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Hanging on for dear fun

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Cristina Osorio of Las Vegas (photos by Heidi Kyser)

One sport featured a competition this weekend that didn’t involve betting, scandal and bitter rivalry: bouldering. More than 100 people gathered at Las Vegas’ Refuge Climbing & Fitness gym on Saturday, Jan. 31, to cheer each other on in a good-natured competition called The Boulder Blast.

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The hip young sibling of the rock-climbing family (move over, sport climbing), bouldering has a low barrier of entry. One needs only a chalk bag, special shoes and a lot of enthusiasm to try this ropeless sport. It involves scrambling up a wall — which is dotted with hard rubber holds arranged in routes of varying difficulty called “problems” — until you fall onto a thick, spongy mat covering the floor below.

Bouldering’s been around for a while, but it’s really picked up steam in the last four or five years, said Jeff Clapp. Last year, he and wife Beth Clapp bought a condo in Las Vegas and opened the Refuge after spending several months looking for a place where they could both live and rock-climb. They closed their Rockreation gym in Salt Lake City and sold its two locations in California to focus on the Vegas operation. The Refuge, which opened in October, is the first new rock-climbing gym to come to the Las Vegas area in two decades, and its first bouldering-only facility.

Last weekend’s Boulder Blast was the Refuge’s first community competition. It drew participants from Arizona, California and Utah, as well as Southern Nevada. Refuge manager Cody Hidler says the highlight of the day was the finals, when top competitors tackled increasingly difficult problems until only one male and one female were left standing (or, hanging on). The winners were, in the female category, Alex Johnson, a well-known climber sponsored by North Face who recently relocated to Las Vegas, and, in the male category, Cody Abernathy, who works at a climbing gym in Phoenix.

The most remarkable aspect of the event to an outsider may have been the way competitors cheered each other on. “It’s typical for a bouldering competition to be really supportive,” Hidler says, “especially a local competition. Everybody is just having a good time climbing together, rooting for people who might have been only doing it for a few months.”

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Kai Whaley, age 8, of Las Vegas

Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.