Climbers Move the Needle on Capitol Hill

Climbers from across the country made a strong showing on Capitol Hill last week during the 2018 Climb the Hill event. Hosted by Access Fund and the American Alpine Club, the event gathered over 60 professional climbers, outdoor industry leaders, and climbing advocates to participate in 62 meetings with Congressional representatives and federal land administrators.

Photo: © Stephen Gosling

The day before the Capitol Hill meetings, Climb the Hill participants attended a training session at the flagship REI store, where four DC-insiders spoke about the Antiquities Act, the recreation economy, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), energy policy, and tactics for effectively conveying messages across party lines. The presentations were followed by a reception where Senators Ernst (IA) and Wyden (OR) spoke to the group about their Recreation Not Red Tape Act (RNR). This was the first time two bipartisan Senators have addressed Climb the Hill participants, and Senator Ernst finished her remarks with the battle cry, “Now go and Climb the Hill”!

Climbers separated into lobby teams based on geography, and they were armed with specific strategies and goals for each different Congressional representative. We educated Congressional members on how National Monuments and LWCF benefit climbing; why the Recreation Not Red Tape Act is worth supporting; and how the current administration’s energy policies are hurting climbing resources and the recreation economy. Climbing advocates also met with the National Park Service (NPS) leadership team, including Deputy Director Smith (acting as Director), who commented that NPS is focused on expanding opportunities for climbers as well as sharing the positive qualities of the climbing community with his NPS superintendents. Climbers left the meeting grinning ear to ear.

Photo: © Stephen Gosling

“I was both proud and honored to join forces with these awesome people in conjunction with the Access Fund and the American Alpine Club to defend our public lands,” says Lynn Hill, the first person to free-climb Yosemite’s iconic El Capitan 25-years ago. “To listen to my fellow climbers speak so eloquently and passionately about public land to a room full of Senators, journalists, and policy decision-makers left me optimistic about our future.”

In addition to the legendary Lynn Hill, participants included professional climbers Sasha DiGiulian, Quinn Brett, Tommy Caldwell, Margo Hayes, Alex Honnold, Geoff Unger, Chelsea Rude, Libby Sauter, Forrest Shearer, Majka Burhardt and professional ski mountaineers Caroline Gleich and Brody Leven. Grassroots partners included Brothers of Climbing, Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition, Brown Girls Climb, Latino Outdoors, The Wilderness Society, Mazamas, Salt Lake Climbers' Alliance, Outdoor Alliance, The Mountaineers, and Carolina Climbers' Coalition.

“We all need to stand up, speak out, and call our reps,” says Bethany Lebewitz, Founder of Brown Girls Climb and Climb the Hill participant. “Native history, black lives, and the brown experience are all critical voices for an ethical and inclusive approach to land management and environmental policies.”

The long day on Capitol Hill wrapped up with a standing-room-only reception in the Russell Senate Building in which Senator Cantwell (WA), a climber herself, provided opening remarks and professional climbers Tommy Caldwell, Alex Honnold, Sasha DiGiulian, Majka Burhardt, and Caroline Gleich spoke about their journeys as climbers/mountaineers and what public land has meant for their personal and professional development. Later that night, Climb the Hill participants, congressional staffers, and local climbers celebrated at a ruckus house party.

Photo: © Stephen Gosling

"Climb the Hill gets better each year, and it is evident that Congress values the climbing community and our role in the legislative and administrative processes that dictate the future of climbing on public lands,” says Erik Murdock, Access Fund Policy Director.

A special thanks to Patagonia, The North Face, REI, Cliff, Adidas, and Brooklyn Boulders for providing support for the event.