05/12/2022

It's Time to Embrace Sustainable Access

There is something so beautiful in the simplicity of climbing. When you strip away all the commotion of daily life, minimize the rack, and travel freely over technical terrain, you feel wild and unburdened. It’s just you and the rock and the wind.

Climbing in Cochise Canyon, Arizona. Ancestral lands of O'odham Jeweḍ and Chiricahua Apache. © Nelson Klein.

There is something even more beautiful about climbing in a wild landscape. Often, we are just as moved by the chance to connect with the old-growth forests, mountain streams, and the untamed wildlife we experience through our pursuit of climbing.

What a simple joy it is to climb with a friend in a beautiful place.

At Access Fund, our mission is to protect that magical experience for you and your friends and the millions of climbers all across the country. We fight for sustainable access for climbers, and we care for the land that inspires us. And we do all that work together as a community of friends and advocates.

What a simple joy it is to climb with a friend in a beautiful place.

While climbing itself can be so simple and pure, the work to protect America’s climbing grows increasingly more complicated by the year. There are more and more people out enjoying the land than ever before—hikers, backpackers, picnickers, bikers, hunters, anglers, and, yes, even more climbers. There is increased pressure from development and resource extraction. Climate change is threatening wildlife habitat and causing more intense wildfires, floods, and droughts.

In many cases, land managers are completely overwhelmed, and the easy answer is to just say no. To close the gate.

We must stop to reflect on the work we need to do together to ensure a sustainable future for climbing—and for the land that sustains us.

Access Fund has been working for 30 years to keep the gate open, and as we look ahead to the next 30 years, we must stop to reflect on the work we need to do together to ensure a sustainable future for climbing—and for the land that sustains us. And it doesn't mean access at all costs.

As climbers, we must have a seat at the table when land managers make decisions about access. And we must lead the way by putting our values of conservation and stewardship into practice each and every day. Those values must guide us as we look for creative solutions to some pretty difficult challenges.

We have the solutions, but it’s going to take hard work, tough conversations, and a strong commitment to our values to find the line.

We must keep this big picture in mind. Whether it’s climbers buying a boulder field in Illinois, or protecting Wilderness climbing in Joshua Tree, or respecting the temporary closure of Bear Lodge (aka Devil’s Tower), I think we have the solutions, but it’s going to take hard work, tough conversations, and a strong commitment to our values to find the line.

We don’t have to settle for a closed gate. On the other hand, sometimes we might have to allow the land to rest, our friends to pray, the birds to nest. Thirty years from now, those decisions may very well prove to be the most important ones we have made for the next generation of climbers.

Chris Winter, Executive Director, Access Fund

Chris 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.