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- Henry David Thoreau

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Events

Feb 25, 2019

GritFest 2019: The long-awaited trad climbing event returns

Fueled by a common passion, an assembly of seasoned climbers revive the traditional climbing movement just outside of Delhi, India.

The wind coming off the rock face felt inhospitable, but the air itself gave off a sense of communal joy. After 33 years in absence, the thrill at the Great Indian Trad Festival, or Gritfest, emerged again for a new generation. 

We stood together in ceremony around Mohit Oberoi, aka Mo, the architect of the Dhauj trad climbing era, whose been climbing in the area since 1983. Mo, who continues to inspire many, briefly underlined the cause behind the Gritfest: a two-day annual trad climbing gathering that finally saw the light of day on February 23rd and 24th 2019. The gathering, although one of its kind, was not the first. The first one took place in 1985 and was put together by Tejvir Khurrana.

Read next: Mohit Oberoi: My History with Dhauj, Delhi’s Real Trad Area

“Dhauj is huge and there exists such an amazing playground right on their doorstep”

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the climbing scene in India, Dhauj is where some of the country’s finest climbing began. Located in Faridabad Haryana, Dhauj is roughly between 18 to 20 miles away from Delhi. The region is home to the Aravali Mountains that start in Delhi and pass through southern Haryana to the state of Rajasthan across the west, ending in Gujrat.

The Great Indian Trad Fest was long overdue and brought together by Ashwin Shah, who is the figurative sentinel guard of the Dhauj territory. In addition to being the guy with more gear than you’d ever expect one man to own, he is also often caught headhunting belayers, sometimes even climbers. His never-aging obsession with Dhauj is also very contagious. I’m grateful to start my own climbing journey with Ashwin. In my first attempts at belaying, my simple mistake caused him to drop on a 5-meter whipper. It could have been more.

Rajesh, on the left, getting ready to belay, Ashwin in the middle and Prerna on the right

That whipper, in hindsight, transmuted into a defining moment for me. The primal squeal Ashwin let out while falling made me realize the danger of this new passion I couldn’t help but fall for myself. That being said, had it not been for Ashwin’s impressionable optimism to entrust me with his life, Dhauj wouldn’t have held the same allure that it does for me now. Ashwin started contemplating the Gritfest after his return from Ramanagara Romp in Bangalore: a three-day event that gauged the possibility of climbs undertaken during a two-day window.

Read Next: Why the Aravalli Forest Range is the Most Degraded Zone in India

The idea behind the Gritfest is to celebrate a legacy built over the last four to five decades. A legacy that should be preserved for posterity as it has been thus far. “The objective is to think about the future,” said Mo, as he jogged his memory from back in the days. Furthermore, the fest also aims to encourage and educate aspiring climbers on traditional climbing: a form of climbing that requires climbers to place gear to protect against falls, and remove it when a pitch is complete.

Mo leading Aries at the Prow.

Sadly, the fest also takes place at a time when the government of Haryana seeks to amend an age-old act,  the Punjab Land Preservation Act, 1900 (PLPA), that would put thousands of acres of land in the Aravalli range under threat. India’s Supreme Court, however, has reigned in and we will likely know the outcome in the days to come.

The know-how around trad climbing rests with a handful of members in the community. This also makes the Gritfest ideal for supporting a trad-exploration pivot in the country. Dhauj, also home to the oldest fold mountains in India, has been scoped out with lines that go over 100 feet. The guidebook compiled by Mohit Oberoi documents some fine world-class routes since the early stages of climbing in and around Delhi. With grades ranging between 5.4 to 5.12a, Dhauj has more than 270 promising routes.

The fest kicked off with Mo leading the first pitch on Aries, a 5.6 rating, 60 feet high face at the prow, while the community followed. Seeing Mo repeat some of the climbs he’s been doing for over 30 years was exhilarating to say the least. Amongst the fellow climbers, we also had some professional athletes, including Sandeep Maity, Bharat Bhusan, and Prerna Dangi. The fest also saw participation from the founders of Suru Fest and BoulderBox.

Kira rappelling down from the top of Hysteria with a stengun, 5.10a.

“Trad climbing can be a humbling experience”

While the Gritfest finally came to fruition, I wondered as to why it took so long for it to happen. One of the questions that I particularly had in mind was regarding the popularity of places such as Badami and Hampi over Dhauj. Although the style of climbing varies across all regions, the scope and thrill of climbing in Dhauj remains underestimated. For one reason, I knew that there is a serious dearth of trad climbing skills which makes it partly inaccessible. Whereas the red sandstone crags bolted with possibly the best sports routes in India make the approach to Badami relatively easier.

I reached out to Mo, and asked him to share his perspective on the fest as well as some of the questions I had in mind.

1) Tell us a little about your thoughts on theGritfest?

It’s a great way for climbers to get together and climb, form new partnerships, share information and also solidify the ethic part of climbing, especially in Dhauj, which is purely a trad climbing area.

2) What is it that the current community can learn from Gritfest?

The possibility of climbing in Dhauj is huge and there exists such an amazing playground right on their doorstep, also Dhauj is an amazing place to learn “trad climbing”.

3) Since it was the first installment, where do you see it heading in the future?

I think it will grow to a large number of climbers congregating here as long as we KEEP IT SIMPLE, and climb as much as possible. We should keep the learning workshops “How to climb” type of courses out of this. This should be one event where we just climb at whatever level we feel comfortable with.

4) Why is it that Dhauj isn’t nearly as popular as Badami or Hampi?

I’m not sure why, really. It’s possible that the grades are not “bragging” grades and climbers don’t feel comfortable starting to lead or climb on “trad” at a lower range of grades. “Trad” climbing can be a humbling experience as one has to work up from the lower grades upwards. It is both a mental and physical challenge unlike climbing on bolts. Despite the guidebook, there is a reluctance to going out to Dhauj which surprises me, that Delhi / NCR locals would rather have travelled more times to Badami / Hampi than take a short ride to their local crag.

Perhaps it is about bragging rights. Perhaps it’s about the lack of skills. Whatever the reason might be, Dhauj will continue to inspire generations to come and fests like Gritfest will serve to strengthen our community. Whether you are new to climbing or have been at it for years, there is always something to learn.

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Events

Aug 26, 2019

A Tipping Point for Freeride Mountain Biking

Freeride has remained conspicuously male-dominated. Now, a tenacious group of riders are part of a movement to change that, and they’re throwing down at some of mountain biking’s biggest events.

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WRITTEN BY

Alicia Leggett

This year we welcomed the inaugural Women’s Slopestyle Tour, which gave women opportunities to compete in dirt jump, freeride and slopestyle events throughout North America and allowed female riders to – for the first time – earn points in the Freeride Mountain Biking Association (FMBA) worldwide ranking system. As part of the tour, Crankworx Whistler, one of the most celebrated mountain biking festivals, included women’s categories in its ‘Speed and Style’ and ‘Best Trick’ competitions, which had previously been open to just men.

Why now? Lisa Mason, organizer of the Women’s Freeride Movement, which hosts riding clinics and competitions, said that women simply haven’t been ready for this level of competition until now. Mountain biking began as a male-dominated sport, which has kept many women from participating. Now, thanks to women’s riding clinics, group rides and competitions, the sport is becoming more inclusive.

“Every year there’s like a third more women out riding,” Mason said. “I think eventually we’ll get away from the ‘ladies only,’ and it’ll be an ‘everybody, let’s party’ kind of thing.”

I caught up with Mason at Crankworx, where she cheered for all the riders and took notes on their Speed and Style runs. The competition integrated elements from racing and slopestyle, with competitors riding a course of fast berms, rollers and two big trick jumps. They rode against the clock, but were also judged and given time deductions based on their tricks.

Chelsea Kimball throws a stylish one-footer over one of the Speed and Style trick jumps to claim 2nd place. Photo by Alicia Leggett

At events that have never before included women, competitors and event organizers alike face a learning curve. The Speed and Style jumps were so big that the women (and even some of the top men) struggled to clear them, making it next to impossible for them to show their best tricks.

Competitor Chelsea Kimball said she wishes the Speed and Style course design had been more realistic. Kimball can backflip her bike on the right jumps, but the difficult course meant that just making it down the hill smoothly became a priority.

“It was a bit harder than it looked,” Kimball said. “It was super fun, but you really had to rail the corners to make it what it should be.”

Kat Sweet, who runs the Sweetlines coaching organization and puts on one of the Women’s Slopestyle Tour events, echoed Kimball’s opinion of the course.

“Between the jumps being a little bit too gnarly and the headwind blowing on them, it didn’t showcase what they really can do,” Sweet said. “The sport has progressed so much, especially in jumping, and the women are really pushing. I would love to be able to showcase that better.”

Kat Sweet: Mountain biker, event organizer and mentor to the next generation of female riders. Photo by Alicia Leggett

Sweet acknowledges that women haven’t been involved in freeride for as long as men have, and can’t be expected to skip the development phase.

“Every year, things get a little bigger, and we haven’t quite caught up yet. If we built a course that would really show off what we’re doing, that would help us elevate both the kids and the ladies,” Sweet said. “That’s what I’m hoping for.”

But despite minor snags like the Crankworx course, 2019 can be considered a milestone year for female freeriders.

Women’s Slopestyle Tour competitors are universally enthusiastic about the increased opportunities for women to test themselves in competition.

“The slopestyle tour has been a blast,” said Kimball, who is ranked fifth in the FMBA rankings. “I never thought I’d be doing anything like this, but I’ve had a really good time with it meeting more women who are trying to do the same thing and just having a good time.”

Sweet’s organization, Sweetlines, ran the Sugar Showdown, which was the first event in the tour. The Sugar Showdown was first held in 2012, but its new partnership with the FMBA, the official international freeride governing body, allowed it to become something bigger than ever before.

“Having it be a FMBA bronze-level event really made people push a little bit harder, so it was really cool to be the first stop in that,” Sweet explained. “It was kind of an honor to be the first.”

As more women pursue freeride, the sport’s image is becoming more inclusive, making it accessible for even more women. And as perceptions of mountain biking shift, Mason, Sweet and Kimball agree that the bike industry needs to keep up with the evolution by investing in female riders.

Mason said that increased support from within the bike world would help grow the scene, which would change the sport’s image, which would involve more women, in turn attracting yet more support.

“It’s an upward spiral,” she said. “We need awareness. Awareness that women are doing these kinds of things and that it’s okay and easy, and not just a ‘guys only’ sport.”

Sweet said she’s excited to see what the next generation of female riders can accomplish. Recruiting and coaching young girls is an important part of what organizations like Sweetlines and the Women’s Freeride Movement do, in addition to giving them competition platforms, especially since women like Sweet and Mason can be the role models that many of us didn’t have when we were younger.

With all the enthusiasm for the Women’s Slopestyle Tour and its associated movement, it’s safe to say that the necessary changes are happening – maybe slowly, but inevitably. I, personally, hope for a future in which little girls receive the same encouragement to mountain bike as little boys do. That future seems to be coming, and it’s bright.

Cover photo: Casey Brown throws a stylish one-footer over one of the Speed and Style trick jumps to claim 2nd place. Photo by Cailin Carrier

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