Stephen Grossman: Climbing History Archives, Historical Climbing tools, and the Oakdale Climbers Festival

steve-grossmanThe Oak­dale Climbers Fes­ti­val 2013 is com­ing Octo­ber 25,26, and 27th at the Oak­dale Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter in Cal­i­for­nia. Described as “The his­to­ry of climb­ing told by climbers,” I was lucky enough to speak with the Event Co-Chair, Stephen Gross­man, about the festival.

The Clymb: What is the goal of this event?
Stephen Gross­man: To fos­ter inter­est in and appre­ci­a­tion of climb­ing his­to­ry with a focus on per­son­al­i­ties and events in Cal­i­for­nia. I am in the process of apply­ing for non­prof­it sta­tus to cre­ate the North Amer­i­can Climb­ing His­to­ry Archives (NACHA).

The NACHA mis­sion: To gath­er, doc­u­ment and cel­e­brate climb­ing his­to­ry in image, word and arti­fact with spe­cial empha­sis on per­son­al­i­ties and events in North America.

The Clymb: What inspired you to start orga­niz­ing his­tor­i­cal fes­ti­vals?
Climb­ing is unusu­al in that the com­mon­al­i­ty of learn­ing to climb, going through the fire, makes us acces­si­ble to each oth­er. I have a body of work called the Ele­vat­ed Lives Project where I do full bio­graph­i­cal inter­views of climbers of record. Dur­ing the course of this work, it occurred to me that the greater good would be served by shar­ing these peo­ple and their amaz­ing adven­tures direct­ly with inter­est­ed people.

The Clymb: Who was your favorite speak­er to date? Who are you most excit­ed for this year?
Last year, the great Allen Steck came to share his pio­neer­ing expe­ri­ences with John Salathé climb­ing the north face of Sen­tinel Rock in Yosemite over five gru­el­ing days in 1950. This year I am very excit­ed to hear from all of the speak­ers list­ed espe­cial­ly young mas­ter Alex Hon­nold, the cel­e­brat­ed free soloist.

The Clymb: What kind of tools will be on dis­play? How old are some of them?
Tech­ni­cal climb­ing in Cal­i­for­nia began in the 1930s, so none of the gear is much old­er than that. Salathé was the father of the mod­ern alloy steel piton which, by virtue of dura­bil­i­ty for repeat­ed hard use, opened up Yosemite walls to small, light­ly equipped par­ties. Climb­ing can be a gear inten­sive activ­i­ty and advances in equip­ment and tech­nique often go hand in hand with ris­ing stan­dards. Salathé pitons were on dis­play last year at the Oak­dale Fes­ti­val along with exten­sive dis­plays of soft iron and mild steel pitons and oth­er hard­ware from all over the world. This year I plan on dis­play­ing vin­tage footwear and free climb­ing racks for each decade from the 1950s to the 1990s so that peo­ple can clear­ly see the pro­gres­sion and evo­lu­tion of equip­ment that brought us to the present and appre­ci­ate the tool con­straints of the past.

The Clymb: How long do you plan for these events?
Plan­ning for the Oak­dale Fes­ti­val is ongo­ing as I try to set up sev­er­al years worth of pro­gram­ming at once. I have com­plete con­trol over the theme and con­tent at the event each year and try to devel­op a theme based on the avail­able speak­ers. I con­tact the key speak­ers at least six months ahead of time.

You can find out more about last year’s Fes­ti­val here. Steve Grossman’s thread for the Fes­ti­val 2013 is here.