a cool jump start over the water.”

Bouldering rating starts at V0 and slowly gets harder, ending at V16.

Yager drove to the event Saturday and joined fellow UMD North Shore Climbers for a few 5.8 and 5.10 ascents. Along with supporting the fundraiser, he wanted to help his friends from the climbing club fall in love with the climbing area and see why the land extension efforts are necessary. He spent most of the time coaching and belaying other climbers through their routes, including freshman Wyatt Miller in his first outdoor climb.

“Just breathe right now,” he told Miller, who was on the wall and had just accomplished a tricky move.

Miller fell a few times during his ascent and was each time secured or “taken” by his rope belayer stationed on the ground, junior Abby Lattu. After three failed attempts at a difficult section toward the top and one “pretty scary” fall, Miller said he decided to rappel back down the wall.

“After that I quit,” he said. “I probably should have stayed up there. I just didn’t know what to do at that point, like where to go from there.”

Next up on the wall was Lattu, and she, too, fell a few times before making it to the top of her 5.10 ascent. Falling is common for climbers who are pushing their limits.

According to Lattu, the climb was a real challenge, and, therefore, also a considerable accomplishment.

“I’m finished and I’m so proud of it,” she said.

This was Lattu’s first time climbing at the rock quarry. She decided to come to support the fundraiser.

“Climbers help climbers,” she said. “Paul’s one of my good friends — one of my best friends. He loves bouldering. If my friend likes to boulder, I’m going to try to develop a bouldering place for him.”

Lattu doesn’t consider herself a boulder climber, but says it’s a possibility in the future. Mainly, she just wanted to help the general climbing community.

“It’s good for the climbing community,” she said. “It’s good for the Sandstone community.”

The MCA encourages quarry climbers to respect the local community by picking up trash when they’re done and stopping in town for a bite to eat or to fill up on gas.

The next Save the Sandstone fundraiser by the MCA will be an open climbing event at the Minneapolis Vertical Endeavors on Nov. 17.


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