The first annual Skaha Climbers Festival kicked off in the bluffs in Penticton on Saturday, with hundreds of new and experienced climbers coming to traverse the rocky landscapes.
The weekend features climbing clinics, a climbing competition, a scavenger hunt, a vendor village, a silent auction and a film night at the Penticton Lakeside Resort.
“It's also to celebrate the 25 year anniversary of the formation of the Canadian Climbers Access Society of British Columbia, and also the 12 year anniversary of the creation of this park,” Festival Organizer Rolf Rybak said.
“This is a real hub for climbers, climbers come from all over the world here. So they want to be a part of this and they want to celebrate this festival. This is the first year which we hope will be a bi-annual festival.”
Ryback estimates theres over 600 people who have come out this weekend to take part in the festival.
All funds raised at the festival will be going towards the Skaha Park Watch ambassador’s program, which keeps an eye on vehicles when people come to climb.
"The watch association was founded six years ago, because of the rampant property crime up here in vehicles. It was unsafe to leave even your backpack in your car. And then it was so bad that after they stole everything out of your vehicle, they are popping the hood and actually stealing your battery.”
The nonprofit teamed up with the Penticton & Area Cooperative Enterprise, which helps persons diagnosed with a mental illness and referred by mental health service providers find jobs.
“So we hired them as monitors in the park, their job is to observe and report, nothing else. We're not policing up here. But the great thing is we've created thousands of hours of work for people with barriers,” Rybak said.
This weekend also showcases the growing interest in climbing and its success as a sport.
“Climbers are no longer what people consider sort of outliers of the community. These are the mainstream people in the community.”
The society did an economic study back in 2018, based on a 2003 economic study which the City of Penticton did. The findings showed that the park draws $6 million of direct economic input into the community and $6 million indirect economic input.
“That was based on 2018, when there were about 60,000 visitors. Now we're seeing probably over 80,000 visitors per annum,” Rybak added.
Lyndie Hill, owner of Hoodoo Adventure Company, shared that rock climbing courses have been the most requested that they've had this year.
“We're actually struggling to find enough guides to sort of keep up with the demand,” she said.
“It's great to see more people using the bluffs when they're here.”’
Hoodoo has been shuttling people this weekend since the amount of visitors has filled the parking lots and people are being brought in from Skaha Beach.
“I think it's amazing. I mean, it's really important that people understand what an asset the Skaha Bluffs are, and how important it is for the community,” Hill added.
“it's a world renowned climbing area. And I think a lot of times people don't realize that and that we have that on the back door. So it's really great exposure for you know, far and wide, but also for our own community to know more about it.”
For more information on the Skaha Climbers Festival, visit their website here.