Man of the Cliff celebrates 10 years Oct. 13-14, here’s a look back at the event’s beginning in 2009 | VailDaily.com

Man of the Cliff celebrates 10 years Oct. 13-14, here’s a look back at the event’s beginning in 2009

The Man of the Cliff event, returning for its 10th year Oct. 13-14, is a direct product of thoughts becoming words, words becoming actions, actions becoming habits and habits becoming character. And character is everything with Man of the Cliff, which is a homegrown, grassroots event donating proceeds to First Descents.

"Over many beers and many crazy ideas, we got a group of us together and were chatting at Mango's," said Adam Williams, referring to his now wife Amanda and friends Chad and Kelli Holtz. "We'd chatted occasionally about bringing people in and having a party in our backyard in Red Cliff and doing some Red Cliff-type activities."

The idea was to help the community of Red Cliff by bringing people to town — all to raise money for First Descents, a group Amanda Williams grew especially fond of after volunteering and hearing first-hand stories at the nonprofit's First Descent's Ball.

"What sounds manly? What sounds cool? What would you like to try but never have been able to do? There were a lot of good ideas and a lot of questionable ones," Adam Williams said of the many conversations around bonfires and bars.

Where do you buy a throwing ax?

Man of the Cliff, in a way, came about thanks to a cancellation of Marcy Playground, known for "Sex and Candy" and set to perform at Mango's in Red Cliff.

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Five weeks before the first Man of the Cliff in 2009, the group of friends were "up closing down the roof deck at Mango's" when the bar owner let them know about the cancellation of Marcy Playground and an opening five weeks out for this event they had been talking about.

They committed to it that night.

"We probably weren't making the best decisions," Adam Williams said. "I don't even know where you buy a throwing ax. We didn't have any archery supplies and we had no money to put into it. … What did we just do?"

'How can you get away with this?'

"Chad and Kelli were the two other keys in really getting it going," Adam Williams said. "He was a creative genius and helped guide the soul of the event. They were instrumental for sure."

On a "shoestring budget" and "scrambling" to put together the first Man of the Cliff, they bought a lot of the equipment that first year used off Craigslist.

You can imagine the Craigslist crowd that is selling the stuff used at Man of the Cliff — sledgehammers, bows and arrows, axes.

The Saturday morning in 2009, they borrowed the rest of the equipment they would need as people slowly trickled in to try their hand at Man of the Cliff. The first year was about even, but the organizers saw the potential of the event.

"How can you get away with this," Adam Williams said he heard the first couple of years.

'Adult summer camp'

With spears flying, wood chopping and arrows in the air, the organizers knew that safety would be crucial to the survival of this event.

"You can imagine the calls with the insurance companies," Adam Williams said.

Throwing axes, shooting arrows, chopping woods, tossing kegs and things such as that by non-professionals with alcohol involved is a tough sell to an insurance company, Adam Williams said.

With a legal team, they found they could actually pull this off.

"What really makes it work is people are cool with it," Adam Williams said. "People get it that this isn't some crazy competition of you have to go all out and win. You've got competitors who are neck and neck to win an event, and they're standing right there cheering them on. People get it. This is about having fun and being safe, and every penny raised goes to First Descents."

By Year 3 of Man of the Cliff, they realized they had created "adult summer camp."

All for First Descents

In its first nine years, Man of the Cliff has raised more than $100,000 for First Descents.

All funds raised stay local and go toward First Descents Colorado-based programs for young adult cancer survivors. First Descents started in Vail and is now headquartered in Denver. The organization provides life-changing outdoor adventures for young adults impacted by cancer. Targeted at ages 18-39, First Descents offers backcountry hut trips at 10th Mountain Division huts, rock climbing in Estes Park, whitewater kayaking on the Colorado River and more.

In a 2016 study, 100 percent of participants in First Descents reported an increased ability to cope with cancer and its effects.

Man of the Cliff has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for First Descents, and other Colorado events supporting the organization include the Leadville 100, First Descents Ball and hundreds of alumni-led fundraisers.

"Colorado's our home," said Ray Shedd, director of advancement at First Descents. "While we've grown to run programs across the country and internationally, Colorado stands for adventure, health care, being innovative and it's also home to some of the best adventure opportunities in the United States."

Shedd and other members of the First Descents team will be at Man of the Cliff.

"We're looking forward to sharpening our axes and getting in there as well," Shedd said.

'Average' competitors, open to all

Man of the Cliff is a friendly competition, drawing competitors from all walks of life. There's lawyers from Denver, local brewers and other amateurs trying their hand at lumberjack and jill events.

Brian Cerkvenik has attended Man of the Cliff since Year 1, where he came in second place. He's a specialist at the speed chopping event.

"I just grew up in Minnesota chopping a lot of wood," he said.

Flannels and beards are a tradition of Man of the Cliff, and Cerkvenik remembers proposing to his wife during Man of the Cliff, scraggly beard and all.

"Everybody's just so nice," said Colleen, Brian's wife. "Everybody's there having a beer, wearing flannel and throwing an ax. And you're either decent at it or your not, but nobody cares."

Listen for Colleen Cerkvenik during the national anthem, where she feels more pressure than competing.

"The competitors are just as average as everybody else," Brian Cerkvenik said. "There's a handful of us who take it moderately seriously, but nobody takes it really seriously. Everybody's cheering for everybody else.

Signups fill up fast for Man of the Cliff, so everyone encourages first-timers to sign up anyways, despite any hesitations. Organizers say it may look intimidated on paper, but at Man of the Cliff, it all looks fun and manageable. Competitions are adjusted for people of all sizes.

And while the event has moved from Red Cliff to Avon, the mission of Man of the Cliff has remained the same.

"We miss the Red Cliff days," Brian Cerkvenik said, "in that it was the quaintness of Red Cliff and the craziness of Red Cliff, but this is a charity event and we're trying to raise money for First Descents. It just got too big for its britches in Red Cliff."

Its location in Avon has allowed for more business to walkable restaurants and hotels. And new this year, a concert will be added to the Man of the Cliff schedule.

"Adam and Amanda Williams founded this event and they're still so heavily engaged," Shedd said. "The beautiful element of this event is it's totally grassroots and homegrown and it's persisted for a decade and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. It exists to rally community support for these survivors."

What's next for Man of the Cliff? Well, it's up to the group of friends who started it back in 2009. There are talks about possibly activating the lake for log rolling, canoe racing or some other Man of the Cliff worthy competition.

"We're always open to ideas," Adam Williams said. "I think that's the key to any number of problems — they can all be solved over a few pitchers on the Mango's roof deck."

Assistant editor Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2984 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.

Man of the Cliff events

Axe throw

Keg toss

Spear throw

Caber toss

Hammer toss

Archery

Speed chop

Tug of war

Registration for Man of the Cliff is $85 with 100 percent of proceeds going to First Descents. There is also an opportunity for team registration. Register online at http://www.manofthecliff.com. Registration is $100 at the event and often fills up. So if you’re considering trying your hand at Man of the Cliff, be sure to sign up in advance to secure a spot.

About First Descents

First Descents provides life-changing outdoor adventures for young adults (ages 18-39) impacted by cancer. The nonprofit started in Vail and has grown to offer experiences across Colorado, the U.S. and the globe. Activities include kayaking, rock climbing and more. First Descents benefits from Man of the Cliff, the Leadville 100 and its First Descents Ball, in addition to hundreds of alumni-led fundraisers. For more information about First Descents, to sign up for a program or become a volunteer, visit http://www.firstdescents.org.

If you go …

What: 10th annual Man of the Cliff.

Where: Nottingham Park, Avon.

When: Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 13-14.

Cost: $85 registration in advance online, $100 at the event. There is a $10 suggested donation for spectators.

More information: All proceeds benefit First Descents programs in Colorado. On Saturday, Oct. 13, live music kicks off at the stage in Nottingham Park at 5 p.m.