Who’s to Blame for Climbing Areas in Crisis?

In the Rise of Climbing and the Hidden Cost of Fame Access Fund calls attention to the crisis facing many of our climbing areas around the country. As climbing bursts onto the national stage, the once small, tight-knit climbing community has suddenly exploded in size. With so many people heading out to the crags, these sensitive environments are starting to crumble under the mounting weight of our collective use.

Confronted with the reality of what’s happening, it’s natural to lament years gone by and hold tightly to what we know. In many cases, it’s impossible to ignore the stark contrast between the solitude we used to experience at the wall to getting shut out if you don’t park your car by 8am. It’s also natural to want to blame someone or something for the challenges we’re facing—whether it's all those new climbers, the national media, the gyms, pro climbers, their sponsors. We live in a target-rich environment. But, to what end?

Think about that feeling of frustration after getting shut down by a hard project. A lot of times we’ll sit at the base of the route, pissed off at the developer for the shoddy bolting job, cursing the weather conditions or the over-polished holds. Maybe we blame our partner for a crappy belay or all the other people at the crag messing with our chi. Or maybe it’s mom’s fault for our second-rate gene pool.

It’s cathartic to vent, but none of it helps us send the route. But if we step away, re-focus, and come back with awareness of our own experiences, we can turn that blame into intentional action and find that elusive focus and power for the send.

Access Fund is calling on the community to do just that—to step away for a moment and refocus.

Despite all the challenges, we do have the power to control the outcome and turn things around. The simple fact is that our climbing infrastructure has not kept up with the popularity of our sport. Even the most responsible use of our climbing areas isn't sustainable without proper recreation infrastructure to concentrate and mitigate our impacts while protecting the surrounding environment.

As a community, we have to figure out what comes next. We can’t afford to throw up our hands in disgust and storm out of the room. We must renew our commitment to the places and the community we love, stop pointing the fingers, and plan for the future we want. It’s pretty darn cool to see so many people from different backgrounds and experiences get turned onto climbing. Yes, our community is growing, but we can still hold onto the sense of community and the intangibles that make climbing so special.

Right now, all around the country, an army of true heroes are working day in and day out to restore our local crags and climbing areas. Last year alone, Access Fund supported over 370 Adopt a Crag stewardship events, where volunteers invested more than 65,000 hours of time to steward our climbing areas. At Access Fund, we are investing over $1 million a year to restore our climbing areas, and land managers are taking notice.

To create the future that we want to see for climbing, we have to move past blame and come together as advocates for our climbing landscapes. It will take all of us coming together to overcome the challenges our crags and boulder fields are facing. We are climbers—and we don’t quit. We start with the first move, and we take it from there.

Will you join the movement of climbing advocates across the country who are chipping in—donating their time, talent, and money—to make a difference?

Photo: A busy weekend at Orange Oswald at Summerville Lake in West Virginia. Hammocks on trees, gear sprawl, and heavy crowding are all damaging this popular crag. The New River Alliance of Climbers is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to build a "sea wall" to help reinforce this staging area and limit climber impacts. Photo courtesy of @asianboulderingcrew

Chris Winter is Executive Director of Access Fund. He provides strategic leadership and manages organizational health, working with the board of directors, staff, and partners to fulfill on Access Fund's mission to keep climbing areas open and conserve the climbing environment.