Come Hell or High Water: The Passchendaele V2 Bouldering Festival

Ryan Siacci gives us the low down on how this year’s festival went

The early morning yoga session was one of the climbing-est things I have ever seen. Scattered amongst the standard yoga mats were an eclectic assortment of improvised alternatives – one of those woven plastic jobs from Thailand, the rubber flooring from a camp shower, a crash pad. You certainly couldn’t fault anyone for their spirit, but if the weather was anything to go by, their sun salutes can’t have been too flash.

Tarps meant people were able to climb despite the rain on Saturday. Image by Set in Stone Photography

Tarps meant people were able to climb despite the rain on Saturday. Image by Set in Stone Photography

It was bucketing down. Cats, dogs, the lot. It appeared as though we’d entered some sort of parallel universe, a veritable Twilight Zone wherein the ‘Sunshine State’ was anything but. Bouldering was becoming increasingly unlikely, simply because nobody had thought to pack a snorkel.

But the stoic crew of Passchendaele V2 weren’t having a bar of grim predictions and melancholy vibes. Come hell or high water, the festival would go ahead. So when they kicked off the festival, it was with gusto. V2 officially commenced with a few impromptu undercover events in which folks tested their skills of recollection in the climbing trivia, and afterward, their skills of balance during the pad-stacking championship.

Yogi–ing despite the rain. Image Set in Stone Photography

Yogi–ing despite the rain. Image Set in Stone Photography

The relentless optimism displayed by the crew radiated outward into the crowd. Without it, it would have been pretty easy for the participants to lose faith, for them to believe that the heavy grey overcast would never clear. But the overwhelming and steadfast belief was that everyone was going to pull some granite that weekend. They knew this, they could feel it in their gut.

And, of course, they did.

On the previous day, the hardworking V2 Crew had judiciously tarped a few classic boulders, protecting several tasty problems from the downpour. This unlikely solution proved surprisingly effective, and as soon as the rain relented, a horde of eager climbers was released into the forest.

One of Oz's best, Lucy Stirling, in action. Image by Set in Stone Photography

One of Oz’s best, Lucy Stirling, in action. Image by Set in Stone Photography

For the remainder of the afternoon, and almost into the night, rabid packs of boulderers prowled among the highballs, slabs and arêtes of Middle Sector. Sometimes they’d set up shop and work a problem together. Other times, a quick send-train would take place before they moved on. Whatever the problem, the stoke was high and spirits continued to soar as the sun came out and a heaven-sent breeze caressed the boulders.

Middle Sector was a fantastic introduction to the festival, appealing to newcomers and veterans alike. All-time classics such as Blue Moon, a stiff V4 with a heinous mantle, and Obsidian, a juggy and more user-friendly V2, saw a lot of love. But grades and difficulty didn’t seem to matter too much. Most folks were simply happy to be climbing, released from the endless purgatory of inclement weather (which in reality didn’t last that long, even though it may have seemed that way).

Queensland lived up to its reputation for being home to dinosaurs – luckily this one was a great spotter. Image by Set in Stone Photography

Queensland lived up to its reputation for being home to dinosaurs – luckily this one was a great spotter. Image by Set in Stone Photography

And so it was with great difficulty that the last punters were wrenched away from the boulders as the sun went down. It was then that I began to realise that a rather funny thing had happened…

‘You know, I feel like the rain might have been a blessing in disguise,’ suggested Alex, one of the V2 Crew. ‘It forced people to get to know each other early on in the piece, got them talking and mingling. We might not have seen that to the same extent if they’d just launched at the boulders from the word go.’

Tape was the order of the day on Sunday. Image by Set in Stone Photography

Tape was the order of the day on Sunday. Image by Set in Stone Photography

The giddy enthusiasm from the arvo boulder session carried into the night, with a ripper of a turnout for the Dyno and Awesome Woodys Hangboard competitions. Then, it was time to wind down with some fine dining (the gravy was emotional) with which to accompany some fine outdoor films courtesy of the Banff Mountain Film Festival: Radical Reels.

The following dawn could not have been any brighter. The sky was a blameless blue, the temperature was cool and crisp, and the rain was nothing more than a distant memory. Already regarded as indispensable and worthy of canonisation into the order of saints, the good folks at B.A.M continued to righteously pump out caffeinated elixirs and toasted jaffle wonderment. Life was good.

Tarps were super effective at keeping boulders dry despite the rain. Image by Set in Stone Photography

Tarps were super effective at keeping boulders dry despite the rain. Image by Set in Stone Photography

A pair of brand new sectors awaited eager climbers and the excitement was palpable. But as if that wasn’t enough, the major sponsors – Black Diamond, Edelrid, Evolv and Marmot – had each contributed some rather enviable swag to be given away in a prize draw. When the first bouldering session kicked off, a smattering of lucky folks (who, unfortunately, were not me) could be seen making their way toward the sectors with a brand spankin’ new pair of shoes or a Black Diamond Mondo pad so big that you could have protected the whole area with it.

The clinics kicked off in the Battleground sector, where folks were bestowed with the collective wisdom of some of the nation’s strongest lady crushers. For others, The Lane and The Backyard were the venues in which to begin the day. The former is a well-established area with some of Passchendaele’s most classic problems, whereas the latter is a relatively new find with a heap of potential. Each sector saw a frenzy of activity, including a bunch of new lines that were put up that day.

Saturday night's entertainment. Image by Set in Stone Photography

Saturday night’s entertainment. Image by Set in Stone Photography

But granite is tough and it was always bound to win the War of Attrition. The unforgiving stone may have been able to scrape every last micron of skin from many a raw finger, but there is no way it could wipe the smile from each and every dial.

I caught up with Liam and Nick, a weary duo still cranking away in the dying hours of the festival, to discuss their take on the event. For many, including themselves, V2 had formed their introduction to outdoor bouldering, and they could only describe the experience in superlatives which they delivered in a tone that was close to rapturous.

‘Wonderful, mate, it’s been wonderful,’ said Liam, ‘The crew have done a fantastic job in putting this thing together and pulling it off.’

One has to agree and applaud the crew for the success of V2. But what truly made the event special was the punters – more than 120 frothing boulders who refused to give up the stoke, even when the chips were down.

The festival ethos states the desire to a build strong community, and this was the true gift of Passchendaele. Beyond the prizes, beyond the big ticks, beyond the 30-something FAs recorded on Sunday alone, the most rewarding thing to see was the fostering of new friendships.

As the festival wrapped, I watched a freshly minted posse take a group photo for posterity’s sake. Flushed with the success of sending a handful of brand new problems, these erstwhile strangers were already thick as thieves. I have a feeling they’ll be spotting each other for years to come.

That’s a wrap from the Passchendaele V2 Bouldering Festival. See you next year folks.

You can see more images from this year’s festival at Set in Stone Photography.

 

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