Wilkinson shows climbers the ropes
KEENE VALLEY – Ice climbers and mountaineers converged on the small hamlet of Keene Valley Martin Luther King Jr. weekend for the 17th annual Adirondack International Mountaineering Festival.
The featured guest for this year’s Mountainfest was Freddie Wilkinson, a climber from Madison, N.H.
Wilkinson led clinics and gave a presentation Saturday night in the Beaver Dome at Keene Central School. The talk focused on Wilkinson’s five-day traverse of the Moose’s Tooth massif in the Ruth Gorge, located in Denali National Park in Alaska.
Wilkinson completed the trip with his climbing partner Renan Ozturk in May 2011. The presentation featured photos in addition to amazing video footage of the two climbers shot from a helicopter.
The 33-year-old climber is a journalist who wrote “One Mountain Thousand Summits,” a book that tells the story of the tragic climb in August 2008 that left 11 men dead on the slopes of K2 in the Himalayas. He has also worked for National Geographic and been published in the New York Times, Outside Magazine, Rock and Ice and the Alpinist.
During the day Saturday, Wilkinson led an advanced ice climbing clinic on a cliff inside the Chapel Pond canyon.
“Today, it’s all about helping them refine their technique, coaching them on just little tricks, on little things they can do to be more efficient and better overall climbers,” Wilkinson said as a group of climbers made their way up the nearby wall with the aid of top ropes and belayers.
Wilkinson said the class didn’t include a lot of direct instruction, but he did offer pointers throughout the day, both by demonstrating how to climb sections and by providing feedback during their climbs.
“Ice climbing is a challenging sport and the consequences are high,” Wilkinson said. “If you are a lead ice climber, there’s really no short cuts to being a competent, you know, to being a competent all-around advanced ice climber. And so for these guys, I can talk until I’m blue in the face, telling these guys what to do, but the only way they are really going to learn and become better climbers is just by practice, practice, practice, doing lots of different climbs, doing the same climb more than once and just slowly refining their technique.”
One of those people in the class was Chris Martin, who made a six-hour drive from Long Island to take the course and visit the Adirondacks for a few days.
“It’s a great opportunity to learn a lot of stuff from the better climbers around and learn your way around here for all the great ice to climb,” Martin said. ” Freddie is great. (I’m) learning a ton of stuff.”
Martin said he was paying attention to his placement on the ice, where he holds himself steady with crampons and ice tools.
“I guess I’m putting more emphasis on balance more than anything,” he said. “Pretty much stuff I’ve already known just being reiterated and brought back to the surface.”
The advanced climbing clinic was one of a dozen different classes offered on Saturday, with more taking place Sunday and Monday. The classes ranged from avalanche awareness to beginning ice climbing to snowshoe mountaineering. The guides ranged from well-known photographer Carl Heilman to local climbers such as Jesse Williams and Emilie Drinkwater. Participants were outfitted with gear from outdoor gear companies such as La Sportiva, Patagonia, Marmot and Black Diamond.
“All the clinics are full, and we filled up quicker than we have in the last three years,” Mountainfest organizer Vinny McClelland said. “I think it’s a combination of the fact that we have a real winter. It started in December and got people excited about winter. And I think the overall the economy is better. I get the feel that people are more optimistic, and they are excited about winter sports. There’s a nice vibe this year.”
McClelland, who is the owner of The Mountaineer gear store in Keene Valley, organizes the festival every year with Ed Palen, owner of Adirondack Rock and River guide service in Keene.
In addition to bringing hundreds of people into the Keene and Keene Valley region and filling lodging establishments, the Mountainfest also raises money for local causes. McClelland said it has raised about $60,000 overall in its existence. Last year, the festival donated about $6,000 to local causes, with most of that going to flood relief efforts in Keene and Jay.
This year, the money is slated to go to a new outdoors club in Keene that Palen is organizing.
“It’s going to be hiking and canoeing and all kinds of year-round activity for local kids,” McClelland said.