Sunday, September 9, 2012

Climbing and Community on Flagstaff Mountain

I was thinking a bit about community yesterday as I was hauling rocks around Flagstaff Mountain to help with a trail building/rehab project. This was much-needed work for one of the most heavily climbed on areas of the mountain, meaning de facto one of the busiest bouldering areas in the country. It was a nice sunny Saturday, a little hot for the kind of manual labor being undertaken, but overall not too bad. But as I looked around the crew of volunteers, I noticed that, well, I didn't see too many people I knew. That is, if any of Boulder's many serious boulderers or climbers were helping out, they were being pretty stealthy about it, or maybe what is more likely, they were heading up to snag a prime day in the alpine instead of giving back in a tangible way to the climbing community. Here's a look at what they should have been doing.
Flagstaff Trail Day September 8 2012 from peter beal on Vimeo.

This got me thinking about a few things I saw last week. One is the excellent short film by Andrew Kornylak called the Tribe
The Tribe from Andrew Kornylak on Vimeo.

Made in support of the famous Triple Crown Bouldering Series on its 10th anniversary, the film celebrates climbing in the South and conveys a sense of awareness of the greater community of climbers and their environment. Upon a little reflection, I could not think of a similar film having been made about Boulder, even though it claims the title "Center of the Climbing Universe."

 Then I thought about a recent item posted by Gustavo Moser titled "the climbing industry is growing, let’s understand what that means." Moser says that while many applaud the mainstreaming of climbing, few are willing to step up and take responsibility for the resulting impacts and that this needs to change, especially at the industry level. This is something I agree with completely. But I want to argue that change also begins within each individual. We each make a choice on how to spend our time and our resources. And up to a point that's fine. But at some point we have to come together to recognize that a shared responsibility exists to physically maintain and protect the environments in which we live and climb.

 In my view, what is needed at places like Flagstaff (and many other locales) is a serious continuous long-term investment in stabilizing and rehabilitating the physical environment to reflect the reality of human impact. This kind of investment of time and material and labor is not feasible on an individual level. It takes resources and commitments that only a community can make, commitments that are ongoing and substantial. It takes hard work, lots of planning and occasionally sacrificing a prime weekend day to help out at an area you don't even climb at. I haven't climbed at Flagstaff in many months myself.

What I would love to see, as the crowds converge on the Trash Bash on Wednesday, and then just down the road for the Reel Rock Festival on Thursday and Friday, is some serious publicity at both events for the Flagstaff Trail Days work and a big uptick in climber participation in the next two sessions on the 22nd of September and the 6th of October. It's good for the environment, it's a good hard physical workout, and it's great for creating a sense of a genuine climbing community here in Boulder.


Eman said...

I spent time working with issues related to access int he South years ago. I was active enough to volunteer as the regional coordinator for our area.

I learned a lot, but what I decided was that people who have a lot of climbing near them tend to not think about access issues as much as those who almost no climbing.

Anonymous said...

I thought trying to guilt people into something was a junior high tactic. I should try and guilt people not to drive all the way to Chaos for a "quick session" because of the carbon footprint.

Andrew Kornylak said...

I would say its a matter of perception rather than actual volume.

Boone is a perfect example. The tiny climbing community there has a ludicrous amount of climbing available to them. Ditto for the South in general. Per capita there is arguably more climbable rock around places like Chattanooga and Boone than most anywhere else. Yet they seem to be quite active when it comes to access.

The perception is different because land ownership is different in these places. When your climbing is on BLM and National Park, access is someone else's problem, a matter of public policy, and paid for by tax dollars.

That said, it might simply take the actions of one or two leaders to get the ball rolling for something big to happen. Anywhere.

Thanks for your service, eman!

Peter Beal said...

Typical anonymous comment. Care to share what were you doing on Saturday?

Anonymous said...

"I should try and guilt people not to drive all the way to Chaos for a "quick session" because of the carbon footprint."

Actually, you should. Prevent people from driving an hour (or however long) each way just to climb. And you should avoid doing it yourself. I lived in Estes for a decade, and I climbed nearly every day. For life reasons, I left, and now, though I miss climbing tremendously, I surf and mountain bike, instead, not feeling as though I can personally justify the carbon output a bouldering session now requires of me.

To each his own, of course...

Jeff Butler,

Solvang, CA

Peter Beal said...

Thanks Jeff,
I agree and in fact have been riding my bike into town to the climbing gym whenever possible. While I would prefer not having to drive to the Park for bouldering, that is a choice I make and try to offset in various ways. I doubt that the anonymous commenter is actually going to reveal himself and call out the many, many others who drive there from Boulder to go climbing. The argument that anyone who encourages a higher standard needs to be perfect is an old and tired one, as ineffective as it is unoriginal.

Anonymous said...

I was climbing on Saturday. I don't live in Boulder. I just think your attempt to make people feel guilty for not working on trails is a poor argument. I built the trail to the 1st Flatiron. I also built the Colorado Trail (part of it anyway). Saying you off-set your impact in other ways is bogus. How? Can you really off-set your impact? No, you can only have an impact or lessen an impact. Unless you are foolish enough to believe in carbon trading, there is no off-setting.

Peter Beal said...

"Can you really off-set your impact? No, you can only have an impact or lessen an impact."

So you say that offsetting impact is impossible but lessening it is? Seriously? Please explain.

I am going to maintain that yes it is a problem if climbers will not come together as a community to address issues that demand a united response beyond clicking like on Facebook or watching a video.

Ron Nance said...

This one is close to my heart, so I want to add an idea or two. Some of my other thoughts are recorded on a comment strand on a similar post.
Last Sunday, I helped promote, organize, and oversee a trail day at LRC (AKA Little Rock City/Stone Fort), a heavily trafficked boulder field. We had over 90 people show up! Having participated in many trail days around the Chatty area, I can tell you that the number of volunteers was close to 10 times the typical turnout. So how did we muster such a crowd? The short answer is this--Facebook. The longer answer is that we started early (about a month prior), created an event page that set off an exponential wave as the initial 117 invitees invited others, and we kept stoking the fire with reminders via Facebook which included the donated swag and free lunch that vendors and two ATL gyms graciously offered. We ended up with 5 states being represented with climbers traveling long distances. Admittedly many of these came to climb but many also planned those trips to coincide with the trail day. While other forms of social media were employed, Facebook was the most effective. I share this anecdote to point out that social media (e.g. FB, Twitter, blog posts, etc.) also offer the Tribe an effective method for communicating the conservation ethic that we must convey if we are to preserve our beloved climbing areas.
The sense of ownership gained by those who participate in trail days and other conservation activities pretty much ensures that person will be much more aware of her or his impact and also creates or nurtures an environmentally conscious advocate.
Lastly, I'm stoked that we (the Tribe) are having this dialogue, but I am often disappointed by some of the pointless rants and attacks that also appear in these discussions. I personally feel no one should ever post anonymously as this encourages that. If you aren't man or woman enough to put your name with your words, don't say them.
Ron Nance