Last week Brady Robinson of the Access Fund threw a suggestion my way: Come attend a seminar in New York called, “Educate For Access”. The concept for the conference is summarized below:
“As the popularity of climbing continues to increase and more climbers are frequenting outdoor climbing destinations, threats to climbing access, the environment, and visitor experience are on the rise. The onus is on all of us to limit climbing impacts and modify climber behaviors before they threaten access.
We believe that you can make a difference in this conversation, and we would like you to take part in our summit this fall. This two day Educate for Access: Strategies for Protecting Climbing Areas summit will bring together climbers and advocates who are on the front lines of climber interactions.”
In light of my actions in Tahoe and the range of responses from the climbing community, I have been eager to create something positive. One theme kept coming up over and over: why aren’t ambassadors and pro climbers more proactive stewards? I am not saying that all pros should speak extensively about climbing or developing responsibly, but there is really no conversation around this at all. I have many pro-climber/ ambassador friends and a good number are not well-versed in the basic concepts. Most climbers I know understand that you aren’t allowed to use a power-drill in Wilderness, don’t take a dump near water, and other tiny crag etiquette topics, but that’s as far as it goes. We all just want to go climbing and until recently, this has been my approach. Climbing, projects, and psyche. One of the things I have learned is there are reasons why we can go climbing in certain areas, and maintaining access requires conscious efforts by all users.
In some ways I am the wrong person to speak about this… I mean HELL, I thought I knew all the etiquette and general do’s and don’ts… but like most of my friends… I didn’t. Maybe this whole experience makes me the right person.
The timing of this conference couldn’t have been better.
Returning to a structured learning environment was a little unnerving. The last time I was in a classroom was my last week of college, and I would always squirm at the thought of sitting amongst people for hours on end. I bought a plane ticket at the last minute, rented a car, booked a hotel, and went.
Upstate New York showed fall at its peak. The leaves are still bright, and the cool fall air smelled like home. The conference was held right below the cliffs of the Gunks at the Mohonk Preserve. There were about 45 attendees and I was among them as a student, which felt good.
My first thought sitting in my seat was “What else could I possibly learn about the climbing world?” I figured I was educated in these regards and didn’t need to gain much additional knowledge. Sure, I have made my share of screw-ups and learned from them.
I grew up in New England and started climbing in Rumney and the crags around North Conway, NH. My friends and I were young and very excited climbers who would obsess over videos (VHS), magazines, and any outlets to the climbing world. We studied it, talked about it, we knew everything in terms of what was going on with the forefront of climbing. We communed in the gyms and made outing trips to the crags or boulders whenever we could. There were no elders or mentors delivering “the rules” to us. We simply winged it, and assumed we knew enough. Screw-ups for us were stealing projects, not pulling a rope when we were done climbing, bad camping antics, parking like bone-heads, and other things that resorted in a smacking upside the head or being yelled at. We screwed up along the way and learned from the climbers we respected.
With all of the gyms opening up in the USA and the growth of climbing, we are seeing a lot of new faces. The biggest concern is that these climbers lack knowledge of proper outdoor etiquette. The new breed is psyched, strong, inspired, exposed to media constantly, and statistically hailing from urban areas. Climbing is said to be the most accessible adventure sport. Some will never go climbing outside and some will. We can all agree that there is a huge difference in those experiences. Imagine yourself being educated in the climbing gym and then thrown onto El Cap for your first time climbing outside of the gym! This is a huge leap in experience and knowledge that is only gained by being guided, mentored, or educated as much as possible beforehand.
I couldn’t help but identify, as I am no different from these climbers. I came from the gym, have many of the same traits, but I have been at it for a while. That being said, I never received the proper education, and that only means there are thousands like me and their numbers are growing.
There is a conversation happening at this point and I am proof that it needs to happen more often.
How do we inform the gym climber who is heading to the crag for the first time of they need to know, proper crag etiquette, and ethics of climbing outside as opposed to indoors? There are very different rules and expectations in each venue, and this is the concern. The Educate for Access conference focused on these topics from various viewpoints. Over two 8-hour days of intense learning and presentations, I gained some very important insight. Ten different presenters delivered talks on relevant subjects:
Jeff Poruncik of the Salt Lake Climber’s Alliance, “Why Climber Education”
Pete Ward of the Unified Bouldering Championships, “Climbing Audience”
Nate Furman and Cameron Pall from the Association Of Outdoor Recreation and Education and Green Mountain College, “Modes Of Education”
Kevin Tatsugawa of Westfield State University, “Behavior Modifications”
Jane McFarland from Hueco Tanks, “History and the Current State”
Tim Keenan from the Gunks Climbers Coalition presented his latest video in the works in regards to “Gym To Crag”
Leave No Trace representatives. “Reaching Our Younger Climbers”
Pete Guyre, Professional Climbing Guides Institute, “The Indoor to Outdoor Transition”
Thomas Ling from Caldwell College and Penny Riordan from Mid Atlantic Climbers as well as Josh Levin, “Reaching Our Young Climbers”
Linda Williamson and Ty Tyler from the Access Fund, “Education Priorities and Message Articulation”
One thing I took from this is that climbing is in a mode of growth. The gym remains a common connection and acts as a valuable resource for friendship, motivation, communication, etc. I have learned so much in the past week about climbers, the use of internet, social media, gyms, logistics, our duty as climbers, access, land managers, today’s youth, the future of climbing, the concern for where it’s all going, even myself, and how we all need to seek better understanding of the issues facing climbing and access. These are different times, folks, and there are great aspects of it (more people are enjoying it, businesses are growing, it’s a healthy outlet, etc.) but the benefits don’t come without addressing the concerns.
How do we do it? Well that is the question… it will depend on each venue, crag, area, state, person, ethics, and everything in-between.
This conference was an important first step for me to organize the million ideas flying around in my head.
A few interesting statistics/facts are as follows (these are just a few as I have a book filled with notes, no order of importance):
- In the USA alone 4,300 new waivers are filled out daily in gyms.
- Climbing is the most accessible “adventure sport”.
- Norm-Activation Theory – is Social norms (standards for behavior) dictate how we should behave and this is one way to manage each other in terms of ethics and etiquette.
- Basic rules are as follows: Avoid trespassing, carpool for parking economy, dispose of waste properly, stay on trails, follow anchor ethics, camp in designated spots, respect leash laws, pack it in and pack it out, respect wild life, be considerate of others, leave what you find, plan ahead, and honestly the list can go on and get even more specific.
- Problems with land managers result in managers regulating levels of impact, which then results in limiting climbing access, which results in closures.
- 10,000 gyms are in the USA today and is growing.
- Wall builders are taking no more jobs due to the demand of new gyms.
- By 2030 90% of climbers will be from cities and urbanized areas.
As a starting point, I would like to address the younger climbers or the folks that may not have much outdoor climbing experience.
- Don’t be shy to ask questions and seek out a person with the proper information.
- Ask them anything no matter how goofy it may sound. It’s a different game outside, and yet I urge you to get out there because that’s what climbing is really all about.
- GET training. Hire a guide. Talk to the owner of your local gym about getting outside.
- Understand that planning ahead of time is critical in order to keep yourself safe, logistically on track, and be sure to be respectful and considerate of access and other people.
I am eager to grow and mature from my past with the positivity I have always brought to the climbing world. Thanks for reading everyone and thank you for all of your support.