Standing Up for Indian Creek

John Climaco Climbing in Southeast Utah in the 1980s.

John Climaco Climbing in Southeast Utah in the 1980s.

By AAC Member John Climaco

Canyonlands first captured me in the spring of 1984 as a skinny, 16-year-old Ohio boy. Years earlier I’d stumbled across a 1966 issue of National Geographic covering the first ascent of the Titan. Entranced by this wild adventure, I stole the only copy from our school library just to have it to myself. I devoured every story of the hard-living desert climbing pioneers I could, but nothing I’d read prepared me for the descent into Indian Creek and the desert of my dreams on my first time. No words could possibly capture the quiet, and the freedom.

In those days, you could have Indian Creek all to yourself on a spring weekend. The Anasazi art and the even more ancient sandstone towers were your silent and only companions. It was a place where you were free to create your own adventures and be the outlaw of your youthful imaginings. Looking back, it recently dawned on me that the very thing which seduced me about the desert may be precisely what imperils it. As the vast emptiness of the desert begets a feeling of endless freedom, it is easy to lapse into a comforting sense of the timelessness of the landscape. It is too easy to let that freedom lull us into assuming that what was here yesterday to be enjoyed today will still be there for us tomorrow.

The fact is that while we see these lands as our birthright, others see them as a vast piggy bank. Whether it was silver to fund a booming new nation, uranium to fuel the cold war or petroleum to fill our tanks, these lands have always held the promise of riches far more bankable than the ephemeral wealth we build there. Only a tiny portion of our public lands are entirely secured from those who wish to tap, mine or drill for personal profit. Would anyone seeking those rewards see our climbing tribe as a legitimate constituency to be respected and accounted for in use planning and public lands access? Maybe not a generation ago, but things are changing.

Like the echoes of pitons being driven into sandstone, the outlaw era of climbing is gone. Today, climbing is a mainstream sport. The power of our collective voice has grown and so has our capacity to give back to the lands that have given us so much. In speaking together, we have made a significant difference in communicating the value of these lands. The recent Bears Ears National Monument proclamation was the first ever presidential proclamation to list rock climbing as an acceptable and appropriate activity. We spoke up together and we were heard.

Unfortunately, efforts are already underway to dismantle Bears Ears National Monument. The Utah legislature recently passed a resolution, HCR 11, asking the Trump administration to rescind Bears Ears National Monument. Undoing the monument would be unprecedented and would put our other national treasures at risk.

A call to your congressman today will take less time than racking up for tomorrow’s adventures. Thousands of such calls, mainly by hunters and fishermen, recently led Representative Chaffetz (R – UT) to withdraw his disastrous bill which would have allowed a massive transfer of public lands into corporate ownership. If each of us made a single call to protect Indian Creek and the surrounding Bear’s Ears National Monument, could we secure it forever? I’d like to think so.

A few years ago, on yet another climbing and exploring trip from my home in Northern Utah, I saw a sight so incongruous with my sense of the desert landscape I had to stop the car and stare: a drilling rig tapping away yards from the entrance to Canyonlands National Park. I gawked at its gravel containment platform and wondered what law could ever permit this eyesore? Who will clean it up? Was anyone out there who cared enough to do something about it? 

Finally, it struck me: I was.

John Climaco today with his children

John Climaco today with his children

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Here's How You Can Take Action:

It is imperative that we communicate our stance on public land policy to our elected representatives. Contact of your federal representatives by calling the Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected.

Can’t remember who your representatives are? Look them up here:  

U.S. Senate: https://www.senate.gov/ 

House of Representatives: http://www.house.gov/representatives/

And if picking up the phone terrifies you, consider writing an Op-ed or Letter to the Editor. Not sure where to start? Check out this great resource from our partners at Outdoor Alliance.

Protect Bears Ears National Monument

Photo: Emma Longcope 

Photo: Emma Longcope 

Southeast Utah is one of the most revered climbing destinations in the United States, and climbers have been strong and influential advocates for its protection. Our collective efforts paid off when on December 28, 2016, President Obama declared the region a national monument and listed climbing in the proclamation.

However, efforts are underway to dismantle the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument. In the upcoming weeks, newly appointed Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke (former Montana Congressman) will set his priorities for public lands. He will be in a position to influence President Trump's decision on whether or not to rescind Bears Ears National Monument.

Please help us speak up for Bears Ears! We need as many climbers as possible to urge Zinke to protect the national monument. The easy letter writing tool has content you can use and as always, we love when you add your own voice from a climber's perspective.

TOGETHER WE'RE STRONGER.
 

We joined our partners at Access Fund, Outdoor Alliance, Outdoor Industry Association, Friends of Indian Creek, and Salt Lake Climbers Alliance to ask Secretary-designee Ryan Zinke to protect Bears Ears National Monument and the Antiquities Act as a tool to protect public lands.

Read our letter below:

 

 

AAC's Public Lands Policy – Core Values

Since its founding in 1902, the American Alpine Club has been a force in helping safeguard our country’s wild landscapes and natural treasures. We believe that as climbers, we bear the important responsibility of protecting the places we climb and sustaining the climbing community.

More than 60 percent of all rock climbing areas are on federally managed public lands – which are commonly owned lands held in trust for all Americans.[i] Public lands include our National Parks, National Forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. These wild places are among our country’s greatest assets and must be conserved and kept public.

 

Public Lands Should Remain in Public Hands

  • Climbing on public lands is part of our national heritage.
  • Keeping public lands public guarantees that we have a say in how they are managed.
  • We oppose any measure to sell or transfer public lands to states or other entities. State ownership puts access at risk: of the 64.2 million acres of public lands transferred to 11 western states, 25.4 million acres have been sold.[ii]
  • The Antiquities Act and The Wilderness Act are foundational laws to protect recreation on public lands; the authority of both must be preserved.

 

Public Lands Support Healthy, Vibrant and Economically Sustainable Communities

  • Public lands are the backbone of the outdoor recreation economy that generates $646 billion in consumer spending and 6.1 million jobs annually. [iii]
  • Public lands draw visitors from all over the world and attract and retain knowledge workers in gateway communities.
  • Recreating on our public lands makes for healthier citizens, inspires stewardship of the natural world, and provides an unparalleled quality of life.
  • Outdoor educators and climbing guides depend on public lands to teach climbers how to practice our craft in a safe and environmentally sensitive way.

 

Public Lands Require Balanced Management, Adequate Resources and Public Involvement

  • Stable, long-term funding for quality public lands management is essential to supporting outdoor recreation and environmental conservation. We encourage the addition of new and non-traditional funding from private and non-profit sources.[iv]
  • A balanced land management approach is necessary to ensure that wild landscapes remain pristine, culturally significant, biologically diverse, and have high recreational values that are protected from potentially damaging large-scale industrial developments.
  • In conflicts over access issues, climbers should work with climbing advocacy organizations, land managers, government agencies and other user groups to find solutions satisfactory to all parties.[v]

 

Endnotes

[i] Our Public Lands are Under Attack. Access Fund.

[ii] 7 Differences Between State Lands and Public Lands. June 2015. www.ProtectourPublicLand.org

[iii] Outdoor Industry Association, The Outdoor Recreation Economy Report, 2012.  Note: Nationally, when considered a stand-alone economic sector outdoor recreation’s is an economic giant whose benefits are nearly double that spent on Motor Vehicles and Parts (at $340 billion), and is surpassed only by Financial Services (at $760 billion) and Outpatient Health Care (at $767 billion).

[iv] SHIFT Principles for Advancing Outdoor Recreation and Conservation. June 2016

[v] Tyrol Declaration, Adopted by the Future of Mountain Sports Conference, 2002

 

Climbers and Climate Change: Trevor Bloom

Did you know the AAC supports cutting-edge scientific research? Through the Research Grant program, we provide funding to multiple researchers across the country every year. The scope of work our Researchers conduct is broad, but a common thread among many of them is investigating the effects of climate change. We've asked several of these Researchers to sit down and chat with us about climate change, their research and their climbing. 

AAC member Trevor Bloom recently earned his Masters of Science at Western Washington University in the Department of Biology. Trevor’s research is focused on quantifying the consequences of climate change and wildfire in high-elevation ecosystems. To do so, he conducted a field survey of the alpine wildflower “Spotted Saxifrage” (Saxifraga austromontana) where he and his climbing partner crossed the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico to British Columbia. Jonathan Oulton, AAC member and geologist, spoke with Trevor to find out more:

Q&A with Trevor Bloom

Oulton: Why is your research important to climbers and non-scientists?

Bloom: In my line of research, the consequences of climate change are very visible. Perhaps the most evident change is the recession and loss of glaciers throughout the central and northern Rocky Mountains. As these glaciers shrink each year less meltwater becomes available down-stream. As this happens, we’re seeing some of the largest wildfire years on record. Uncharacteristically high wildfire activity has increased 6-fold since 1970. People are directly affected by these wildfires through loss of natural resources, destruction of homes, health issues and increased risk to firefighters. We’re losing a lot of the diversity of life that is in the alpine.

Trevor Bloom (right) and partner Matt Kneipp (left) on the summit of the Grant Teton during field work (2015)

I observe how populations of a wildflower, the Spotted Saxifrage, change over time as a result of warming temperatures, changing climate and increasing fire frequency in the alpine. The evidence from the research is conclusive: wildfires are having devastating, potentially irreparable consequences on certain species in the alpine. As once relatively rare fire events become more and more frequent at high-elevation, unique alpine organisms face habitat loss and possible extinction. Species that exist nowhere else in the world may be lost forever!

Oulton: What is the most striking impact of climate change you've observed in the alpine?

Bloom: Entire landscapes have been altered by wildfires in the alpine. Most people don’t think that fire can propagate through the alpine, but once a wildfire reaches the tree line, it spreads like… well, like wildfire!

Fire in the alpine at the Bob Marshall Wilderness Compex, MT in 2012 

Also, the changes taking place in Glacier National Park completely blew me away. When the park was established in 1910 there were about 150 active glaciers, now there are fewer than 25, and may be zero before 2050. Once those glaciers are gone we can’t get them back, and we’re already beginning to see the consequences through increased summer drought and huge wildfires.

Oulton: Looking forward, what do you foresee as the most significant challenges to addressing the issues of climate change?

Bloom: We need to take climate change seriously as individuals and as a nation. A tremendous part of that is being active in the political process so that our elected officials make positive climate policy decisions. The problem right now is that the new administration’s cabinet is being stuffed full of climate change deniers (not even skeptics!). This is very scary because climate change deniers comprise a tremendously small portion (<2%) of the scientific community. Many of these politicians have a long history of combating environmentally friendly policies.

It is critical to convince policy makers that this issue is important to us, to our country and to our world! The vast majority of the scientific community agrees that human actions are a driver for climate change. Unless policies are put in place, companies and individuals will continue to make environmentally insensitive business and lifestyle decisions that are convenient, but detrimental long term.

Oulton: A common sentiment is that "the actions of an individual can't influence an issue as massive as climate change." This attitude is dangerous, as it can lead to complacency. What actions can an individual take to have a positive, real influence on climate change?

Bloom: First and foremost, we as individuals need to be informed and make informed decisions through voting and consumption choices. Your dollar goes a long way and your vote goes a long way. I think many people struggle with staying up to date on contemporary issues. A great way to do this is to join conservation organizations at all levels of policy. There is a litany of organizations from the local to the federal level that do the research regarding ongoing policy decisions and will offer great suggestions on how you as an individual can help out. Open their emails! Sign those petitions! Send those letters to your congressmen and women! Call them up on the phone! Show them you care! Stay up to date on contemporary issues, especially regarding climate change and public resource management.

A great example of this is the Outdoor Alliance. They regularly send out emails that provide information on policies that will threaten public land access/preservation at the federal level. Right now our access to climbing on state and federal land may be highly compromised! I’m willing to bet that there if you’re reading this, there is a local conservation group near your home that you can get involved in.

Lastly, be a personal steward to alpine environments. Stay on designated trails, respect closures, don’t pick the flowers or stomp on the tundra; these plants may be a hundred years old and fragile. Basically, respect Leave No Trace principles. If you allow these themes to guide your actions you’ll be taking personal measures to help preserve our beloved alpine. Share the outdoors and your values with others, especially the youth, so they too can make good decisions that benefit our environment. There is something so freeing about being in the mountains, but we must recognize it as a privilege that must be protected through good stewardship and political activism.

The beautiful Spotted Saxifrage (Saxifraga austromontana). Photo by Trevor Bloom

Oulton: All good advice! You're the creator of the "Climb-It Change" website and campaign. Tell us a little bit about it and your upcoming documentary.

Bloom: I’ve been working as a biologist for about 8 years now, which has involved writing peer-reviewed publications, discovering new species and generally investigating natural phenomena. However, I don’t feel like the science I’ve been doing has been communicated well with the general public, which is a critical component in preserving these species and places that I am very passionate about. The intention of the Climb-It Change documentary and blog is to present climate science and research in an approachable manner, to encourage people to get outside, experience nature first hand, and to help preserve our natural resources in a time of political peril.

The documentary follows my climbing partner, Matt Kneipp, and I as we traverse the entire Rocky Mountain Chain, sampling 76 peaks, rock climbing in six states and two Canadian Provinces, all while conducting field research on the Spotted Saxifrage wildflower that we detailed earlier in this interview. The documentary’s core purpose is to spread awareness about the climate change and increase in wildfire frequency that is happening in alpine environments. It is an adventure story and a method to educate a broader audience about the consequences of climate change in the alpine! So stoked. We expect a first release of the film in Bellingham, WA on Earth Day (4/22/17), followed by an internet release.

Oulton: We’re looking forward to seeing it! Thanks for chatting with us Trevor, good luck with the rest of your research and graduate program!

The Spotted Saxifrage in its high-alpine home. Photo by Trevor Bloom during his 2015 field season.


Climbers and Climate Change: Kristin Schild

Did you know the AAC supports cutting-edge scientific research? Through the Research Grant program, we provide funding to multiple researchers across the country every year. The scope of work Our Researchers conduct is broad, but a common thread among many of them is investigating the effects of climate change. A timely topic, we've asked several of our researchers to sit down and chat with us about climate change, their research and their climbing. 

AAC member Kristin Schild is a 6th year Ph.D. student at Dartmouth College in the Department of Earth Sciences. Kristin’s Research focuses on understanding the dynamics of glaciers that terminate in the ocean (tidewater glaciers) in Greenland, Alaska and Antarctica. Jonathan Oulton, AAC member and geologist, spoke with Kristin to find out more:

Oulton: Why is your research important to climbers and non-scientists?

Schild: The vast majority of climate change driven ice loss (which translates to sea level rise) occurs from tidewater glacier systems. Understanding how and why these glaciers are changing, and the physical processes driving these changes, is crucial to predicting how they will behave in a changing climate. My research looks at a piece of this complicated puzzle, in particular how meltwater that is exiting a tidewater glacier influences the circulation of ocean waters adjacent to the glacier (in the fjord), and glacier terminus melting and stability.

Oulton: Your field work in Norway on the Kronebreen Glacier put you in an extremely remote location. What was that like?

Schild: My field season was about 3 weeks long, including travel. We were stationed out of a very small research base and would take a boat to the glacier each day. I’ve done a lot of work in polar regions, so I knew it would be cold, windy and that sometimes instruments wouldn’t operate in the cold, but this was my first time working from a boat which presented all new challenges. We had to wear full survival suits, including large steel-toed boots and full zip-up hoods, but collecting the data presented the largest challenge.

Kristin Schild performing field work in the Larsbreen Ice Cave.  (Svalbard, Norway - 2013).

We were collecting water samples with air temperatures of about -20 °F and with water temps of about -4 °F, so by the end of the day everything had a solid layer of ice around it - your gloves, the sampling bottles, all of your equipment - everything was frozen. We had to be very diligent to knock all the ice off the instruments between every sample to prevent inaccurate readings or sample contamination.

Oulton: Looking forward, what do you foresee as the most significant challenges to addressing the issues of climate change?

Schild: I think the first challenge is that there is a tremendous amount of misinformation which results in people not knowing what to think anymore. We need to make information about climate change accessible and tangible to the general public.  As climbers, I’m sure many have seen their favorite ice climbs not come in, or a classic route up a mountain change because the snow bridges are melting out earlier each season; so the effects of a changing climate have been observed, however this is not necessarily the case for everyone.

The second challenge is that climate change itself is complex and far-reaching: there is no simple or single solution to climate change because it impacts so many different aspects of our environment and economy. Many people are focusing on adaptation and mitigation, versus curbing emissions, because those solutions seem simpler or more straight forward. 

Kristin Schild servicing a time-lapse camera to monitor the Hubbard Glacier (Alaska, 2011). Photo by Gordon Hamilton

However, if we don't make necessary economic and lifestyle changes to reduce emissions, we won't be able to mitigate and adapt fast enough.

Oulton: A common sentiment is that "the actions of an individual can't influence an issue as massive as climate change." This attitude is dangerous, as it can lead to complacency. What actions can an individual take to have a positive, real influence on climate change?

Schild: There are so many choices, just in our everyday lives, which we can make to reduce our contribution to global emissions that won't hurt our economy (and, in fact, would help it). Many we’ve heard before: turn off the lights, take public transportation or ride your bike to work. But there is also the consumerism side: buy local products, buy energy efficient appliances, and reduce overall spending.

The real big one though, is to vote. Everyone should take the opportunity to urge government representatives and policymakers to support the development of renewable energies, the development of smarter/more efficient vehicles, and research into new technologies. The scientific community is working hard to understand how our planet is changing and on what timescales, but without the support of the governmentthere is a limit to what we can do.

Kristin Schild headed back to the helicopter after installing a high resolution GPS on Helmheim Glacier (Greenland, 2009). Photo: Gordon Hamilton

Oulton: Thank you. That wraps up out climate change questions. Let’s talk about climbing. Did you see anything in Svalbard that would be fun climbing?

Schild: The rock around Svalbard is all sedimentary rock, so it’s not ideal for rock climbing. However, the skiing is amazing, there are several ice caves, and ice climbing routes do exist! The views and terrain are quite variable, so I can only imagine any exploration being an incredible experience.

Oulton: Have you had any interesting wildlife encounters during field work?

Schild: While I haven’t had any personal encounters, I’ve certainly had some unplanned repairs because of them! One trip out to Greenland we found a few Arctic Foxes had eaten through our “fox-proof” cables connecting our solar panels to the GPS system. On another trip in Alaska, we found the housing for our time-lapse camera had been used as a scratching post by a bear about a week after setting up the system. Thus, instead of watching the glacier terminus advance and retreat, we now had a whole season’s-worth of pictures looking first at the bear, then at the ground.

Oulton: What advice would you give to someone who wants to visit Svalbard?

Schild: I would actually encourage them to visit during the late winter (February-March). It is absolutely bitterly cold and is just coming out of 24 hours of polar darkness, but there is an incredible peace in the darkness up there and the northern lights are the best I’ve ever seen.

Oulton: That sounds oddly amazing. What is one of your most memorable climbing experiences?

Schild: This past summer we were contracted by the US Geological Survey to install a survey marker at windy corner (measuring plate movement) and to determine the ice-thickness at the summit of Denali. Our group of four spent about 3 weeks shuttling all of our science equipment up Denali - equipment which included a rock drill, various different cold-temperature epoxies, a small car battery, as well as the high-resolution GPS system and ground penetrating radar (GPR) system. This was certainly more weight than any of us would take on a normal climbing trip! The day we summited and measured the ice thickness there was very poor visibility, so instead of taking pictures of the view, many other climbers took pictures of our group towing around the radar to measure the ice thickness at the summit. We later found out that everyone thought it looked like we were vacuuming the summit!

Oulton: You were able to climb Denali for science! Thank you so much for chatting with us, Kristin. We look forward to hearing about more of the results from your research!

Kristin Schild descending along the ridge traverse from High Camp to Camp 14 on Denali after completing a radar survey measuring the snow thickness at the summit (Alaska, 2016). Photo: Seth Campbell


For more information on Kristin, her research, and other AAC Research Grant recipients, please see the following links:

AAC’s “Meet Our Researchers” Webpage

Kristin’s Trip Report for the AAC

Kristin’s Dartmouth Profile

Climbers and Climate Change: Alice Hill

Did you know the AAC supports cutting-edge scientific research? Through the Research Grant program, we provide funding to multiple researchers across the country every year. The scope of work Our Researchers conduct is broad, but a common thread among many of them is investigating the effects of climate change. A timely topic, we've asked several of our researchers to sit down and chat with us about climate change, their research and their climbing. 

AAC member Alice Hill is a 4th year Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado, Boulder in the Geography Program. Alice's research is focused on mountain hydrology, specifically the importance of snow and ice melt water as water resources for communities in Central Asia. Jonathan Oulton, AAC member and geologist, spoke with Alice to find out more:

Q&A With Alice Hill

Oulton: Why is your research important to climbers and non-scientists?

Hill:  Rivers in the Central Asia region are sourced from snow and ice melt in the mountainous countries like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and then they flow across borders downstream. Changes to glaciers and snow in a warming climate suggest that this region might experience water vulnerabilities in the future. I am trying to quantify that potential water vulnerability. This region is already politically tense for a variety of reasons, and water resources could be a spark for conflict.

Oulton: Many people consider that region to be volatile and dangerous. After your experience, how do you respond to this pre-conception? Is it justified?

Hill: In rural communities we experienced generous hospitality and positive interactions. In remote alpine areas our Kyrgyz colleagues were more concerned about our safety from packs of wolves than from the people who live in those areas. In urban areas we didn’t feel unsafe, although we did pay attention to State Department warnings that were issued.

Alice Hill below the toe of the Karabatkak Glacier, Kyrgyzstan.

The highly bureaucratic systems were challenging and at times made me feel vulnerable. There are a different set of cultural norms that I didn’t understand. I wasn’t privy to the bribing culture, even for tasks as simple as getting your luggage on an airplane. Not speaking Russian, Kyrgyz or Tajik, there was a challenging language barrier. Thankfully our in-country partners were there to help us as both translators and negotiators.

Oulton: It’s nice to hear that there are good people in these places. Looking forward, what do you foresee as the most significant challenges to addressing the issues of climate change?

Hill: For me, the biggest challenge with climate change is getting our new leadership to actually buy-in that it is happening. I am anxious that the new administration will be led by people who choose not to believe that climate change is real. That, to me, is the major concern because they are the ones who affect what policies we adopt and what kind of role model we want to be to the international community. I’m trying to stay optimistic.

Oulton: A common sentiment is that "the actions of an individual can't influence an issue as massive as climate change." This attitude is dangerous, as it can lead to complacency. What actions can an individual take to have a positive, real influence on climate change?

Hill: As westerners, we all make individual choices that affect our climate. Indeed, all of us need to make individual lifestyle changes to holistically make impactful change. There are many positive individual decisions we can make on a daily basis: riding a bike, or taking the bus, living in a smaller house, taking shorter showers, buying local food.

The question is, to what level are we willing to inconvenience ourselves? We’re so used to having this highly convenient lifestyle and we need to be willing to sacrifice some of that for the sake of our local and global community We need society scale buy-in for individual changes to collectively have an impact.

Oulton: Absolutely, do you think that leading by example in our communities is effective?

Hill: I think that’s certainly one of the most important ways to do it. I know I’m affected and inspired the most by my friends that ‘walk the walk.’ I think role-modeling is an important piece of the solution.

Alice Hill (center) and fellow CU researchers Alana Wilson and Cholpon Minbaeva (both left) were greeted with kindness and incredible hospitality by the locals in the Kyzyl Suu Basin, Kyrgyzstan.

Oulton: Great, thank you. That covers our main questions on climate science and impact. Let’s talk about climbing. What is one of your most memorable climbing experiences?

Hill: While working in the field as an instructor with NOLS, there was one route that was especially memorable; a traverse across the Northern Patagonian Icefield. Patagonia is one of those places where you have to really lean into the uncertainty of the terrain and weather, among all the other variables that climbers are used to. Case in point, my co-instructors and I wanted to try a traverse that included an unmapped “blank” area on the map. This blank spot had no mapped topographic information because the photographic glare off the glacier surfaces prevented aerial photographs from being used to discern terrain information.  So we basically had little idea what was in store around the next corner until we got there.

We were feeling pretty good about the route after getting up-and-over what we thought was going to be crux of the traverse. We dropped down into a glacial valley and thought we could just run the valley out to the main glacier to get a food re-supply. As it turned out, we were perched on top of this buttress at the head of a steep sided valley with a Class VI cascading river running down the guts.

After days of scouting, we found a route out we were fairly confident we could use to descend. We rappelled down the buttress and pieced together this really steep, thick bushwhack to curl around a ridge. Upon finally reaching our re-supply location, we discovered there was nothing there.  At this point we were totally out of food, eating spice-kit soup, and mostly going off mate fumes. We walked out another day to the only other logical place the food supply might be. Lo-and-behold there it was... We set up camp, rested, and literally ate for two days.

Oulton: You are quite the leader, Alice. Thank you so much for talking with us today. Good luck with your research and the rest of your doctoral program!

Alice Hill taking water samples below the Karabatkak Glacier, Kyrgyzstan.


For more information on Alice, her research, and other AAC Research Grant recipients, please see the following links:

AAC’s “Meet Our Researchers” Webpage

Alice's Trip Report for the AAC

Alice’s CU Boulder Profile

Climbers and Climate Change: Nathalie Chardon

Did you know the AAC supports cutting-edge scientific research? Through the Research Grant program, we provide funding to multiple researchers across the country every year. The scope of work Our Researchers conduct is broad, but a common thread among many of them is investigating the effects of climate change. A timely topic, we've asked several of our researchers to sit down and chat with us about climate change, their research and their climbing. 

AAC member Nathalie Chardon is a 4th year Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado, Boulder in the Environmental Studies Program. Nathalie's research is surveying alpine plant species on popular trails on many of Colorado’s “14’ers” (mountains with summits greater than 14,000 feet). Jonathan Oulton, AAC member and geologist, spoke with Chardon to find out more:

Q&A With Nathalie Chardon

Oulton: Why is your research important to climbers?

Chardon: My research is largely focused on how plant communities in extreme environments respond to human disturbance. Without a clear understanding of how these communities respond to increasing human traffic, we can’t effectively conserve these areas.

Areas that may have been relatively untouched in times past (e.g. alpine ecosystems) are especially vulnerable to negative impacts from human disturbance. As climbers we are frequent visitors to these sensitive regions and thus have the responsibility to be aware of the consequences of our actions.

Oulton: Looking ahead, what do you foresee as the most significant challenges to addressing climate change?

Chardon: I anticipate there being two primary issues to solving the climate change problem. (1) A lack of funding for long-term climate change research, and, (2) A lack of public knowledge on what processes are actually happening. This ends up leading to political decisions, from the citizen to the senator level, that don’t support scientifically backed claims.

Relatively quick climate change impacts will occur on 10-, 20-, or 50-year timescales. To conduct thorough research on these impacts, we need consistent funding over the same time-scales. Our current political/economic system typically focuses on short term profits, perhaps 5-year profits at the most. Resultantly, obtaining that kind of funding is extremely difficult.

Nathalie Chardon surveying plant communities at ~13,500 feet on Mt Belford

Nathalie Chardon surveying plant communities at ~13,500 feet on Mt Belford

Alpine sunrise on Quandary Peak during Nathalie's field work

Alpine sunrise on Quandary Peak during Nathalie's field work

Oulton: A common sentiment is that "the actions of an individual can't influence an issue as massive as climate change." This attitude is dangerous, as it can lead to complacency. What actions can an individual take to have a positive, real influence on climate change?

Chardon: I disagree firmly with that sentiment. Anyone can have a huge impact on reducing greenhouse gases. My recommendation boils down to three things: buying local food, drastically reducing waste, and driving only when necessary.

Consider for a moment how far most food needs to travel to make it to your table, and how much fossil fuel is burned to accomplish that. Multiply that by 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, every single month, etcetera, and pretty soon you’ve racked up an extensive fossil fuel bill.

If you do these three things, you will drastically reduce your greenhouse gas emissions! This would be incredibly impactful, because greenhouse gases directly ‘fuel’ climate change.

Oulton: That makes sense, thank you. That wraps up our main climate change questions. You’ve spent countless hours doing research on Colorado’s 14’ers. Do you have a favorite/least favorite 14’er?

Chardon: My least favorite is Bierstadt, it’s depressing to me how the trail has become a highway. Choosing a favorite is harder… I think it must be the South Side of Mt. Elbert, from the Black Cloud trailhead. The whole hike is super steep with spectacular views, I absolutely love it! Over the two times I’ve been up I think I’ve only seen four people total. You’re so removed.

Oulton: Have you had any ridiculous tourist interactions on Colorado’s 14’ers?

Chardon: For my field work I’ve built a 1x1 meter grid that I can assemble on-site, but that means when I’m hiking I have four white poles sticking out my pack. It’s an unusual sight. The two funniest inquiries I’ve had are “Is that a hang gliding get-up?” and “Are you carrying a volleyball net?”

Nathalie's field assistant, Clea Berholet, assembling the surveying grid on Grey's Peak

Nathalie's field assistant, Clea Berholet, assembling the surveying grid on Grey's Peak

Oulton: That’s fantastic. What is one of your most memorable climbing experiences?

Chardon: Climbing limestone tufas in Kalymnos, Greece. Hands down, it was incredible. I’ve never experienced any climbing like it, ever. Ever. The moves you make there have nothing to do with climbing as I knew it. At one point, I put my feet against one tufa and my back against another – it was the only time I’ve taken a no-hands-rest on an overhung route. I loved it!

Oulton: If you were given a 3-month, all expenses-paid climbing trip, where would you go/What would you do?

Chardon: Well, I would do two things. I would start out sport climbing near Yangshuo, China, where they have those huge limestone arches. Then I’d take some time in the Karakoram Range, Pakistan to do some SkiMo (Ski Mountaineering), without a doubt. Let me know if that trip ever happens!

We’ll keep you posted, Nathalie! Thanks for chatting with us.


For more information on Nathalie, her research, and other AAC Research Grant recipients, please see the following links:

AAC’s “Meet Our Researchers” Webpage

Nathalie’s Trip report for the AAC

Nathalie’s CU Boulder Profile

2016 Conservation and Advocacy Recap

It’s a wrap! 2016 was a strong year for the AAC. As we turn off the lights at the Clubhouse for the holiday break, we have a lot to celebrate. In 2016, we ramped up our efforts in protecting healthy climbing landscapes and advancing climber competency. Here are a few highlights on the conservation and public policy side:

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AAC on Capitol Hill:
In the last several weeks, two bills AAC lobbied on were signed into law. Our partners at the Outdoor Industry Association have reached out to let us know that AAC’s lobby day last February made a difference in the passage of the REC Act and the National Park Service Centennial Act. More about these pieces of legislation:

  • REC Act: Recreation’s Economic Contributions (REC) Act directs the Bureau of Economic Analysis to quantify how much the outdoor industry contributes to job creation and consumer spending. We anticipate the outcome of the analysis will further justify the importance of outdoor recreation and keeping public lands public.

  • Centennial Act: The Centennial Act will provide greater funding for our national parks and will leverage philanthropic support to sustain the parks we love for the next one hundred years. 

Climbers have a vested interest in what happens in D.C., and showing up to make our voice heard is key to the future of the sport. By working together, with the industry and partner organizations, we are stronger as a community.
–AAC Policy Committee Member, Brad Brooks

 

The Walker Order:
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell released her Secretary’s Order—called the “Walker order” in memory of past AAC President Doug Walker. The Order is an effort to decrease barriers for disadvantaged youth to access public lands and waters through expediting the permit process. Secretary Jewell first announced the Walker Order at the AAC Annual Benefit Dinner in D.C. February, 2016.

Protecting Bears Ears:
Southeast Utah contains some of the best climbing in the country—Indian Creek, Lockhart Basin, Arch Canyon, Comb Ridge, Valley of the Gods and plenty yet to be discovered. Home to more than 100,000 cultural and archaeological sites, the Bears Ears area is also the most significant unprotected archeological area in the country. Together with Access Fund and Outdoor Alliance, we rallied climbers to send letters to the Obama administration, encouraging protection of climbing and Native American cultural resources. We delivered an analysis of the letters to policymakers. AAC CEO Phil Powers, Board President Matt Culberson and Policy Committee member Peter Metcalf co-authored a letter (CEQ) in support of the Monument.

AAC Conservation Grants & Awards:
2016 saw an increase in the amount of funding we awarded to our conservation grant recipients:

  • Cornerstone Conservation Grant: In 2016, AAC awarded a Cornerstone grant to 13 projects across the country. Learn about those projects here.

Check out our education page to learn more about how we're increasing climber competency as well as conserving our resources. A huge thanks to all our members, partners, and supporters who make these accomplishments possible! 

 

President Signs REC Act: Victory for Climbers

REC Act Victory

Emma Longcope

Just how much does the outdoor recreation industry contribute to our nation’s economy? A hell of a lot. But, unlike other industries, we don't know for sure because the federal government has never quantified outdoor recreation’s economic impact.

Thanks to the work of the Outdoor Industry Association and many of our partners, President Obama just signed the REC Act, which will be a game changer. The Act directs the Bureau of Economic Analysis to quantify just how much the outdoor industry contributes to job creation and consumer spending. The AAC is particularly psyched about this because:

1.) This analysis will provide a way to recognize the environment’s connection to our well-being-- politically, economically and personally. It’s an acknowledgement that the mountains and deserts and recreational landscapes do not exist in a void, but instead are intrinsically connected to our jobs, spending, income, and health.

2.) More information about the importance of recreational activities will help us make a stronger case for the importance of our public land for the economy, as well as for future generations and other species. Keeping our public lands in public hands has become increasingly important in today’s political landscape, and we are optimistic that conservation efforts will rise as a priority when policymakers receive quantified information regarding the recreational value of these wild places.

3.) We advocated for passage of the REC Act, and we’re excited to see our efforts result in action! In February 2016, along with a group of our board members and partners, we climbed Capitol Hill to talk with policymakers and advocate for the places we climb.

As Mark Butler, AAC Board Member and 37-year veteran of the National Park Service, said, “It is critically important for climbers to be represented in public policy at all levels of government. If we are not at the table, our issues will not be considered when the laws and policies affecting climbing are developed.” We will continue our advocacy work in DC and will keep you informed on the evolution of public policy that impacts climbers and the places we love to climb. We ask that you continue raising your voices in support of the places and pursuits at the heart of our AAC community. Cheers!

 

Banner photo: AAC member Austin Siadak

Looking Ahead: What's Next for Climbers?

As climbers, we have a unique connection to public lands and our environment. Beginning with its early founders, the American Alpine Club has a long history of environmental conservation and ethics, wilderness management and the scientific exploration of mountain regions.

The recent election has brought uncertainty about the future of our public lands and our environment. While our membership is politically diverse, we can agree that as a climbing community we bear a responsibility for protecting the places we climb and for protecting our right to clean air, clean water, healthy forests, rivers and deserts. Our mutual admiration for climbing and climbing landscapes unites us and transcends partisanship. Together we are stronger. And together we can do a lot of good.

Here are some of the ways we can get involved in protecting the places we climb and working toward our vision of healthy climbing landscapes:

  • Stay informed: For public lands information, follow our partners at Outdoor Alliance. Learn about the latest environmental science with Yale Climate Connections, Protect Our Winters and NRDC. For updates on what Congress is up to, subscribe to The Hill.
  • Learn how to be an advocate: Check out OA's Advocacy 101 series. 
  • Act locally: Engage with your local AAC Chapter and organize a trail stewardship day. Apply for an AAC Cornerstone Conservation Grant. Connect with your local land trust, work with your local city council on sustainability initiatives, find ways to volunteer.
  • Reduce your carbon footprint: Carpool to the crag. Ride your bike to work, walk or take the bus when possible. Reduce your water usage, reuse and recycle. Support clean energy sources.  
  • Learn about AAC’s researchers and the work they’re doing on alpine science. Applications for research grants are open from November 15-January 15.
  • Tell us about your local stewardship work so we can help spread the word.

AAC’s second president John Muir once wrote, “The mountains are calling and I must go and I will work on while I can, studying incessantly.” Most people don’t realize that quote doesn’t end with “and I must go.” Muir saw responsibility and purpose as well as pleasure in the mountains. So do we.

 

2016 D.C. LOBBY DAY

In February 2016, a group of board members, partners and AAC member Conrad Anker, climbed Capitol Hill to talk with policymakers and advocate for the places we climb. We found that there is a high regard among many of our elected officials and their staffs—as well as from agency representatives—about the AAC and its members. We focused on the following issues:

  • Land Water Conservation Fund: A bipartisan effort to protect natural treasures and outdoor recreation. For more than 50 years, LWCF has protected  5 million acres of land and supported more than 41,000 state and local park projects. We want to ensure LWCF is permanently reauthorized and fully funded in the long-term.

  • Centennial Act: An effort to address critical maintenance and improvement projects in our national parks as the National Park Service prepares to celebrate its centennial next year. We want to see a bipartisan bill that builds on recent funding increases and ensures our climbing landscapes remain healthy and supported for the next 100 years.

  • Recreation Economic Contribution Act (Rec Act): A bill that would require the government to officially measure the impact of outdoor recreation on the U.S. economy. We believe that the Rec Act will raise the policy profile of the outdoor community and emphasize the importance of protecting public lands.

  • Bears Ears: An effort to permanently protect valuable climbing areas in southeastern Utah (includes Indian Creek, Valley of the Gods and Lockhart Basin to name a few). Whether protection is done through a national monument designation or through legislation, we are working to ensure that rock climbing is acknowledged as an acceptable activity.

  • Director’s Order 41: A National Park Service order that states that climbing is a legitimate activity in Wilderness, and that fixed anchors are necessary for climbing. We are working to ensure this precedent will also be adopted by other agencies including the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.
Meeting with staffers, leaders and decision makers on the hill makes a difference. If we don’t, who will? I’ve seen time and again where the simple act of spending time talking what you are passionate about makes a difference.
— Paul Gagner, former AAC Board Member
 

A Shared Love for Southeast Utah

May 23rd, 2016: Climbers and tribal representatives gathered together to discuss the future management of southeast Utah. Photocredit: EcoFlight 

May 23rd, 2016: Climbers and tribal representatives gathered together to discuss the future management of southeast Utah. Photocredit: EcoFlight 

The climbing in southeast Utah is some of the best in the country, beckoning rock climbers from around the world. It tests our physical and mental boundaries and provides adventure, fulfillment and personal growth. The Bears Ears area of southeast Utah is particularly important. It’s a 1.9-million-acre region north of the San Juan River and east of the Colorado River that includes Native American archeological and cultural sites and exceptional climbing such as Indian Creek, Lockhart Basin, Arch Canyon, Comb Ridge, and Valley of the Gods.

Climbers aren’t the only ones with a profound love of southeast Utah. Its sacredness runs deep. Home to more than 100,000 cultural and archaeological sites, the Bears Ears area is the most significant unprotected archeological area in the country. Tribal leaders and medicine people continue to conduct ceremonies, collect herbs for medicinal purposes, and practice healing rituals there. In a recent meeting with representatives from the Bears-Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, the AAC and Access Fund had the opportunity to connect with them over our shared love and respect for the land.

These treasures—climbing areas and spiritual sites—may be at risk. With two land management proposals on the table, the stakes are complicated. Congressmen Bishop and Chaffetz’s Public Lands Initiative (PLI) could—among other things—open the land to resource extraction. Not good for the tribes or for climbers. Here’s where it gets tricky: if instead, the Bears Ears area becomes a national monument, cultural resources will be protected, but it’s possible that there could be new restrictions on recreational uses. We’re working with the Access Fund and the Inter-Tribal Coalition to keep climbing open in the Bears Ears region while ensuring much-needed protections for cultural resources. 

Partnering with local Native American tribes is critical in protecting the breathtaking beauty of the Bears Ears area and ensuring that we can continue to enjoy its world-class climbing. On May 23rd, AAC and Access Fund joined with representative from the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition to discuss the proposed monument and do a fly-over with EcoFlight. We spoke about how respectful climbing practices are compatible with natural and cultural resource protection and shared information about the ways in which climbers serve as stewards of public lands. Tribal representatives explained their grave concerns about resource extraction, the proposed PLI and emphasized the lands’ sacredness. We shared our report on a joint AAC/Access Fund letter writing campaign to President Obama which captures how much climbers value southeast Utah. They were impressed and encouraged to hear that 1,135 climbers wrote in response to our call to action.

It is clear that climbers and the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition share similar feelings about this area: both groups have reverence for the land and want it to be protected. We don’t support resource extraction in places with such extraordinary cultural and recreation value as Bears Ears. As policy decisions unfold, the AAC and Access Fund will continue to do everything we can to ensure that land management policies protect Native American cultural and archaeological sites while recognizing climbing as an appropriate activity in southeast Utah. 

Colorado Leads the Nation in Establishing Public Lands Day

Colorado Leads the Nation in Establishing Public Lands Day

 John Rader

AAC Conservation and Advocacy Team

Today, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper made history by signing a bill that establishes a new state holiday to commemorate Colorado’s public lands. This bill is the first of its kind in the country and is great news for climbers, since more than 70 percent of rock climbing in the West occurs on public land. As American Alpine Club CEO Phil Powers says, “the vertical playgrounds on our public lands offer the kind of unexplored terrain that challenges us to dig deep for our best selves. Our pristine and inspiring landscapes bring out our best and rank Colorado one of the most desirable places to live today.”

Colorado’s access to the outdoors is a huge magnet for people and businesses. The state’s outdoor recreation economy alone generates $13.2 billion annually and directly supports 125,000 jobs in Colorado. In fact, as Governor Hickenlooper mentioned during the signing, 95 percent of Coloradans have recreated on public lands in the last year. That’s why the majority of Colorado voters oppose state attempts to seize public lands and turn them over to extractive industry.

Today’s signing is an awesome validation that Coloradans want to celebrate our public spaces instead of selling them off. It represents our desire to protect the areas where we hike, climb, bike, and boat. From arid deserts to soaring mountains, public lands are where we commune with nature, push our personal boundaries, and find solace in wild places. All Coloradans can take pride that their state is a leader in the West in acknowledging the value of public lands.

Three cheers to our partners at Conservation Colorado and Outdoor Alliance Colorado for all their hard work in helping get this important bill passed.

 

For more information on how to get involved in protecting public lands through our partners in the Outdoor Alliance, check out this link: http://www.outdooralliance.org/get-local/ 

Media Coverage on the Bill Signing:

  • Colorado Public Radio Story: http://www.cpr.org/news/story/hickenlooper-signs-long-delayed-public-lands-day-bill-why-was-it-so-controversial
  • Fox News: http://www.westernslopenow.com/news/local-news/governor-hickenlooper-signs-public-lands-day-into-law
  • ABC News: http://www.kjct8.com/content/news/Colorado-first-state-to-celebrate-public-lands-Fruita-joins-in-on-the-fun-379936371.html

 

 

 

Climbers Speak up to Protect Climbing in Southeast Utah

Can you imagine the splitter cracks of Indian Creek, the stunning towers of Valley of the Gods, and the sandstone sculptures of Arch Canyon surrounded by oil rigs or off limits to climbers?

Right now, two initiatives are under consideration that may impact access to Indian Creek, Castle Valley, Fischer Towers, San Rafael Swell, Valley of the Gods, Comb Ridge, and countless remote climbing objectives both known and yet to be discovered.

  1. The Public Lands Initiative (PLI) outlines an extensive plan to manage state and federal lands in southeastern Utah. It threatens designated Wilderness, supports the transfer of federal land to the state, and for the majority of the lands in question it prioritizes resource extraction over both recreation and conservation.
  2. Unhappy with the PLI, an Inter-Tribal Coalition proposed the Bears Ears National Monument to the Obama administration, with a focus on preserving Native American traditional values. If the President proclaims Bears Ears National Monument, the climbing community needs to ensure that the proclamation acknowledges and protects the world-class climbing in the area along with the other important values in the Bears Ears region.

Together, the American Alpine Club and Access Fund rallied climbers everywhere to protect this area. Climbers shared their experiences in southeastern Utah so that as these initiatives are considered, it is clear that outdoor recreation is important and needs to be protected.

We received 1,135 thoughtful letters about the importance of protecting climbing southeast Utah. Eight AAC and AF staff read every single letter. We are thrilled with what came over the wire. Our team put together a report based on your letters that we shared with policymakers and partners in Washington, DC. The response we got in DC proves again that your voice matters and makes a difference.

Sustainable Summits Conference 2016

We must continue to persevere, to protect, and restore public lands, provide stewardship of the places that inspire us and guarantee responsible access to public lands and water.
— Peter Metcalf, CEO/President of Black Diamond Equipment

What does the Sustainable Summits Conference address?

  • Practical solutions to sustaining our mountain environments
  • Features talks, workshops, panel discussions, poster presentations, field trips and social events
  • Outstanding international presenters from Alaska, Austria, France, Nepal and New Zealand
  • Optional final day field trip exploring the Hooker Valley or glacier skiing in Aoraki/Mount Cook National park.

The 2016 conference follows two successful conferences in the USA in 2010 and 2014, organized and hosted by the New Zealand Alpine Club. The NZ conference is celebrating 125 years of NZ mountaineering in association with the New Zealand Department of Conservation and with the support of Ngāi Tahu, the Māori people of the southern islands of New Zealand.

For More Information Visit: 

Register for email updates Enquiries: [email protected]

 

The Value of Public Lands- A climber's perspective

 Andrew Forkes-Gudmundson

AAC Conservation and Advocacy Team

As climbers, we have a unique connection to public lands. According to research by Access Fund, more than 70% of climbing in the west happens on publicly owned lands. Can you imagine if the splitter cracks in Indian Creek, the bloodthirsty off-widths of Vedauwoo, or the bold, big walls of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison were suddenly off limits to climbers?

As you read this, all these climbing resources and many more across the west are in danger. Members of Congress, state legislators, and various presidential candidates are promising to transfer these public lands to state governments, sometimes with the express purposes of selling them off. Even worse, last year it went beyond promises: the United States Senate passed a budget amendment that would pave the way for large scale transfers to the states. [1]

What does it mean to transfer public lands to states?

By their very nature, federal lands are owned by the public. We all have a right to be on them and to have a say in how they are managed. The transfer of public lands from the federal government to state governments is being promoted as a way to make land management more local. This narrative is fundamentally incorrect, for a very important reason. Federal lands are held in trust for all the people of America, while state lands are merely a source of revenue for the state that owns them. State lands can be sold by the state to anyone, largely without citizen input. Transferring public lands to the states would actually reduce the amount of say the public has in management of the land. [2] 

People fear the specter of distant bureaucrats controlling the lands in their backyard. The reality is that management of federally owned lands is incredibly decentralized. More than 80% of federal land management staff for the Department of the Interior are already based in local places out west. The AAC works diligently to provide both national policy makers and regional land managers with public input, bringing the voices of climbers to the management discussion.

At the AAC, we believe that public lands, including all the climbing resources located on them, belong to us all, and we are part of a coalition of nonprofits and outdoor businesses who believe the same.[3] Together, we are tracking state legislation and speaking up when damaging public lands bills are introduced.

In the last 18 months, nearly 50 bills in 11 Western states have been introduced in state legislatures demanding transfer or sell off.

We need you to help stop this from happening.

Until people who love to recreate outdoors speak out, policymakers will continue to entertain bills that give away our lands. Our public lands need defending. If you believe that public lands belong to everyone, not a few private interests, please let your legislators know. Sign the petition now. This petition is the first and most important step, and will keep you updated with what is happening in your state. So far, we have 15,000 signatures. Let’s get 15,000 more.

 

Sources

[1] http://www.outdooralliance.org/blog/2016/2/24/house-bills-threaten-to-sell-off-national-forests

[2] http://www.protectourpublicland.org/news-collection/2015/7/28/7-differences-between-state-lands-and-public-lands

[3] http://www.protectourpublicland.org/#supporters-sectio