Rock climbing is having a major moment, as the sport keeps reaching new heights. On the heels of the Oscar-winning (anxiety-inducing) documentary Free Solo and the introduction of climbing as an official Olympic sport, climbing has captured both audiences and participants like never before.
There really is a “day” for everything, and climbing is no exception.
To mark Global Climbing Day on Saturday, August 24, longtime California-based outdoor brand The North Face went all out, hosting an energetic and impossible-to-turn-away-from climbing competition at Montreal’s Parc Jean-Drapeau Aquatic Complex. We were invited along to check it out.
Participants in the The North Face Psicobloc Open Series weekend-long climbing competition draw upon their impressive strength and ninja-like skills as they scale a 55-foot wall “free solo” over a deep swimming pool.
It’s something that made for some pretty epic falls into the water below. This is the second year that The North Face has hosted the well-attended event; an initiative that aims to unite seasoned climbers and the climbing-curious set.
While climbing may have gained mass popularity in recent years, it’s been in The North Face’s DNA for decades.
For more than 50 years, the brand has outfitted countless climbers on epic summit adventures. Introduced in 2016, The North Face’s “Walls are Meant for Climbing” campaign encourages people to both try climbing and unite to overcome challenges, push boundaries, and foster a deep and diverse community.
“Climbing has always been such a core element to the brand, so any opportunity we have to support the climbing industry, bring people together we take it,” said Max Turcotte, Brand & Sports Marketing Coordinator at The North Face. “Climbing is getting more and more popular, and these experiential events and key consumer moments around climbing are the best way we can talk to consumers who are getting increasingly interested in the sport. More than 30 per cent of the American public has expressed an interest in climbing. So, we ‘re looking to bring people together.”
The North Face also has a presence at major rock climbing festivals and maintains a partnership with regional gyms across Canada.
These important partnerships involve events and the supply of The North Face product and athletes at participating climbing gyms. In addition to the competition, the brand also hosted local events at 240 climbing gyms around the world to mark Global Climbing Day.
In Montreal, The North Face Psicobloc Open Series attracted some 400 athletes who competed in the men’s, women’s, and junior events. Pre competition, The North Face invited members of the public to try their skills (and lack thereof…but I have nothing but respect for anyone who would attempt such a thing in front of hundreds of snapping smartphones) before the competition started.
Then, the competition sees two climbers face off against one another without ropes, harnesses or protective gear, as they draw on agility, strength and strategy to scale the massive inverse wall as energetic onlookers cheer them on. To be honest, it was a lot more exciting than I had anticipated.
At Saturday’s quarterfinals, we caught the action from the VIP area, an elevated poolside terrace, in the company of climbing world heroes like Gabriel Filippi, who quit his corporate gig to become a professional climber and motivational speaker.
The North Face-sponsored alpinist and climber was fresh from completing the “hard double” earlier this summer, doing both Mount Everest and Nuptse peaks in one climb – something he calls a career highlight.
As Filippi points out, we saw a major increase in interest in climbing with the introduction of the climbing gym.
“I think people were always curious from seeing the mountains, climbers, and gear but then climbing wall appeared just over a decade ago, making climbing a lot more accessible,” said Filippi.
“Schools found that climbing walls helped kids with focus and confidence – and at that point we created a new generation of climbers. That’s why we see young climbers in their 20s who are really good, because they grew up doing it.”
As for those who didn’t develop their climbing skills at a young age, Fillipi stresses that you’re never too old to start climbing. “There is no age restriction; just try the wall,” he says. “The unknown brings fear, but climbing is about community versus competition and everyone is enjoying it; it’s inclusive; it’s for everyone. You’re going to find a grade when you’re climbing where you’re feeling good. Everyone tries to help one another.”
In the wake of recent headline-making deaths on Mount Everest, however, Fillipi advises potential climbers to be realistic of what they’re capable of.
“Climbers should think twice. I know that for so many people it’s a dream come true; maybe at some point you couldn’t do it because of work commitments or lack of money, but it’s a demanding and gruelling thing to do,” says Fillipi. “People are dying waiting on the mountain; what we need to see is less traffic, which involves more coordination among organizations and expedition leaders to determine specific times for the summit.”
The first step to an epic bucket list expedition, naturally, begins in your local climbing gym – and Toronto is full of them.
If you’re in the market for gear, of course, The North Face has you covered. “The North Face offers everything from big-walled backpacks meant to carry rope, climbing gear, and harnesses, to extremely bulletproof and rainproof outerwear, for if ever you’re caught in the rain on a cliff,” says Turcotte. “We make sleeping bags that are tested for the outdoors and expeditions at extreme temperatures. We also offer equipment for indoor climbing.” View this post on Instagram
A post shared by The North Face (@thenorthface) on Mar 12, 2019 at 3:29pm PDT
But don’t expect to find many of these items for sale at any of The North Face’s events; that’s not the point. “The main reason behind the ‘Walls are Meant for Climbing’ campaign and why we do this is to bring people together around the wall and acquaint them with the brand; not to make sales,” says Turcotte. “If we are selling product, it’s important to incorporate a giveback element.”
“The objective is to give back to the community; it’s not the right time to make money. We want the focus to be on the climbing.”
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