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|Twice a year it's beans and bonding at the Dragoons|
|Written by Clayton R. Norman|
|Saturday, 16 April 2011 19:44|
"It's trouble if you're caught wiping," the Beanmaster warned me. "You could end up with a lot more beans in places you don't want beans."
It was with that warning ringing in my ears that I set off to Cochise Stronghold, in the Dragoon Mountains, on Saturday afternoon for my first Beanfest—a semi-annuall gathering of Arizona rock climbers to celebrate, among other things, climbing, beans, pull-ups and booze.
The first pebbles of sleet began plinking off my windshield when I pulled into the campground on the west side of the Dragoons at a group of rock formations called The Isle of Ewe. Fat clouds pregnant with cold rain silently obscured the pink towers above.
In the campground, a kind of high-tech squatter's town had sprung up in between copses of oak. Tarps stretched over folding tables crowded with camp stoves and condiments. A white van sporting enormous speakers on its roof rocked itself a little to the reggae beats playing.
The Beanmaster, a lanky red-haired young man from Tucson named Logan Lichtenhan, flitted around in the rain greeting climbers and selling T-shirts. I'd met up with him at a Tucson coffee shop earlier in the week to talk climbing and beans. That was when he warned me about wiping."The lard ones probably stick to people's heads better," Lichtenhan told me. "Usually a pound of beans is enough to get everybody."
These are the conversations you have when you are Beanmaster.
Sleet and cold didn't dampen the mood on Saturday. In fact, there was, if anything, a certain grim satisfaction to be among those dedicated enough to be there at all. Beanfest, it turns out, was beget by lousy weather.
Climbers from across the state and beyond rolled into the campground as the day grew dark. A keg of Nimbus IPA buoyed spirits and talk flew—tales of climbing and of wild times in the Stronghold, as climbers call it. Anticipation started growing as night fell and lines formed out of the makeshift chow tent to snag taco-makings.
The climbers all seemed to know the general components of the Beanfest creation myth—old-school,legendary Tucson climbers from the '70s trapped in camp by rain one day cooked up a pot of beans and broke out a bottle of tequila. It was a simple enough equation. The camping, the beans, the camaraderie and the tequila became a tradition.
"Beaning"—the act of being consecrated with a pile of beans on your noggin —came along soon after. But many at this gathering downplayed the metaphysical aspects of Beanfest.
Tony Bartoletti, 26, came down from his home near the Superstition Mountains for Spring Beanfest 2011.
"I just came down to climb," Bartoletti said. "I just like being around people who feel the same way I do about this place."
Last year when he attended, Bartoletti missed the beanings because he was out in the Stronghold trying to get back from a climb he'd attempted. He wouldn't miss it this time.
"A beaning here would be a sign of equality," he said. "And appreciation for the culture we (climbers) exist in."
"It's a tribal thing," he told me. "A unity thing — you're a part of this community if you're willing to get a little messy."
And it did get messy.
The rain continued into the night forcing most of the 70 or 80 attendees to huddle close around a roaring bonfire in the middle of the campground. In our interview, Lichtenhan told me he hoped Beanfest would be a venue where the "unifying power of food and alcohol" could bring together climbers of different stripes.
Cold and moisture are powerful unifiers, too, it seems as the crowd only moved away from the flames long enough to cheer on their buddies in a pull-up competition. (The winner did 24 consecutive pull-ups.)
When the beanings started, things got really weird. Lichtenhan, clutching, in his outstretched hands a can of refried pinto beans and a jug of Jose Cuervo Gold, stepped in the fire's glow with a mad gleam in his eye. The Beanmaster chooses his own successor and by tradition that person is the first to receive the
Using his thumb to scoop out a fat gob of pinto and lard he painted it, to cheers from the peanut gallery, across the Beanmaster-in-waiting's brow. Then, he handed over the tequila.
The Beanmaster made his way around the fire, anointing the tribe. I stood and let him bless me with legumes. I also took a hefty snort of his Cuervo. Around me, people grinned as beans dripped down their faces. It was a weird act of transubstantiation, I thought, something that had wrought unseen changes in the pitch and power of the party.
A kind of headiness spread through the crowd — the warmth of the fire seemed to reach wider. The bite of the tequila seemed a bit smoother.
Ryan James, a 26-year-old middle school teacher from Tempe, and
"It's all about the camaraderie when we're tied into the rock," James said.
Camaraderie and trust are important in rock climbing where partners may quite literally hold one another's lives in their hands.
"I came out here to experience Beanfest for the first time," said James who had stopped in to saunter around Tombstone earlier in the day. "And to embrace the Wild West culture in Tombstone, and to find the allure of this landscape. ... To get beaned — that's one of the events that's embedded in the fabric of Arizona climbing culture."
The rain continued beyond the beanings. Lichtenhan organized a series of games that seemed cruelly designed to test the participants' manual and mental dexterity.
At one point, a line of climbers wearing harnesses with large metal cams dangling between their legs tried to use their hardware to move cans of beans (of course) down a field without using their hands. The resulting spectacle was lewd and hilarious.
The party rolled on even as the rain abated and the beans dried to crust on foreheads.
By the time I woke the next morning, the sun had scoured the sky of moisture. Groups of climbers, new friends and new partners, ambled off on trails between oak copses. Some headed deep into the Stronghold heaped with ropes and climbing implements. Others took a leisurely spin on the morning, munching on eggs from the chow-tent and sipping coffee as they broke camp.
I wandered off with my camera—the night's fun had kindled in me a desire for solitude –and found some boulders to climb. From up in the Stronghold the voices of other climbers echoed down to me. I climbed up a perfectly vertical face of gritty pink granite. The holds I used looked like the ossified scales of a prehistoric reptile.
In Tucson, Lichtenhan told me his vision for this Beanfest was that it would be an opportunity for everyone in the Arizona climbing community to come together and enjoy the Stronghold. The divisions — over the style or ethics of climbing, for example – that can divide even a tight-knit group like climbers shouldn't matter here, he said. There's something else that
"It has a vibe," Lichtenhan said. "It's a magical place."