As local climber Mike Rommel performed a difficult ascent up the face of the Old Stonehouse Brewery in downtown Nevada City, a passenger in a passing pickup truck rolled down the window and yelled, “Try the door, it’s open!”
Rommel took a slight reprieve to laugh before continuing on to the top of the route.
“It was pretty good, fun. It was tough though,” Rommel said Thursday, once safely back on solid ground.
Rommel climbed the iconic Gold Rush building, which was designed by an Italian stonemason and built with the help of Chinese labor, as a means of promoting Reel Rock 7, a rock-climbing film festival that shows annually at locations throughout the United States.
The festival will play in Nevada City at the Stonehouse Restaurant beginning at 6 p.m. today.
Rommel is affiliated with the Climbing Resources Advocates for Greater Sacramento, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to providing greater access to various prominent climbing areas, specifically, the Auburn quarry, which was traditionally a popular winter area for rock climbers based in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and beyond.
CRAGS is using Reel Rock 7 as a fundraiser and an outreach event with the hopes of preserving access to the Auburn quarry, which was closed to climbers in March of 2003 and only recently re-opened after years of pressure exerted by the climbing community.
“The quarry has it all, routes from beginning to expert,” Rommel said.
As for the festival itself, it is a good opportunity for people to see how far the sport of rock climbing has come, as it gains more traction in communities.
“The sport is growing,” said Dana Richardson, spokeswoman for Reel Rock Tour. “There are rock climbing gyms popping up, and I think you see a growing fascination with the sport.”
Just 10 years ago, rock climbing was popularly viewed as a niche activity undertaken by those brave enough — or crazy enough — to risk their lives to climb hundreds, sometimes thousands of feet above the ground on sheer, precipitous cliffs.
With developments in safety equipment and greater confidence in the all-around safety of the sport, as long as the ropes and protective equipment are managed competently, such a dangerous perception of rock climbing has evaporated into thin air.
Then, along came Alex Honnold, a Sacramento kid, who has become the biggest name in the world of rock climbing and one of the most famous adventure athletes in the world.
Honnold is famous for tackling some of the most technically challenging rock climbs on planet Earth without the benefit of safety equipment.
It’s not that Honnold goes places where he can’t use ropes and protection. He just chooses to perform without a safety net.
“He has a huge amount of confidence and belief in himself,” Richardson said. “While most of us would be scared, he remains calm and relaxed. He can just shut off that fear.”
Honnold’s exploits are so captivating that casual observers outside the rock climbing community have begun to take notice.
In October 2011, Honnold was interviewed by Lara Logan for a segment on 60 minutes. Honnold, who is a soft-spoken, humble athlete and does not court the limelight, has become increasingly recognized as a result of the exposure, Richardson said.
One of the films in the Reel Rock 7 series is called “Honnold 3.0” and takes a look at Honnold’s latest efforts as the boldest free soloist of his generation, along with exploring the aspects of his newly found fame.
Another legendary name in the sport is Chris Sharma, who has been dubbed the king of sport climbing, a branch of rock climbing that is, technically speaking, some of the most difficult in the world.
Unlike Honnold, Sharma makes full use of ropes, but he must as he is a pioneer, climbing the most arduous routes imaginable. He falls several times in his attempts to carve out new territory in his discipline of choice.
Sharma, who is another California guy, hailing from Santa Cruz, currently lives in Catalunya, Spain.
Another film in the series, entitled “The Dura Dura,” explores Sharma as he invites a new sport climbing prodigy, 19-year-old Adam Ondra, from the Czech Republic, to his backyard in Spain to establish the world’s most technically difficult rock climbing route.
Also featured in the film are the exploits of Sasha Digiulian and Daila Ojeda as they further standards for women in the sport of rock climbing.
Rock climbing features an equality between the sexes unseen in most other athletic disciplines.
Lynn Hill, a famous female rock climber, was the first person — man or woman — to make a free ascent of the Nose Route on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, which is the largest granite monolith on the planet.
Rock climbing favors individuals with good strength-to-weight ratio, balance, finger strength and technique, Richardson said. It is not a sport of brute strength.
“It’s a lot like dancing,” Richardson said. “You really need to be in touch with your body and with your mind.”
Reel Rock 7 features two more films — “The Shark’s Fin,” about legendary alpinist Conrad Anker and his attempts to climb a granitic peak in India, and “Wide Boys,” about two proper British lads and their attempts to climb some wide cracks, known as some of the most difficult and physically demanding climbing in the sport.
For tickets, visit Briar Patch or call (530) 272-5333. Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4239.
“It’s a lot like dancing. You really need to be in touch with your body and with your mind.”
— Dana Richardson