In case you weren’t able to make it to our April 2020 Beyond “Gym to Crag” Webinar or would like to share it with others (or watch it again yourself!), the full video is embedded above.
A PDF version of the presentation slides is available here.
Thank you to all who attended.
Kim: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Bay Area Climbers Coalition’s webinar: Beyond Gym to Crag. Thank you so much for joining us today. We’re going to get started in a minute, but I just want to say thanks for coming out. We’ll be sharing stories about access and the ways that our climbing community can get involved.
We are your hosts, Kim Harrison and Grace O’Toole. Grace, can you introduce yourself?
Grace: Hi everyone. My name is Grace, pronouns: she/her. Thank you everyone for coming out tonight and joining us. Normally we run these in person, but due to the current state of things, we’re going to be virtual for the foreseeable future.
So thanks all for coming out. A little bit of background about me: I’ve been climbing for a little over two years now and outdoors for just over one, and I’m the Community Director of the Bay Area Climbers Coalition.
Kim: Great. And my name is Kim Harrison, and I’ve been climbing for about three years. I started climbing outside almost immediately. I fell in love with it.
I go by she/her pronouns, and I am a Community Ambassador. Great. All right. So, we’re going to be talking about access. What is that? Don’t we just walk up to some rock and climb on it? Well, it might seem like magic: Maybe you didn’t ask for permission to climb or to install gear or clean a route or build a trail, but somebody did, and in some places there might’ve been a prolonged, complicated negotiation to get permission to do all those things. And that permission is not guaranteed, which means that all of us need to make the best decisions we can about how we access our climbing areas. And that’s what we’re here to do today.
So I just want to set the tone that this webinar will not be sufficient to prepare you to go climbing outside. But it is an important part of the process. And I also just want to warn that we will be discussing accidents and, in a few cases, fatal accidents.
Alright, a little bit of housekeeping.
Everyone will be muted for the duration of the events. We will have some polls popping up during the events. You might have already seen one asking where you’re joining from today. Please do answer those, and in a minute I will talk about why you might want to do that. Please use the Zoom Q and A feature to ask questions, and we will be answering them at the end.
This information will be available on the BACC website after the event.
Alright, so one reason you might want to participate with polls and Q and A is because we have some great prizes to give away.
The first place prize is a joint one year Access Fund/BACC membership. The second prize is a free shoes resole by Vanderwall Climbing.
You have to ask a question or respond to a poll to be eligible. And keep in mind if you answer anonymously, then we won’t know who you are. So, please participate, and we will be happy to give out some prizes to have you do so.
Okay, so let’s start with a story. The story of Roadside Crag in Red River Gorge.
You might’ve heard of Red River Gorge. It’s a world-class climbing destination in Kentucky. It’s definitely on my list. It has thousands of climbs that sit on both public and private lands – private lands owned by individuals and companies – and on Mountain Project, Roadside is described as “the flagship crag of the Red River Gorge.” So a very popular place for beginners and intermediates. For many people it was their first outdoor climbing experience. But, it’s seen a lot of access issues.
In 2004, it was purchased by two climbers in order to rescue it from development. But they had a few rules:
Leave no trace, which makes sense, no large groups, no dogs, no alcohol, no loud music, no new bolts or gear.
Seven years later, in 2011, the owners visited and saw almost all of their rules being broken. And then, almost immediately they closed the area. They said “the reserve, AKA Roadside, cannot sustain that much traffic. As a result of the foregoing, we are closing the reserve to climbing effective immediately,” which was a huge loss to the climbing community.
So a lot of people came together to talk to the landowners, to fix a lot of these problems, to try to reverse some of the erosion, talk to the climbers and, just spread the word about what the rules are. And the area was actually reopened a few years later. It’s a story about loss, but also about how the climbing community can respond and reinstate access.
So, right now, we are actually facing one of our biggest access issues, which is the coronavirus. Already, we’re seeing our climbing areas closing, and – you know – a lot of us are voluntarily choosing not to climb. A lot of our climbing organizations are losing influence with the land managers and with climbers and our current access projects: a lot of them are being put on hold. So, I want to keep this in mind because there’s a lot that we can do and a lot that we can talk about when it comes to coronavirus and we’ll be talking a little bit about that later.
Alright, so today we’ll be talking about what the BACC is and what we do, and the Access Fund.
We will talk about coronavirus a little bit, and then we’ll talk about climbing outdoors and safety environments and respect and some ongoing access issues that you might want to know about and get involved with. And then we’ll get into the Q and A.
Grace: Alrighty. So I’ll take it from here.
So a little bit of introduction about the BACC and the Access Fund: So basically, who are we, and what do we do, and how are we related to the Access Fund before we start to kind of get into the nitty gritty.
So what does the BACC do? Our core mission is to preserve access to local crags in the nine Bay Area counties. So for those of you who may be a little bit more unfamiliar with climbing outdoors, just so you know, the word “crag” essentially refers to any outdoor area where you’d go climbing.
So part of that is education, which is – y’all are here and participating in kind of one of our educational events, which is great. Again, like I said earlier, normally we do these in-person and kind of hold these Gym to Crags at some of the gyms in the Bay Area, but we’re moving to virtual from now on, so be on the lookout for some more educational programming from us.
Then on the access side, one of the big things that we do is focusing on stewardship and community development. So very concretely, that means fostering positive relationships with land managers. So land managers who have management of the land in the area, making sure that we are kind of the face of climbers to them and we can continue to foster positive relationships with them so they don’t potentially try to ban access or ban climbers from using their land.
And then also hosting stewardship events. Some of you may have heard of our Adopt-a-Crags where essentially we’ll gather the climbing community and head out to a nearby Bay Area crag and clean it up – so, stuff like graffiti removal, trail preservation, all that fun stuff – to just try to continue to preserve the constitution of our outdoor climbing areas there.
In terms of how we’re related to the Access Fund – and yes, there’s our first content-specific poll question popping up, so if you are a member of the BACC or the Access Fund already, or if you’ve ever attended a climbing event before, feel free to pop your answers in there – but what is the Access Fund?
So the Access Fund you can think of as a national umbrella organization that partners with LCOs – or local climbing organizations – like the Bay Area Climbers Coalition, and essentially does what we do on the local level, on a more national level.
So while we are working with local land managers and doing these more local stewardship events, the Access Fund oversees that on a more general level. And we’ll also send some information in the chat about if you’re interested in joining, and we’ll talk about that a little bit later on.
So now on to the question that I’m sure is top of everybody’s mind: Coronavirus and climbing. As Kim mentioned, the coronavirus is one of our biggest access issues to-date. It’s very wide-sweeping. No one is really exempt from the effects of this. So we’re talking about what does this mean in terms of climbing?
Currently there are a whole bunch of local areas that are closed in general and also specifically to climbing. We have this list on our website, so you can check it out. We have a COVID-19 page, and we’ll continue to keep this updated. There was just news from San Francisco and I think seven of the surrounding counties today saying that the Shelter-In-Place would be continuing to be in effect through the end of May and additionally that social distancing is going to stay in place. So this list may continue to evolve with more areas being added or potentially removed. So do keep an eye out there.
We’d also love if you have any suggestions about addressing COVID-19 concerns at the crag or how to encourage social distancing or encourage good hygiene, feel free to send any suggestions to that meetings address as well.
There’s a lot of local areas that are currently closed to climbing. Functionally, what this means is that right now the BACC team, we’re all staying home. We’re doing our part to flatten the curve. We’d ask that you do the same and continue to shelter in place, at least while state and federal guidance is asking folks to do so.
And then what happens when the Shelter-In-Place lifts? That would be the next question there. First of all – first good stewardship principle – don’t crowd the crag. If you’re planning on going outdoors and climbing and you see that there’s a ton of people around, and if the social distancing measures are still in place, maybe have a backup crag in mind, stay hygienic while you’re out there: use hand sanitizer and make sure you’re washing your hands after you’re going climbing.
Again, be aware of how your travel can affect others. We as Bay Area climbers are very fortunate in that we have great climbing spots locally, but we also have access to a wealth of options within a three, four, or five-hour drive of us. But do be aware of just how your travel can affect others.
So if you’re going to a non-local area, consider how if you travel through a community that your travel could affect those communities that you’re traveling through. This shouldn’t have to be said, hopefully, but don’t go out if you’re feeling sick; just stay home, and try to rest and recover. And then finally, respect closures and permit requirements.
One of the things that the BACC does is we are trying to foster these positive relationships with land managers, and when they are seeing that they’ve issued this closed guidance and climbers are continuing to go, that could potentially have really negative effects on climbing access going forward. So that’s also really important.
So just continuing to follow state and federal guidance on travel and social distancing throughout the next month and months as we’re continuing through this.
Kim: And I will add that the LCOs are meeting and we’re talking – especially with the national-level Access Fund – to figure out how to respond to this, so your suggestions are welcomed. Please send them.
Okay. So moving on to climbing outdoors and safety.
I know a lot of people, when you start to get into climbing outside, safety is at the top of your list. One of the reasons that it’s so important to us as part of an acces organization is because of liability.
Unfortunately, it does really affect our ability to talk to land managers when people get hurt, and I have two stories here. I know that they might seem kind of dreary, but it’s a hero’s journey. We are talking about these things so that you can see the process.
So one example that I have is a crag that’s in Illinois, and it was closed because of a change in a recreational use statute.
Every state has one – a recreational use statute – that addresses how land owners are affected by accidents or incidents that happen on their land, and how they are protected from liability. Unfortunately, these laws vary wildly from state to state, and they’re often tricky to interpret because there’s very little precedent, and they’re constantly changing.
So for this example, in 2005, Illinois changed the wording of its recreational use statute so that it only included recreational hunting. It used to include climbing, but that was taken out. And because of this, a lot of private landowners closed their climbing areas. And the quote that I have here is from one of those owners who said, “we have but one house to live in and are not willing to risk it to pay off the grieving family of a climbing fatality or lifelong rehab expenses of a spinal injury.” So these are people with a very personal reason to close their climbing area.
Luckily, the local climbing groups and the Access Fund came in, spoke with the land owners, got involved with the policy at the state level, and were able to reverse that change in the statute so that climbing was covered in the recreational use statute and a lot of private climbing areas were reopened.
So that was a big win!
Another example that I have here is a little closer to home: Auburn Quarry. That’s the place where I actually started climbing outside. It’s just a couple of hours north of the Bay. There was a fatal accident there in the late nineties, and because of that, the land managers – it was public, but the land managers – decided to discourage and eventually ban climbing in that area. The Local Climbing Organization and Access Fund came together and spoke with the land manager, and in 2012, climbing was reopened. If you go to it now, it’s an amazing place to climb, and we’re really lucky to have it back.
Those are just two examples of how liability can really endanger our climbing areas.
We know that you want to stay safe. Nobody wants to get hurt, but we’ve listed some resources here – some of which you might’ve heard about, some might be new to you – and what I want to emphasize here is use a variety of resources. Everybody says, “find somebody to take you out, to mentor you,” and that is, of course, really important. But, there are so many resources out there and a lot of people have put a lot of time and effort into distilling all of this information.
Practice in real life. Even if it’s just getting a rope and practicing in your car when you’re riding: practice your knots, and use critical thought. Even if someone’s telling you that this is the right thing to do, if it doesn’t make sense to you, then ask questions, and only do what you’re comfortable doing.
Another resource that is very dear to me are accident reports. You might have all the technical information that you can get, but there’s always going to be some unexpected situation that might put you in danger and accident reports allow you to learn from other people’s mistakes. I find them to be super valuable and very interesting, too, but one thing that I want to say is that if you haven’t been in a situation, it might seem easy to belittle or trivialize somebody else’s experience. And I want to say that there are three reasons that you might not want to do that:
One is it’s just mean. People who have been in accidents, they’re experiencing things that we’re just starting to understand. We’re just starting to understand grief management. The AAC, that’s the American Alpine Club, has started a grief fund to address some of these things. So, we’re just as a community starting to respond to this sort of thing.
Number two, it discourages climbers from reporting their accidents. We want to hear more about these things because it helps keep all of us safe.
And number three, if you can’t put yourself in the shoes of the people who are reporting these things, then it undermines your ability to stay safe and to learn from them. So, I encourage you to share your accidents, even with your partners, even with each other, so that we can all learn from these things.
Alright, so we’ve listed here a few things that we’ve thought of to protect yourself, others, and the crag – things that might be specific to outdoor climbing. If you’ve been climbing in the gym, some of these might be new to you. We don’t have time, unfortunately, to go through it all, and this isn’t a comprehensive list, but I do encourage you to really think when you’re going into an outdoor area about how this might be different from what you’ve seen in the gym.
And as always, if you are not comfortable with anything, you always have the right to say no, or to back down, even if you’re climbing with a very experienced partner or somebody who’s telling you that this is the right thing to do. If it doesn’t make sense to you, it’s your life.
So one of these things is leaving no trace and respecting local ethics in the gym it’s pretty obvious: you know – you put your trash in the trashcan. It might be a little bit more complicated outside. Let’s talk about environment and respect. That’s the next section.
Grace: Alright, thanks Kim.
Alright. So yeah, so Kim kind of went over safety there. Again, just to highlight this presentation isn’t meant to be a – particularly with coronavirus going on, isn’t meant to be – a go outside and climb this weekend kind of thing, and it’s really not meant to equip you with the specific safety skills. It’s a little bit outside of our area of what the BACC does. We’re much more focused on the stewardship aspect of that and how do we actually protect access to our climbing areas and also protect the climbing areas themselves.
So we have a short little video here that we’re going to try to share via the screen share. So we’ll see if this works out.
A big thanks to Climbing Magazine, Kevin Corrigan and Ben Fullerton, who gave us the permission to show this. Give me just one second to try to pull this up…
The Craghole: Hey, look: I’m free soloing!
Just like Alex Honnold!
I’m stuck – I need help.
Cool. What route is this?
Dutiful Climber: For god’s sake, man!
The Craghole: Will you hold my dog real quick?
[on phone]… well, I’m sorry, Gina, but this is who I am. Okay. I’m a climber and you have to get used to that.
Dutiful Climber: [straining to hear over conversation] Did you say, “slack?!”
The Craghole: If you can’t, then I dunno. Okay.
…climbing partner. Okay. If you could climb 5.10, then you could be my climbing partner
Dutiful Climber: Dude! Seriously? C’mon!
The Craghole: What? It’s natural! We’re in nature!
The bunny goes around the tree, and through the hole..
So beautiful up here.
Dutiful Climber: Dude. Where’s your belay device?
The Craghole: I know what I’m doing. I climb 5.10 in the gym, okay?
Sweet, I made my own Midnight Lightning. Yeah!
Grace: Now back to the presentation.
When you’re climbing outside, what are some of the concrete things that you can do to reduce your impact? In this section, we’re going to talk about the specific things that you should be thinking about when you’re climbing outside. And the hope is whether you’ve been outside, you know, 100, 200 times, just a few times, or never that there’s hopefully something in here that you can learn and that’s interesting. We’re also going to go and talk about specific examples of times when maybe not following best practices on this behavior has actually affected access and affected some of our local climbing areas in the Bay Area.
So the first thing before you’re going to do any climb outdoors is you’re going to have to get there, and you’re going to have to set up – whether that’s putting a crash pad down somewhere or laying out your rope and getting all your gear out. So using designated trails and making sure you’re placing gear on durable surfaces are two big things to keep in mind.
If anyone has been to Glen Canyon park, which is unique in that it’s actually a climbing area that’s inside San Francisco proper – like inside the city itself – there’s this interesting example where there’s this bug here, you can see the fork tail damsel fly and it actually is endemic to the Bay Area region.
And it went extinct in San Francisco quite a few years back when they were building the Pac Heights neighborhood. And actually what happened here is they tried to reintroduce it to Glen Canyon park, which was one of its native habitats. They reintroduced it – it went extinct again after a year from the area. They tried to reintroduce it again, and now it’s just kind of hanging on.
Why this is relevant to climbing is that their habitat is only around 30 meters or so from one of the more popular bouldering areas in Glen Canyon park. So climbers who are maybe going off trail and wandering through that area, or going out to the area where their habitat is to use the restroom or whatnot are having a direct impact here.
And then on that note as well, this is a little bit further from home, but why is that important? Why are we caring about an insect that might be endangered or going extinct? This is actually important. This is another example. This is the frosted rock tripe, which is a lichen that was found in Red River Gorge in Tennessee.
This was actually thought to be completely extinct, and there was a climber with a biology background. She was climbing and saw this and was like, that’s odd, I think this actually might be something new that I haven’t seen before, took it to the lab, analyzed it, figured out it was this previously-thought-to-be-extinct species.
But then the Sierra Club, which is another big environmental organization caught wind of this, and they published an article in their publication that was entitled, “Can Climbing be Bad for the Environment” or “Is Climbing Bad for the Environment?”
So this is something a lot of times organizations and climbing organizations like you have the Access Fund and the BACC are going to be working in concert with a lot of these other environmentally-focused organizations. But there are times like this where – if climbers are having a direct impact on the environment in these ways – where we can clash and the Sierra club has something like 3 million members, whereas the Access Fund only has something like 20,000, I believe. So in terms of membership and in terms of the weight of voices there, you know, this could become an access issue. If it’s something like a battle, for example, this rock tripe that the Sierra Club actually wants to take up on and decide to take action on.
Also, Mount Diablo State Park: this is closer to home. If any of y’all have ever been there, this is showing the backside approach to Boy Scout Rocks. And you can see there’s very high levels of erosion from folks continually walking up and down there. Two things to keep in mind in terms of the approach and staging.
Alright, regulations and closures: also right now, extremely salient. There’s closures for everything from Coronavirus to raptor mating seasons. Research is going to be your responsibility if you’re going outdoors: check out Mountain Project, just search the Internet, check out the local park website, and see if there are any access issues. And if there are, again, luckily we are fortunate, very fortunate, to live in an area where there are so many options of places that we can go climbing. So there’s always going to be a backup place that you can go.
An example here: so the California Condor in Pinnacles National Park is critically endangered, and so they will close climbing access for a good number of months out of the year, and it can periodically close to climbers in order to let the condors mate and have that time protected there. So again, something to keep in mind. Just check the closures and research before you go outdoors.
Alright, a fun topic: what’s your poop plan? You know, if you’re climbing in the gym, that you can always just head to the restroom if you need to go. If you’re going outdoors, there are some places like Owen’s River Gorge that actually do have restrooms – they have like the designated places – but there are a lot of places like Indian Rock Park for example, that don’t. So, in the case of Indian Rock Park, you might just have to wander to Solano Ave, if anyone is familiar with the Berkeley area, wander around, and find a local business that will let you use their restroom.
Use the toilets whenever it’s possible. Again, this is something that can have a detrimental effect on climbing areas. Williamson Rock in California – it’s in Southern California, so a little bit further away – it used to be this premier sport climbing area in SoCal, and they actually closed the entire area to climbers. They just completely closed it off, because this mountain yellow frog was endangered, and it’s habitat in the stream bed was the actual start to a whole bunch of these classic climbs in the area. So they said please don’t do these climbs because you are negatively affecting – by liquid sunscreen and, like, poop in the water – really, really negatively harming this population.
Climbers weren’t listening, so they actually completely closed the area, and they are currently in talks to re-open it. So that is something to keep an eye on, and we’ll see maybe if it gets closed again, if folks aren’t respecting the limitations that are put in place or not. But it’s an example of how that can actually have a direct effect on access.
Alright: plan ahead, carpool to save. There are just a lot of areas that don’t really have that many parking spaces. So, from the practical side, carpooling so you can get a space and you’re not having a very long approach is great. Also just to save fuel, save money, save the environment.
In terms of weather: we have a lot of sandstone around the Bay Area. For those who might be a little bit less-familiar with the kind of outdoor climbing conditions, there’s certain types of rocks that actually become more fragile when wet. Sandstone is one of those where it’s extraordinarily – when it’s completely dried through – extraordinarily strong, but when you are climbing – and it’s not even just necessarily wet on the surface, but if it hasn’t completely dried through, so that can take up to like three or four days after the last time it rained – it becomes very fragile, and it’s extremely easy to break a hold off or as you can see in this photo here, there’s these grooves in the rock that have come from ropes on the wet sand stone rubbing, when people have been on top-rope or whatnot, and it will actually permanently groove into the rock, which is really not great.
So just know what rock you’re climbing on, weather conditions and check – you can always go to weather.gov to look at the past few days of weather before you go outside. And you should not climb on wet sandstone too. That’s because that could definitely – beyond causing these grooves – it can be really unsafe if you, for example, are climbing and holds are breaking off.
Alright, sharing the crag:
There’s other groups that are using the public parks and crags too. So just be respectful in terms of – you know – don’t be playing loud music, be aware that there might be hikers, bikers, families, other folks enjoying our public areas. You know, our outdoor climbing areas aren’t necessarily just climbing areas. A lot of times they’re in parks, with trails and everything, so just be respectful of others when you’re out there.
And so this point too: histories of climbing areas can date back a really, really long time. One of the things to be aware of is that a lot of times there are indigenous events and there’s histories associated with these places that we’re using as climbing areas.
So an example that’s a little further away from home is the Devils Tower in Wyoming, which is on Mato Tipila land. And so the Devils Tower – actually the Local Climbing Organization there – entered into an agreement with several indigenous groups in the area, and they said we’re going to voluntarily close off climbing access for the month of June out of respect for the indigenous history and events associated with the Tower at that time of the year. So technically it’s supposed to be a voluntary closure: a lot of people are still flout it, and they’re still going out there and trying to climb through this month, which, as you can imagine, isn’t making the indigenous groups out there very happy and may potentially create some access issues down the line.
Something that’s a little bit closer to home: Natural Bridges in California. This area, I believe in the late – mid- or late-1800s – there was a large massacre of the indigenous peoples that were living there, and it has since become this popular climbing area. Some of the folks that were putting up climbs here named the climbs things that like weren’t optimal, given the history of the area. Things like “Skeletal Remains” or like “Massacre” or things like that. So again, something that’s – for an area that still has descendants of that indigenous people that will go back and visit – really not a great look for climbers; really a disrespectful thing to be doing. So keep in mind when you’re going climbing that a lot of these areas that draw the climbing eye because of how iconic they are and because the way the rock looks also have this history going alongside them.
Alright, and so in terms of planning a day at the crag:
I’m just going to go over this very quickly without going into too much of the details, but choosing your spot is a big one right now. I would recommend really having a backup crag – particularly with coronavirus – and making sure that we’re not overcrowding our climbing areas.
Two: research the crag. Are there any access issues? Is the area closed right now? Are there seasonal closures? Is there something else that you should be aware of?
And then prepare your gear and make sure that you are prepared to go outdoors.
I also want to highlight: I’ve been spending a lot of time on Mountain Project over the last month and a half now, I suppose; it’s been a while. This is a great tool. If you have been outside before, it’s likely you’ve used this, and you’ve heard of it. If you haven’t, this is a fantastic tool where there’s so much information that you can get from here, but it basically is an app you can get on your phone, you can download all of the areas, and you can use it as your climbing GPS as you’re out. I, personally, for the last month have been using it to add climbs to my to-do list: you can add the climbs that you want to go and do later too, like a list. I would also highlight that it has the page views, so you can see how popular an area might be: if people are really looking at climbing and it seems to be super popular, you could maybe go somewhere else, if you’re worried about overcrowding. It has the last few days of weather and also lists access issues, so you can use it to see if there’s a seasonal closure if the land is potentially closed due to coronavirus or whatever else it might be.
So just kind of speeding through through that. That’s really the fundamentals of if you’re thinking about treating our outdoor areas respectfully and being good stewards to them; some of the things to keep in mind there.
Kim: Thank you, Grace. Well, everybody’s used Mountain Project before. Okay, awesome. So we’d like to talk a little bit about some of the current access issues that you might want to know about.
First off, this is more of a cautionary tale. So, Ten Sleep, Wyoming. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. I’ve heard of it. It’s kind of a controversy that’s going on in Wyoming. Last year there was a major disagreement between climbers about how to develop a piece of land in the Big Horn National Forest, and that led to enough of an issue that the national forest decided to ban all route development in that forest, which was a big loss for that area. It’s unfortunate, and a lot of these examples – and including this one – these aren’t beginners, these are experts, and they are endangering our lands. Access Fund put out a post about it and said that “the actions of these two groups of climbers undermine our ability to protect climbing access, steward our areas, and have a seat at the local table and at the national level”.
So, this isn’t just about Big Horn; it’s a lot of areas when they see things like this – even if it’s nowhere near Wyoming – they’ll get worried about bringing climbers into their area. So, let’s keep our reputation good. Let’s work together. This didn’t need to happen, and we’re currently working to get access back to where it was, but this was a totally avoidable incident.
Another one that you might have heard about is Bears Ears Monument. This includes the famous Indian Creek climbing area – a really well-known sandstone crack climbing area. Definitely on my list. In 2017, there was a presidential proclamation that reduced Bears Ears by 85%, and part of that reduction is going to affect Indian Creek. The areas around it might get opened up for oil and gas drilling, unfortunately. That proclamation also removed acknowledgement of climbing as a valued and appropriate activity. And even though that might not seem very important, what that means is that it’s harder for access groups to be able to talk about access and climbing policy when changes like this get made. So, it just makes the fight even harder. So, please keep this in mind. Access Fund and the access groups send out occasional updates about this, and there might be a chance to sign a petition or at least to follow it on the news. So that is a big one.
A little closer to home: Owens River Gorge. So this is just east of the Sierras in California; a major climbing Mecca, especially for a lot of folks in the Bay Area. That land is owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The river that flows through there is being controlled to provide water to the city.
But because of some environmental concerns, the water flow needs to be increased in the coming years. And, as some of you might know, you have to cross the river to access some of those climbs. So some climbs might get cut off from access. There are current and ongoing negotiations with the DWP to put in bridges and to improve the infrastructure in order to allow access.
And part of the issue is liability. This is an example of one issue cascading into others. The Bishop Area Climbers Coalition is working on that, and there are ongoing updates about that.
And moving on: this is right in our backyard, the Highway 50 Revival.
This is a multi-year project, which will involve improvements, at first, to Lover’s Leap and then to Phantom Spires and Sugarloaf. This is the South Lake Tahoe area.
The Highway 50 Revival will include some trail work. If you’ve been there, you’ll see that there’s some pretty severe erosion in that area, and some of the climbs are extremely difficult to get to, but this is a classic area, and people are going to keep going. So, the erosion is only going to get worse, and then it’s going to become a safety and environmental concern.
That project was slated to start later this year. Hopefully, we can keep that timeline, but it might be delayed due to coronavirus. But when it starts, there are going to be plenty of opportunities for involvement. There are currently at least 16 weekends of volunteer trail days that are planned, so please keep your ears open for that project coming through.
Alright. So, all this time we’ve been talking about all of these issues, and I’m sure you just really want to know how to get involved. And there are many ways, many levels. You might think, “Oh, I don’t have the time,” but there are so many things that we can do.
You can come to Adopt-a-Crag events. We showed some of the images just before the event started: you can get dirty and start moving rocks and getting involved with that.
You can also volunteer with an LCO, like the BACC, as a ambassador or a steward, or there are many other positions to get involved with.
You can attend or host information sessions like this one. So, thank you. Thank you for coming to this. This means a lot to us.
And you know, there are a lot of fun events – even if you go to a film festival or a movie night or trivia night or the block party – you know, these events are super important; it helps us to get the word out. Some of them are fundraisers: you buy a beer and you help us, so please come to those events and have fun.
Also, just stay informed. You can sign up for mailing lists: the BACC has one, Access Fund has one. We’re constantly putting out information that we think you should know about.
Spread the word to your friends. Maybe some people haven’t heard about these access issues. Some people don’t even know that this is an issue, so talk to each other. Post on social media. That really helps us out.
Be a good steward. The next time you’re outside, go that extra mile to pick up – maybe not just your garbage, but – some garbage that you might see lying around.
Talk to people if you see something that you don’t think looks right.
And also the communities around some of our climbing areas, they want to see climbers contributing in a positive way. So after COVID is over and when it’s safe to do so, go and patronize the local shops and the local businesses. I’ve gotten a lot of really great responses when I go to a crag and I say, “Hey, I’m a climber, and I’m really happy to be here and buy this coffee, or, you know, eat dinner at this restaurant”. And it really helps the local climbing effort to get a foothold in and have good community feedback.
Grace: Yeah, and then also to emphasize on this point again, where with the San Francisco and the surrounding counties’ guidance being to extend the Shelter-in-Place at least through May, a lot of these things might not be in-person in terms of the events that we’re going to be putting on.
But be on the lookout, because we are going to try to plan both more educational events like this one, and also some events like, you know, a trivia night or a movie night or something along those lines. So just be on the lookout. We’re still going to be trying to reach out to the community and hosting some more virtual events.
And then once things do ramp up again, you can expect to see us back out at the crag and doing those Adopt-a-Crag-type events, and the in-person stuff.
Kim: We’ve got to make the plug: please join us! If you like what the BACC does – and I’m pretty sure you do – please get involved.
The BACC in 2019 had 700 hours of volunteer work. So, if you’ve been to an event, thank you so much. We’ve been able to do a lot of great work in our Bay Area climbing areas: 78 bolts replaced, 34 community outreach events – you know, we’re, we’re trying to do as much as we can.
And then, on a larger, national level the Access Fund has been doing a lot for us. I read their yearly report. The last one was from 2018, and it’s pretty staggering how much we’ve been able to do with such a small resource space: 230 climbing areas preserved, 6 climbing areas opened, 5 areas were acquired. Some of those membership dues and donations actually go to buying climbing areas so that they can be owned by climbers.
Also legal motions concerning Bears Ears are ongoing. Access Fund is very involved with policy. There was the Storm the Hill…Climb the Hill, that’s what it was called. So, the climbers are really involved in trying to make things better.
And then also, we talked about liability. A lot of what Access Fund does is talking to private landowners about risk, so that we can come to an agreement about how to introduce climbing safely. Grace talked about it a little bit, but given how important climbing is to us and to, I think, the entire community, I think the last report, from the American Alpine Club said 4.4% of Americans climbed last year. So that’s over 14 million people climbed, and it’s only going to get bigger given the recent showcases of climbing movies and whatnot. So we’re going to see more climbers, but keep in mind that Access Fund and similar organizations don’t get a lot of involvement.
The Access Fund has only 20,000 members nationwide. Compared to, let’s say, the Sierra Club, which has almost 4 million, so the more involvement we can get, the more powerful we can become and the more that we can do to help our climbing areas. So please consider getting involved. If you aren’t already a member, please become one.
And, yeah, we also have, really great perks, like coloring books for the kids. So, uh, we have our little, uh…a lizard.
Grace: Crag the Dragon.
Kim: Crag the Dragon. Yes. And he comes out to events too, so there you go. Why not meet crack the dragon?
Grace: Yeah. And if you do have a little kiddo at home, our coloring book is available for download on our website so you can print it out and give it to a kid so they can do it in-between their virtual classes or whatever it may be.
And then also speaking of Access Fund, I wanted to reiterate: so the Access Fund did put out guidance just today – so really recently – recommending that folks not go out and climb right now. And you know. If, once again, restrictions do lighten up to do steps such as staying hygienic and potentially wearing a mask while you’re traveling or even while you’re climbing and consider what the distancing is.
So, I know we have talked a lot about, you know, don’t overcrowd and just be mindful of travel. But again, our general recommendation is right now – at least in the Bay Area where the guidance is that the Shelter-In-Place is still in place – is that we’re not climbing right now. We would recommend that you also consider not climbing until the state guidance and the local guidance deems that it’s all right to do so. Just to kind of, again, reiterate and stress that point, ’cause we’re talking about a lot of fun stuff and local areas and just want to make sure that in terms of like coronavirus and the way things are right now that, that our official guidance is to not go outdoors and, well, do go outdoors: go on walks if you can but not to go out there to climb.
Kim: Not to climb.
Grace: Yeah, exactly.
Kim: Yeah, we do have listed here some of the resources that we’ve talked about. And as I said, we will be posting this information after the event, so you don’t have to rush to write everything down. And also, moving on, I would just like to acknowledge some of the folks who helped to put all of this together.
We had a lot of people from the BACC team come together to make this happen. So thank you now, Nanda, Maura, Peter, Heather, and Charles. And also all of our friends, Mike, Heather for coming through and helping us, also thank you. If you haven’t seen that video, please do so, but Kevin Corrigan, Ben Fullerton, Climbing Magazine, thanks for allowing us to post it.
And thank YOU for coming and joining us today!
Grace: Alright, and before we let everyone off the line, we’re going to go into a bit of a Q and A. So again, big thanks for listening. We’ve been collecting your questions throughout, so at this point I’m going to introduce, Maura and Peter, the president and vice president of the BACC, to do a little back-and-forth on some of your questions so we can get some of those answered in the last few minutes that we have.
Peter: Cool. Thank you, Grace. And I encourage everyone, if you have any questions – I know we’ve kind of firehosed you with information, but if there are any questions that you have – please add them to the Q and A panel and we can, we can get them answered in the couple of minutes we have left.
The first question comes to us from Brent, and his question was:
“Regarding stewardship: what considerations should be made for people using wheelchairs at the crags? I help run an adaptive climbing program through Touchstone Climbing, and I occasionally take friends from that group climbing outdoors.”
Who would like to take that one on the panel?
Maura: I’ll take that, and I will introduce myself.
I’m Muara, president of the organization, and I think that is a really excellent question to ask on a couple of different levels.
On the first level, I think it speaks to personal awareness, and being a good steward is all about being aware and noticing what’s happening around you. So perhaps as you’re trying to park your car on a busy road side parking stretch – I’m thinking of you, Castle Rock and Skyline – be careful that the car you’re parking very close to doesn’t need a ramp, van access, or anything. And similarly, if a climber shows up at a crag that you’re at who has some kind of adaptation that could help them have a better day, start a conversation and ask if there are ways that you can trade staging areas or trade out ropes.
It’s kind of a great place to start conversing, because I will tell you right now that I don’t have all the information to give you the final answer, and that is something that should be part of a larger discussion.
So the second half of my reply is going to be, please join our mailing list, and if you, Brent, or anyone else who has experience working with adaptive climbers, would like to come join us for a meeting and get more into a deep down discussion of how we can start applying some Universal Design principles to trail work that we do. You know, areas that are easy for a wheelchair to move through are easy for everyone to move through. Flatter trails lead to less erosion, less runoff. Universal Design benefits everyone, and I think it would be great if we can start working that more into what we do as an organization already.
Alright. It looks like we got another question that came in from anonymous:
“Are we doing any graffiti removal at this time?”
You want to jump in on that, Peter?
Peter: Yeah, sure. As a former Steward that’s near and dear to my heart, that topic. So thanks for the question, anonymous.
In fact, we’re not able to do any kind of stewardship work, and that includes but is not limited to graffiti removal while the Shelter-In-Place is active.
So, we’re not actually doing any stewardship work right now. Which, of course, is a fairly big bummer for all of us in the organization and particularly our stewards because we had a great set of events lined up for spring and we had to cancel all of them.
So, we’re hoping to come back maybe in fall with some events. It all depends on what happens with the virus and what happens with these Shelter-In-Place ordinances and how land managers in particular are allowing access back into their lands.
But realistically, I think we will probably see a bit of a dip in our stewardship activities, graffiti removal, et cetera, trail work, brush clearing, trash pickup, all of that stuff is going to take a dip, and we’ll probably pick it back up – my expectation, get back up to kind of full speed – by spring of next year.
The one thing I should say is that at least the land managers that I’m aware of in San Francisco and the peninsula, they are all considered essential workers, so they are still working in the parks, and I believe that’s also the case in the East Bay and North Bay at least as well. Probably the South Bay too. So there is still things like trash pickup, and serious issues in the park still are getting dealt with, so if you do happen to be recreating in a park in a allowed way – hiking perhaps, or just walking through the park – and you see a big issue, don’t feel shy about raising it, because park staff will be working on…they’re able to deal with those.
Kim: And that is considered stewardship, so when we reach out to the land managers or they reach out to us, we are still interacting with them remotely and stewardship events, while they can’t be in person, we can still discuss them.
Grace: I also want to flag, I think Peter, when you said “as a former Steward”, he met officially, in a position of having that relationship with land managers. I don’t want to speak for you, Peter, but I do think you will continue to be a steward and in the sense of continuing to practice good stewardship practices when you’re going outdoors.
Peter: Yeah, absolutely. I may not be a BACC Capital “S” Steward anymore, but I certainly take a trash bag with me every time I go climbing, and I’m always picking up trash at my local crags, because there’s always the influxes of people who seem to want to throw bottles off the tops of rocks and things, so if we all were doing that, the crags would be a much cleaner place and we could focus on the fun projects when we actually do BACC stewardship events.
So just looking at the questions again – and this again is for whoever feels comfortable to answer it – “will the crags be way overcrowded when restrictions are lifted? How can the greater climbing community help manage / mitigate this possibility?”
Kim: I can jump into that a little bit. A lot of the climbing access issues that we’ve talked about are self-policing; we don’t have people at the crag telling you what to do. But one thing that you can do is just kind of look ahead. For instance, on Mountain Project, we pointed out that you can see the number of views per month on a crag page, and if you’ve never been to an area, that might give you some sort of insight into how popular it is, and have some backup crags. You can only affect your own actions, so if you have some idea of where you can go if a place seems too crowded, then please do so. And in general, large groups are not great for crags. It tends to lead to a lot of spreading out of gear and straining of the local area, so even aside from coronavirus, it’s better to go in smaller groups so that you can minimize your impact. Again, talk to your friends, and encourage your friends to do the same.
Peter: And if I could just tap onto that as well, one thing I know our stewardship team is doing is already starting to have this conversation with our land manager, because it is something where we can look ahead and say, “Hey, there’s going to be – particularly if the parks start lifting their restrictions before the gyms are able to reopen and get their operations running – there is a bit of a risk of a stampede to the local crags as climbers, who are desperate to get on any kind of climbing surface, all rush to our crags.” So we, and indeed, some of the land managers themselves, are trying to raise awareness of that in the land manager community. And the land managers are starting to formulate plans around that. It might be things like restricting numbers, and some of our crags already have number restrictions, so that would not be an unusual approach.
But we’re waiting to see; nothing’s confirmed yet. What I’d really suggest is keep an eye on the COVID-19 page on the BACC’s website, because that’s where we will be updating and broadcasting the information we get from all the land manager conversations that we’re having locally.
And I think we do have a couple more questions, but in the interest of holding us to the hour, I think we’ll probably sign off here and then we’ll follow up over email with some more question answers and also with some of the stuff that we talked about today, including the resources links and all that fun stuff.
But a big thank you again to everybody for coming out – virtually, but still coming out – and joining, and hopefully everyone learned something new. We’ll also be in touch regarding the lucky prize winners for our awesome prizes tonight. But, a big thank you again to everyone for coming out, and we hope to see you at a future virtual or in-person BACC event.
Kim: Thank you.