Owner of the Rock Lounge, Marcus Garcia, left, helps climbing team member, Nathan Parker, 13, with a move in the gym last week. Garcia, a pro climber, helped land the UIAA Youth Mixed Climbing Comp for Durango – the first time such an event has been held anywhere in the country./Photo by Jennaye Derge

Mixing it up

Rock Lounge, city hosts UIAA mixed-climbing comp Dec. 30-31

by Stacy Falk

Georgia Witchel, 13, a student at Mountain Middle School, dreams of owning her own pair of ice axes some day. She’s been training with ice tools at the local rock gym up to three hours a day with the youth climbing club, a group that encourages members to also climb outdoors and attend friendly competitions.

Witchel says she is super excited to compete in the upcoming International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation (UIAA) Youth Mixed Climbing Competition in Buckley Park on Dec. 30-31.  “It seems that there’s not that many kids out there yet who are mixed climbing,” she says. “I guess all the child prodigies haven’t been discovered it yet,” she jokes. 


What: UIAA Youth Mixed Climbing Competition
When: Tues. - Wed., Dec. 30-31, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Where: Buckley Park, Durango
Registrationwww.rockloungedurango.com/uiaa or register the morning of the event at the park.
Equipment is available to those who do not have all the required gear, including ice axes and dry ice tools for those under age 13.

Jessica Wheeler, Witchel’s mother, says she does not climb but supports her daughter’s new favorite pastime as much as possible, even taking her to a popular climbing destination in Nevada for a recent birthday. “As for ice climbing, she wanted to start the sport after a family trip to the Ouray Ice Festival,” she says. “Now she’s getting the opportunity to compete; it’s pretty awesome.”

Mixed climbing –  a combination of rock and ice – is gaining popularity in the United States and throughout the world. With similar events in Europe, and a mixed-climbing demo at last February’s Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, it is being considered for inclusion as a new Olympic sport. And with intentions of making this an annual event for Durango, the competition – which is the first of its kind held in  the United States – will help put Durango on the international map.

Organizer Marcus Garcia, pro climber and co-owner of the Durango Rock Lounge, says he is expecting the world’s best young climbers from as far away as France and South Africa as well as ones closer to home, including Vail, Colorado Springs and Canada.

“The UIAA is an international group that is very Olympic driven, and they are paving the way for future athletes in this sport,” says Marcus. “As for the event, there’s nothing else like this going on right now in the U.S.”

According to the UIAA, the competition will be similar to the UIAA Ice Climbing World Cup Tour, the bi-annual UIAA World Championships and the World Youth Championships, an event for talented young climbers to test their skills on an international level. In addition, the event is supported by the Association of Recognized International Sports Federations (ARISF) – a nonprofit organization constituted through the International Olympic Committee.  

Divisions will be determined by age group: 15 and under; 16-18; and 19-21 years. A representative from the UIAA will be setting the course on the man-made wall and the judges, to be determined, will score athletes on climbing moves and ice axe placement during the lead category. There will also be a speed climbing category.

This event would probably not be taking place had it not been for the efforts of the Garcia family,  according to climbing club coach Adam Markert. And the Garcias would not be in Durango had it not been for climbing. 

Marcus’ wife of 14 years, Tambri, never imagined herself settling down with a tour guide she met while vacationing in Durango in 2001. She met Marcus, who was taking a break from his regular routine of guiding rock climbers, when he led a wildflower hike up Engineer Mountain.

In 2002, the two, who coincidentally were both from Texas, married. They moved to Durango the same year and had their daughter, Kaitlyn, in 2003.

Today, the Garcias are the proud owners of the Rock Lounge, an indoor rock climbing gym they purchased last February from Keeton Disser, wife of Nate Disser, owner of San Juan Mountain Guides.

“I really enjoy working with all of the local schools and love working with the kids that come here on a regular basis,” says Tambri, business manager for the lounge.

And as if running the lounge, raising a family, owning a construction business and, for Marcus, traveling around the world to compete in the pro climbing circuit, isn’t enough, the Garcias were presented with the opportunity to host the event only three months ago. The offer came though one of Marcus’ climber friends and UIAA Board Member Marc Beverly. “We got to work immediately,” says Marcus.

Now,  with all of the city permits and insurance in place, it’s time to start constructing the wall. Rock Lounge employees and volunteers will help Marcus create the 16-foot-wide-by-32-foot tall structure. Marcus says because daytime  temperatures likely will be too warm, the wall will contain artificial ice composed on composite plastic and foam. This is common for mixed-climbing comps where there is no ability to have ice.

Until the event kicks off, Marcus can be found in the lounge, coaching local athletes of all ages with a passion for climbing, many of whom will be competing in the event. With a focus on mixed climbing – a combination of rock and ice climbing – Marcus teaches his students proper techniques for using axes on various types of holds in preparation for the competition.

“The kids are in a safe, controlled environment to practice what can be a dangerous sport,” says Marcus. “We are very blessed to have the Rock Lounge.”

Nainoa Umbhau,14, a student at Miller Middle School, got a taste for competition at a recent American Bouldering Series event he attended with the club. After that experience, he says, he’s more excited than ever to represent Durango in two weeks. “This adrenaline rush sport gets people really excited,” says Umbhau.  “I can’t wait to feel the big international aspect.”

Another Miller Middle student, Nathan Parker, 13, is also amped to compete. “I would like get top 3 in my division or at least see some personal improvement,” he says. Parker, who only joined the club a couple months ago, says that climbing is unlike any other sport he’s participated in.

“The free feeling that you can really do whatever you want is so neat,” he says. “ It’s just you and the wall; it’s really unique.”

Plus, Parker adds, the sport offers many skills that apply beyond athleticism, like discipline and perseverance. “I want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro some day,” he says.

Coach Markert says that the Durango youth climbing community is certainly a force to be reckoned with. “He’s a freakin’ beast,” says Markert of Umbhua’s skills when you get him on the wall.

 “It’s important to me as a coach to improve their skills with proper training while also getting them outside, as well as keeping them from getting stressed out,” he says. “I  am impressively proud of the kids.”

Some club climbers have had the opportunity to dig their axes into real ice this winter, but due to early-season conditions and knowing that the comp will not contain actual ice, coaches agree that practicing on artificial rock and ice is the best option.

Markert, who also coached Vail’s youth climbing club for eight years, says the fact this comp is being held in Durango is huge. “It’s a big deal,” he says.

The city has been on board supporting the event 100 percent, says Marcus, who is also planning a summer climbing comp. “And as this event grows, it will continue to open doors for our youth and the City of Durango,” he says.

Tim Walsworth, director of the Durango Business Improvement District (BID), agrees. He says because of the potential for this event to attract many visitors, both in the summer and winter, he decided to front the event with $650 to help offset costs of construction and marketing. “Marcus and Tambri are very passionate about this event and there’s a good chance it will be very successful, so that’s why we are giving it a shot,” he says.

The BID offers numerous grants to events in Durango but, according to Walsworth, it doesn’t typically give funding to new events until after there’s proof of economic impact.

“Determining economic impact is never a perfect science, but we can get a close measure based on counts of attendees and any increase in spending at local hotels, restaurants and shops,” says Walsworth.

Walsworth says he loved the Garcias’ suggestion to host the event in Buckley Park, not just for the location, but because the park doesn’t get much use in the winter. The proximity of the park to downtown will stir even more interest from passers by, locals and tourists alike, he says.


For more info, go to www.rockloungedurango.com or call 970-259-7625 Mountaineering, 835 Main Ave., or Bank of the San Juans.

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