OGDEN -- Layla Tanner eased nimble fingers into barely visible cracks and crevices in a multi-ton boulder. The Ogden resident lifted her full weight with her fingertips, then raised her left foot to feel for a subtle foot-hold in the stone.
After a few false starts, she lifted her body atop The Tooth, as the giant rock in the Ogden Boulder Field is known. Standing victorious, Layla surveyed all of the Ogden metro area below, and the western horizon far beyond.
"Climbing makes me feel powerful," said Layla, only 15. "It's not like any other sport. Anyone can play soccer. Rock climbing is solving problems on your own, without help from any teammates. Making it to the top makes me feel strong."
Several hundred climbers and spectators braved threatening weather on Saturday to take part in the Red Point Boulder Competition, a highlight of the five-day Ogden Climbing Festival. Those competing climbed multiple chalk-marked paths up named boulders, which also included names like Hidden Rock, Lobster, Mini Cave, Arrowhead and G-2.
The festival, now in its sixth year, is run by Weber State University's Outdoor Program.
"Every year, it gets bigger," said Daniel Turner, event organizer. "We started with about 200 people participating in 2007, and I think we will have more than 1,000 before the festival is over."
The festival wraps up today, with volunteer clean up of the Ogden Boulder Field, and maintenance of the path that leads up the steep hill, at the top of Lake Street, near St. Joseph Catholic High School. The event has included talks by multiple experts, training clinics and a barbecue sponsored by Red Bull.
"We started the festival as a way to build a community and to educate people about climbing," Turner said. "The festival is a great way to get together with like-minded people, enjoy time on the mountain and celebrate climbing."
The Weber State Outdoor Program also sponsors climbing workshops and events throughout the year. For information, visit www.weber.edu/outdoor.
Skyler Marsden, of North Ogden, was competing in the boulder climb for his second year.
"It's great to come out here, have fun and get your adrenaline going," said Marsden, 26, after easily completing a subtle route up a Lobster boulder overhang. "Climbing is great for building your agility and your core, and a lot of it is mental, too. You are focused. You can't be thinking about anything else."
Climbing outdoors, in nature, is much different from climbing indoors, on a wall furnished with brightly colored plastic hand holds.
"You have to find the hand holds here," he said. "Training outside is harder. Your skin has to get used to it."
Kaycee Twitchell, of Washington Terrace, is fairly new to climbing and was there to watch her boyfriend compete.
"I like to climb indoors," Twitchell said. "I am terrified of heights, and climbing is helping me overcome it. It's good to face your fears.
"I am terrified of birds, and I clean their cages at work," Twitchell added, laughing. "I was scared of river rafting, so I did it. Climbing is really exhilarating, and a great way to build confidence and get past fears."
Event judges stood by each boulder to make sure competitors reached the balloons affixed to the top of each. Climbers coached friends and strangers up the rock face, suggesting they reach feet just a little higher or to the right to find shallow dips in the quartzite boulders. Climbers awaiting their turns also shifted safety pads, to keep them directly beneath those ascending and descending the boulders.
Layla set her sights on another route up The Tooth.
"People should try this," she said. "It's challenging, and it builds confidence. And if I weren't here, I'd probably just be watching TV or sleeping."
Layla's mom, Tawnee Jex, of Ogden, sat nearby.
"I don't like to watch from too close, or I get scared for Layla," Jex said. "She's found something she loves, and it's fun for the family to get out. I'm not sure I would want her to climb Mt. Everest, after we heard a speaker who came back half dead. But today is a lot of fun, and it's a great kickoff for us for the summer hiking and camping season."