Climbing Etiquette and Education

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Dr. Kevin Tatsugawa, a Brooks-Range ambassador, attended the Access Fund Education Summit in November. This is his report on his experience.

All climbers have a story of their first climbing experience. Back in the day, it revolved around a more experienced friend literally “showing one the ropes.” Climbing used to be an activity that was typically reserved for the outcasts – the counter-culture hippies and dirtbags of the outdoor world – at least that was my experience.

I still remember the first time I went climbing. Having recently learned basic knots and how to belay, I began climbing with friends who were more experienced than me. They taught me about placing protection, setting up anchors, and how to lead climb. Until one day, my training was over and I found myself guiding and instructing other people about climbing and climbing etiquette.

Today, with the advent of indoor climbing gyms, climbing is quickly becoming a popular activity with urban youth. Today’s best climbers no longer seem to be mountain men or mountain women, rather gym rats who spend more time pulling plastic than they do rock.

Today’s beginning climbers no longer learn about rock climbing from a mentor, rather they have a coach or instructor who teaches them the basics of climbing in the gym environment. They progress through the grades and pull down harder than most people ever thought possible a decade or two ago. But gym-climbing protocols does not always directly translate to climbing in the outdoors, especially in terms of social etiquette and environmental issues.

Back in the day, there were so few of us that environmental issues were hardly, if ever, addressed. The number of developed crags and boulder was nowhere near the number today. It would take time and energy to access the obscure canyons and walls, which meant that the general public was minimally affected by the environmental impact. Even on the crags or boulders that were more accessible, there were fewer climbers.

However, with our numbers swelling nowadays, we need to be more vigilant about our environmental impact. In our hyper-connected society, one person’s indiscretions can have a long-lasting impact on other climbers, a local crag, or even governmental policies on public lands.

What is the solution to this burgeoning problem? Is anyone doing anything to address these issues? The answer is yes. There are organizations such as the Access Fund and the American Alpine Club that have organized themselves to deal with these issues.

The Access Fund hosted an Education Summit last November to discuss a plan to educate neophyte climbers who are transitioning to the outdoors. Climbing industry representatives, land managers, educators, researchers, volunteers from local climbing organizations, and Access Fund staff presented and exchanged ideas. We talked about the evolving climbing population, the importance of climber education, ways to modify behavior, potential collaborative partners, and how to reach our young climbers.

Climbing is a fun activity and no one wants to take that away. We, as a community, just need to take care of our limited and very valuable resource – the crags and boulders. Most of the major issues identified at the Education Summit are remedied by slightly altering our behavior at a crag. They include:

-Stay on the trail when accessing boulder and crags
-Be mindful of other climbers, land managers and the public
-Pick up your trash
-Keep dogs on a leash, or better yet leave them at home when climbing
-Avoid crushing vegetation with crash pads and when spotting others
-Remove tick marks from the rocks when leaving a boulder or crag
-Be mindful of how our noise affects others

What else would you add?

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