First-Ever Hemispheric Wide Climbing Access Organization to be Hosted by 2009 Squamish Mountain Festival

Date: 5/18/2009

Most of us have a tick list—climbs we research, study in photos, and seek out descriptions of in guidebooks to far away places. We may live in North America, but the climbs we've done and those we aspire to do are worldwide.

El Potrero Chico and other spots in Northern Mexico are emerging as the frontier of Northern American climbing. Routes in these areas are at the top of many climbers’ winter tick lists. Valle Cochamó, a deep valley in Northern Patagonia with perhaps the longest, ice-free granite on earth and countless untouched, unnamed walls, also captures climbers’ tick list-inspired wanderlust.

These places fill our dreams, but they are also linked in another way. El Potrero Chico and Valle Cochamó are both unprotected. No legal protection keeps them open. Unlike here in the United States, no local, regional, or national organization exists to fight threatened closures and restrictions. These and other emblematic climbing areas in the Western Hemisphere are, literally, in climbing limbo—neglected, with no preservation for our climbing future.

"I would call it 'no man's land',” states Alex Catlin, the principal developer of El Potrero Chico, who has been climbing there for 20 years. "Here, most undeveloped land is claimed by the Federal government, the state government, the ejido or local commun, and at least one private owner. He continues, “The governmental park system is almost non-existent. We need so much help! But without direction, we tread water."

Access Pan America is the first-ever campaign to keep climbing areas open and protect the climbing environment across the Western Hemisphere. Access Pan America is a fledgling grassroots effort of individual climbers, climbing organizations (including the Access Fund), federations, outdoor clubs, and corporate supporters. The network will meet for the first time during the Squamish Mountain Festival, presented by ARC'TERYX, August 12-16, 2009. The inaugural meeting is sponsored by the Petzl Foundation, which will provide travel scholarships to access activists from across the Americas.

Other corporate partners, such as Mountain Gear, are supporting the travel of individual participants. Individuals and organizations that want to attend and may require a travel scholarship are invited to apply directly at www.accesspanamerica.com.

The Access Pan America/Petzl meeting is a four-day forum of discussions with the intention of creating a climbers’ access organization for the Western Hemisphere. We can't predict the form the future Access Pan America organization will take. That, after all, is the mission of the forum. But, we have heard enough to say that we will emerge with a commitment to work together in an organized way.

Climbing access organizations in the Western Hemisphere are diverse—from local climbing clubs to the recently launched nationwide access organizations in Brazil and Canada, to the almost 20-year-old Access Fund in the United States, and the well-established Climbers' Access Society of British Columbia. A critical mass of organizations and interest exist to create local, regional, and national climbers’ access networks in most of Latin America.

The principal organizer of Access Pan America is Armando Menocal, who is usually credited as the founder of the Access Fund. He started the organization in 1990 and ran it through its first years. When asked how Access Pan America came about, Menocal states, “For years I've been hearing from climbers all over Latin America, asking for help on their access problems. I kept saying that someday we'd have to respond. I finally realized that we could delay no longer, and that the first step should be a forum to bring together as many activists as we could, and go from there.”

Access Pan America includes representatives of the established access organizations in Brazil, Canada, and the US, as well as individual climbers such as Alex Catlin, Rolando Garibotti, and Juan Laguna. With the help of the Petzl Foundation and other sponsors, the Access Pan America campaign expects to include participants from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Panama, Honduras, Mexico, Venezuela, and Peru. Visit www.accesspanamerica.com to discuss access problems in your area, apply for a travel scholarship to the forum, or comment on Access Pan America.