09/08/2021

Advocate Spotlight: Matt Markell

We’re excited to recognize Matt for being a tireless champion of his home crag, Medicine Wall in San Antonio, Texas. In 2015, Medicine Wall was closed and stripped of all its hardware, and Matt and every other San Antonio climber lost their only local crag. Matt worked alongside Access Fund to help with the acquisition and reopening of Medicine Wall in 2020. He then took on the gargantuan task of rebolting nearly 70 routes—often alone—in the suffocating heat and under a tight time frame. Medicine Wall now boasts some of the most sustainably developed routes in the country. Most recently, Matt served as a route development mentor at Inks Ranch, where he helped to bring a new and diverse set of route developers into the fold and pass on his encyclopedic knowledge of climbing.

5 Questions for Matt:

What's your favorite cause in climbing advocacy right now?
New climber education. Climbing has seen massive growth in popularity in the past 20 or more years, and with that comes the challenge of educating this massive new group of participants on best practices while climbing, as well as the changing access concerns our cohort brings with it. The days of a small, dirtbag group of climbers flying under the radar are rapidly fading, and advocacy is hugely important to successfully guide that transition into a sustainable future.

What does it mean to you to be a climbing advocate?
As a climber now passing his 31st year in the sport, I’ve been fortunate enough to have gained huge amounts of knowledge and experience, both from my own adventures but also from our community at large. People have shared what they knew with me, and now it’s time to pass that on to others. Being an advocate means that I try my best to share what I know with others so that they can have similar opportunities for adventure, learning, and growth while also becoming good stewards of the sport for the future.

What's your advice to new advocates?
Climbing is steeped in history, both in where it’s come from but also a history of pushing forward into new realms and ideas. As a new advocate, I think it’s important to have some idea of where climbing has come from to help inform you where you would like it to go. This can apply to many things, including land access, fixed hardware, inclusivity, learning skills, etc.

What excited or surprised you the most about getting into the advocacy world?
Two things come to mind. I’m a huge gear nerd at heart, so the opportunity to finally help contribute to climbing via fixed hardware replacement and upgrade work has been exciting. Best practices in hardware have changed significantly since I started, and it’s exciting to be part of the modern sustainable bolting movement. I think the thing that surprised me the most is how much of a need there is for more local climbing advocates. I’ve met tons of people looking to contribute to our local climbing scene, but they just lack someone to point them in the right direction. Advocates can help fill that void and ensure a bright future for climbing on numerous levels.

Who is another climbing advocate whose work is really inspiring you right now?
As a hardware and trails guy, I have to say I’m inspired and motivated by all the other people out there putting in the hard work replacing old hardware with modern, sustainable bolts or putting in the sweat equity to improve trails and reduce land impact. Until you actually participate in a rebolting or trail repair effort, you have no idea how laborious and difficult it can be. There are still tens of thousands of old bolts out there that need replacement or trails in need of repair. Other than a few exceptions, all this work is done and funded by a small group of caring individuals looking to give back. That small percentage of people makes climbing safer for all and often helps improve or prevent access issues by reducing long-term impacts.

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