TWIN FALLS – Four climbers stood gathered around the base of a rock, spotting and cheering on a fellow climber as he tried to scale a 15-foot-tall problem.
The tone and dialect of the encouragement was part football meathead and part surfer.
“You got it, dude. It’s all flat edges the rest of the way up. Keep going. Nice job, dude,” called Jamey Sproull, one of the four spotters at the bottom.
Sproull, the owner of Asana Climbing in Boise, was one of about 100 climbers to attend the seventh annual Dierkes Boulderfest on Saturday. After cheering and assisting his fellow climbers, Sproull cleared the rock himself with little trouble.
“This is a competition in the sense that people want to achieve their best performance level, but you’re really competing against yourself,” Sproull said. “You want to beat yourself.”
Bouldering, like sport climbing and traditional climbing, is a discipline that falls under the broader umbrella of rock climbing. It’s done without ropes, no higher than the climber is comfortable falling. A small pad at the base of the rock, provided by Asana, is the only other buffer between climber and ground.
Much of the challenge for experienced climbers is to find the most difficult path up a rock. Each path is aptly called a “problem,” indicating that scaling it presents the solution.
Jargon overheard at the festival ranges from descriptive to confusing, from useful to silly.
“Smear, smear, smear!” Sproull shouts from the ground, a term for placing the sole of the shoe flat on the rock to utilize friction and hoist the body upright. “I think you just created a new problem.”
“You killing it?” One climber asks another as they pass each another around noon.
“Nice whale!” Nikki Armstrong giggles as her friend rolls recklessly onto her stomach to reach the top of a rock.
The Dierkes Boulderfest started back in 2011 with 38 climbers in attendance. Seven years later, under director Corey King and manager Jentri King, the event has evolved into a regional draw for like-minded enthusiasts from as far away as Salt Lake City and Bozeman, Mont.
After a climbing contest where participants try to scale as many difficult routes near Dierkes Lake as they can in three hours, there is a professional demonstration, a trash clean-up and a climbing gear giveaway.
The event hit its highest number of participants in 2015, then experienced a brief weather-induced dip last year. On Saturday, the climbers were back out in full force.
Looking back now, the growth of the festival may have seemed inevitable. After all, climbing has become such a central part of the southern Idaho recreational experience that a climbing gym in downtown Twin Falls is on the horizon. But back in 2011, the Kings had no idea that Dierkes Boulderfest would become what it has today.
“We didn’t even consider that we’d be doing it for seven years in the beginning,” Corey said. “We did it the first year, and it was like, ‘Sweet, that was fun.’ But the community and sponsors were stoked and rallied behind it. Over the seven years, it’s grown organically and snowballed all on its own. We’re just along for the ride.”
The boulderfest has a Facebook page and attempts to spread the word on its own, but word of mouth has been the most useful tool for growing the event.
Corey grew up rock climbing in Twin Falls in the late 1990s. Back then, a retail shop in Twin Falls called Adventure Outfitters held an annual “Clean the Crag” event. When that shop closed, so did the big cleanup that he and his friends enjoyed.
He also wanted to build a climbing community in Twin Falls. Until the mid-2000s, he said, climbing in Twin Falls was a solitary event.
“There were climbers in the early 2000s, but they were very reclusive. You’d go out to Dierkes, see someone climbing, but it wasn’t like, ‘Hey how are you doing? Where are you from?’ It was more like, there’s someone over there, I’m going to go over here. It was awkward. I wanted to bring some cohesion,” Corey said.
Seven years later, Corey and Jentri have helped cultivate both a communal atmosphere around bouldering and an event where outdoor enthusiasts can clean up the areas that provide them with recreation.
They’ve also built an event that lends itself to climbers of all ages and experience levels, from professionals like Sproull to beginners like 11-year-old Landon Porter and his mother, Erin Porter.
The Porters tackled the smaller, less challenging rocks on Saturday, which were rated by corresponding colors of tape that the Kings applied to each challenge on Friday.
Erin and her husband had hiked in the past, but took up bouldering as a serious hobby just last year. This spring, after dabbling a little bit himself, Landon jumped on board the family hobby.
“I was excited because I had signed up and was trying to find a partner, and (Landon) piped up and said he wanted to join,” Erin said. “There is way more climbing available and I would have had any idea about. We are semi-competing, but we’re beginners. It’s fun to go out and meet some of the other climbers.”
The Kings aren’t sure how the future of the Dierkes Boulderfest will look, or if there will even be a future. It’s a significant amount of work, and all of their workers are volunteers. Granted, a murky future is nothing new for the event.
“I haven’t got a clue where it’ll go,” Corey said. “There is discussion of how much longer we’re going to do it. We don’t know. But we’ll do it this year, at least.”