Advocating for Climbers with the Economics of Outdoor Recreation

AAC Director and Policy Committee Member Peter Metcalf, incoming Director John Bird, and professional athlete and AAC member Caroline Gleich met with Congressman John Curtis to discuss the  AAC’s opposition  to his bill on Bears Ears.

AAC Director and Policy Committee Member Peter Metcalf, incoming Director John Bird, and professional athlete and AAC member Caroline Gleich met with Congressman John Curtis to discuss the AAC’s opposition to his bill on Bears Ears.

When we think about why we love climbing, we think about the sheer joy of being outdoors, the boost to our souls, the tremendous health benefits, the strengthening of character, and the awe we feel about the land and mountains we climb. But at a time when public lands and climbing are threatened by monument reductions, increased energy development, and a changing climate, we need every tool in the toolbox and every argument we can make to protect climbing and the places we love.

You may remember back in November 2016 we saw a great win for climbing and outdoor recreation with passage of the Outdoor REC Act. The REC Act directed the Bureau of Economic Analysis to measure the economic impacts of the outdoor recreation industry, just as it does for agriculture, pharmaceuticals, mining, and other industries. Quantifying the economic importance of outdoor recreation gives concrete data to better inform decisions impacting the pursuits we love and our country’s natural resources.

Last week, the Bureau came out with its first preliminary numbers for the outdoor recreation economy, putting its contribution to the total US GDP at $373.7 billion, or 2% of the US economy. For comparison, mining, oil, and gas comprise 1.4% of GDP, and agriculture (which includes farming, fishing, forestry) is 1%. The Bureau’s report also found that the outdoor recreation economy is growing at 3.8%, faster than the overall economy’s rate of 2.8%.

This data came in handy last week when the AAC Policy Team was in Washington, D.C., meeting with Congressional staff alongside our partners at Outdoor Alliance. In our discussions with Republican and Democratic staff alike on national monuments, the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and other issues relevant to climbers, it was critically helpful to point to the power of outdoor recreation to our GDP, and make the economic case for climbing and our public lands.

In addition, AAC advocates recently met with Congressman John Curtis (R-UT) at his office in Provo, Utah. AAC Director and Policy Committee Member Peter Metcalf, incoming Director John Bird, and professional athlete and AAC member Caroline Gleich sat down with the Congressman to discuss the AAC’s opposition to his bill on Bears Ears. It was a productive and open conversation, and while the AAC remains opposed to the Congressman’s bill as it stands, we are building relationships on both sides of the aisle to best advocate for climbers and the places we love to climb.

If you’re interested in becoming an AAC policy advocate and meeting with your members of Congress, please reach out to Policy Director Maria Povec, [email protected] and Policy Coordinator Anna Kramer, [email protected].

Bears Ears Opened to Mining and Energy Claims

Photo: BLM

Photo: BLM

On December 4th, President Donald Trump announced his intention to reduce the size of Bears Ears National Monument by more than 80% and Grand Staircase-Escalante by half. Prior to Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears Monument, climbers have been advocating for protection of this landscape-- for its cultural significance and for its incredible splitter cracks and breathtaking desert sunsets. Since Trump’s move to reduce the monument, climbers have been active in speaking out against this drastic and possibly illegal action through protests, letters and petitions. Now, several months after Trump’s proclamation, we are seeing the implications.

On February 2nd, 2018, a small provision in the proclamation to reduce Bears Ears went into effect that opened the lands outside the monument boundaries to new mining claims and energy development. This move threatens the roughly 40% of climbing areas and the Bears Ears landscape as a whole. In addition, the Bureau of Land Management is beginning its management planning process for the new, smaller monuments. This is all despite the ongoing lawsuits and legislative debates over the reductions of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, which we hope will restore the original national monument boundaries.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is moving forward prematurely with these monument management plans, and the American Alpine Club, along with its partners, has asked the agency to wait until the dust settles from the legal and legislative battles before planning and permitting the staking of mining claims. If the lawsuits succeed and the reductions are overturned, the BLM will have wasted time and resources on a costly management planning process.

Multiple bills regarding these national monuments have also been introduced in the House of Representatives, and are currently being debated in the House Committee on Natural Resources. The outcome of these lawsuits and legislation will likely alter the final boundaries of and management directives for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Join us in asking the BLM to wait until the legal and legislative debates are over before beginning any monument management planning and permitting new mining claims and energy development in the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante areas. Visit the BLM comment page to share your thoughts about the future of these landscapes. For example:

I am a rock climber and a member of the American Alpine Club. The Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante regions hold great value to our community. I am concerned by the possibility of new mining and energy development in these special places. As climbers, we ask that the Bureau of Land Management keep these areas closed to new claims, and wait to begin the management planning process until the lawsuits and legislative debates over these monuments are resolved. These areas deserve protection and a management plan that prioritizes sustainable recreation. Thank you for your consideration.

Stay tuned for more updates on Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

AAC's Kris Tompkins on Conservation & Democracy

In 2016, AAC awarded the David R. Brower Award to Kris McDivitt Tompkins for her conservation work in South America. For more than two decades, Kris and her husband Douglas Tompkins have donated large tracts of land to the park systems of Chile and Argentina. A recent donation to the Chilean park system includes lodging, campground and dining facilities, and trails, bridges and roads. With this latest donation, more than 13 million acres have been conserved in the two countries.

Kris' recent New York Times Op-Ed is a beautiful piece about why democracy depends on preserving land for the common good. As Kris writes, "National parks, monuments and other public lands remind us that regardless of race, economic standing or citizenship, we all depend on a healthy planet for our survival...two hundred years from now let the elephants trumpet, the giant sequoias sway in stiff winds and our descendants enjoy healthy lives aware of their place in this wild thing we call nature."

Read her full piece here.

Taking Action on National Monument Reductions

After the December 4th, 2017 announcement by President Donald Trump to reduce and modify the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, our climbing community responded forcefully and quickly to oppose the decision.  Climbers joined Native American groups, conservation organizations, and many others to ensure that these treasured landscapes remain protected.  President Trump’s unprecedented actions constituted the largest reversal of federal land protection in the nation's history.

A variety of lawsuits have been filed to halt the changes to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Two of these lawsuits were filed by environmental and conservation groups to oppose the reduction and modification of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996. The remaining three lawsuits are focused on preventing the reduction and modification of Bears Ears National Monument into two smaller units with different proclamation language. One of these lawsuits was filed by the five Native American tribes representing the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, and another was filed by an array of environmental and conservation groups, including our partners at the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society. Our partners at the Access Fund have also filed, joining a lawsuit by Patagonia, Utah Dine Bikeyah, and others.

The AAC supports the Access Fund and other plaintiff organizations as they legally challenge the reduction and modification of both monuments, particularly Bears Ears, where the proclamation explicitly acknowledged the region’s outstanding recreational values, including “world class” rock climbing as a basis for designation. As the monument litigation proceeds, the AAC will submit an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief to make clear our opposition of the reduction and modification of the monuments. We also oppose any action by the administration aimed at weakening the efficacy of Antiquities Act as a means to conserve mountain environments and to protect opportunities for climbing.

Photo: Jay Dash

Photo: Jay Dash

The AAC is actively engaged with appropriate congressional representatives and administration officials to respond to the broader legislative attacks on the national monuments that, if passed, could be even more detrimental to Utah’s desert and mountain environments and the interests of climbers than the December 4th proclamations. Presently, these threats are in the form of two bills introduced in the House of Representatives shortly after the December 4th proclamations: the Shash Jaa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act, and the Grand Staircase Escalante Enhancement Act. If passed, these bills would legislatively affirm the proclamations that reduced and modified Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, effectively ending any lawsuits over these reductions because it is generally acknowledged that Congress has full authority to reduce or eliminate national monuments.

The Shash Jaa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act proposes to designate the two new smaller monuments Shash Jaa and Indian Creek. Unlike the original proclamation of Bears Ears National Monument, which explicitly recognized the importance of preserving rock climbing opportunities within the area, this bill makes no reference to climbing and only minimal reference to recreation in general. By legislatively affirming a new, smaller monument containing parts of what climbers know as Indian Creek, the bill would ensure the removal of national monument protections from roughly 40% of the climbing areas within Bears Ears. Furthermore, the Shash Jaa National Monument and Indian Creek National Monument Act, like the December 4th proclamation, ignores the will of millions of Americans who spoke out in favor of protecting the original Bears Ears National Monument. This legislation undoubtedly poses a greater, more permanent threat to this area than President Trump’s December 4th reduction and modification. Therefore, the AAC is working with partners and policy makers to oppose this bill.

A similar bill has been introduced in the House regarding the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The Grand Staircase-Escalante Enhancement Act proposes to transform the three smaller units created by the December 4th proclamation into three national monuments, and create a national park and preserve within one of those units. Any land of the former Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument outside the boundaries of these new monuments and park, however, would be declared open to sale, disposal, mineral and geothermal leasing, and mining. These acts pose a significant threat to our public lands and to this incredible region in particular. Consequently, the AAC and many other conservation groups oppose this bill.

These legislative attacks would prevent the re-establishment of both the original Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, should any of the lawsuits against the President’s actions succeed. This is because the arguments of these lawsuits center on the limits of executive authority, and if they succeed, only Congress would then have the power to establish these new, smaller monuments. The AAC is working to oppose these bills and to push for new legislation to restore protections for these incredible areas and to ensure the integrity of our climbing landscapes.

The AAC is committed to working in collaboration with our partners to address critical public policy issues facing America’s mountain environments, the interests of climbers, and outdoor recreation. We advocate nationally for keeping public lands pristine, wild, and open to human-powered recreation. All of us at the AAC find a deep meaning in climbing, and we are committed to advocating for climbers and working to ensure our nation’s laws provide for thriving outdoor communities, sustained by healthy mountain environments and vibrant climbing landscapes for generations to come.

Your contributions and membership to the Club help us continue the fight for our national monuments and climbing areas. Stay tuned for more updates from your policy team.


AAC Statement on National Monument Reductions

                 North and South Six Shooters, Indian Creek. Photo by Jason Gebauer.

                 North and South Six Shooters, Indian Creek. Photo by Jason Gebauer.

December 6, 2017: On Monday, December 4, 2017, President Donald Trump signed two proclamations significantly reducing and modifying Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

This drastic and possibly illegal action will impact climbing in southeastern Utah, and has serious ramifications for the Antiquities Act, one of our most valuable conservation laws. The American Alpine Club is shocked by the scale of these reductions and modification, and we cannot support this attack.

The decision to shrink and modify these monuments ignores the millions of Americans who spoke out in favor of keeping them intact, and stands in sharp contrast to our nation’s bipartisan legacy of conservation. The announcement to reduce and modify Bears Ears disregards the years of effort by Native Americans, conservation groups, and the outdoor recreation community to protect this treasured landscape. The American Alpine Club worked alongside our partners at the Access Fund and Outdoor Alliance to advocate for this monument and to ensure that climbing in the area was recognized as a legitimate and appropriate activity. The original proclamation to establish the Bears Ears National Monument did explicitly recognize climbing as one of many “world class outdoor recreation opportunities,” but the new proclamation fails to acknowledge climbing at all. In other words, climbing is not a priority in the new versions of these monuments.

The redrawn monument boundaries create two separate and smaller areas within the Bears Ears monument: Shash Jáa, including the Bears Ears buttes, and Indian Creek, including a number of this iconic destination’s crags. While this impacts all climbing in the area, the modification results in loss of national monument protection in roughly 40% of climbing areas within the former Bears Ears boundaries, including Valley of the Gods, Harts Draw, and Indian Creek areas like the Wall and the Cliffs of Insanity.

The AAC’s concern is not limited to the cliffs and desert towers. We advocate for healthy climbing landscapes and the ecosystems that surround them. We are deeply concerned that these new national monument boundaries could lead to irreparable damage to the integrity and character of climbing in this region.

Nationwide, 71% of climbing is on public lands. The implications of these attacks for climbing areas across the country deeply concern us. Most national monuments are established by the President under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906, which grants the President the power to declare national monuments. The Antiquities Act is a vital conservation tool, utilized by past presidents of both parties, and has led to the protection of some of our country’s greatest climbing areas. These include Devils Tower National Monument and Colorado National Monument, as well as many national parks that began as national monuments, such as Grand Teton, Joshua Tree, and Zion national parks.

The reduction of Bears Ears & Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments represents an unprecedented assault on the Antiquities Act and a threat to climbing nationwide, and the AAC is evaluating our options for litigation or other actions. The AAC will continue our commitment to protecting our national monuments and public lands, preserving the health of our vertical playgrounds, and ensuring the vitality of the Antiquities Act.

How you can help:

Write to your member of Congress and let them know how these monument reductions impact you.

Tweet at Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and tell him how you feel about these monument reductions. Here is a suggested tweet: Decision on monuments will impact climbing and the future of our public lands, @SecretaryZinke! We #StandWithBearsEars and need to #SaveGrandStaircase. #ClimbersForBearsEars @americanalpine

Support the American Alpine Club’s efforts to protect our climbing landscapes.

Support the campaign by Friends of Cedar Mesa and Duct Tape Then Beer to build a Bears Ears Education Center and ensure visitors learn to respect and protect this landscape.


Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Under Threat

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is facing a tremendous threat. Its solitude and silence are one step closer to being replaced with noisy drilling equipment and heavy machinery.  Over the course of our 115-year history, the American Alpine Club has been committed to protecting our country’s most treasured landscapes, including the Arctic. With Congress’ budget vote last week, the future of this crown jewel is at risk.

Located in northern Alaska, the Arctic Refuge offers dramatic mountain summits, inspiration and endless adventure. As AAC Managing Director Keegan Young says, “These mountain ranges and untouched landscapes represent the wild places in our heart and mind. I’ve climbed all over the world but return to these peaks because they ignite my soul. It's not just the rugged terrain, it's the solitude and magnificent beauty.”

Last week, the United States Senate passed a budget resolution that charges the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with reducing the federal deficit through revenues created by oil and gas leasing in the Arctic Refuge. Since the House of Representatives already passed a similar budget provision early this year, both the House and Senate will work to reconcile their budget versions before final passage and delivery to the president.

The AAC has a long legacy of scientific exploration and adventure in the Arctic—pioneering cutting-edge new routes and supporting research expeditions that have contributed valuable information to our understanding of mountain, Antarctic and Arctic ecosystems. For example, AAC Board Member Kit DesLauriers completed the first known ascent of Mount Isto in the ANWR and has been working to merge environmental science with adventure. Check out her story here.

Help protect our last great frontier: As climbers, we have a duty to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for future generations. We still have time to urge Congress to protect the Arctic Refuge and stop irresponsible energy development there.

Check out how your Senators voted. Call and tell them that you think the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is too precious to be developed and tell them how you feel about their vote: (202) 224-3121.


Banner photo by Paxson Woelber. 

AAC Board Member Stacy Bare on Defending Public Lands

"Why do we love our public lands so much? Because so many of us have felt first hand the incredible benefits of spending time in the country we fought to defend. Time outdoors for many of us, regardless of the wounds we did or did not receive, and regardless when we served, has given us a pathway to a healthier and more fulfilling life."

Read Stacy Bare's commentary in the Salt Lake Tribune here.


AAC Statement on Antiquities Act Review

American Alpine Club Statement on the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act

September 18, 2017: Last spring, President Trump ordered Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review all national monuments designated under the Antiquities Act since 1996 that span at least 100,000 acres or were designated “without adequate public outreach.” Zinke’s final report was not made publicly available, but The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal obtained a copy yesterday.

The American Alpine Club is concerned by Zinke’s recommendation to modify 10 national monuments, including reducing Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, Nevada’s Gold Butte, and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou.

Any modifications will impact the future of critical climbing resources on our public lands and the Antiquities Act—the law signed by President Theodore Roosevelt to protect the important archaeological, historic and scientific assets that face imminent threat.

Theodore Roosevelt was a member of the American Alpine Club and was considered one of the most powerful voices in the history of American conservation. As climbers, we know that “there is a delight in the hardy life of the open” and that “our nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value,” as Roosevelt said more than 100 years ago.

The American Alpine Club is fiercely committed to our country’s national monuments—their wild landscapes and cultural and scientific resources. Together with our partners at Access Fund and Outdoor Alliance, we were actively involved in public discussions about the creation of Bears Ears National Monument and made our position known to then Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack. As AAC Board Member Peter Metcalf says, “We best ensure our continued privilege to climb, in part, by educating others about the integral role our public lands play in the vibrancy of our economy, our cultural history, bio-diversity, and the quality of our lives.”

The American Alpine Club, with its partners, will continue its commitment to safeguard our vertical playgrounds and ensure that historic conservation tools are preserved and protected.  

How you can help:

Tweet at our President and Interior Secretary and tell them to protect our National Monuments. Feel free to use the following: Hey @realDonaldTrump and @SecretaryZinke, don't shrink our #nationalmonuments!  #keepitpublic #MonumentsForAll @americanalpine 



Bears Ears National Monument Postcard Writing Toolkit

Postcard by AAC Content Coordinator Emma Longcope

Postcard by AAC Content Coordinator Emma Longcope

The official public comment period on Bears Ears started May 12 and has been extended. It now closes on July 10. 

The Department of the Interior is, for the first time ever, asking the public to officially weigh in on the national monuments under review, per President Trump's April 26, 2017 Executive Order. We only have until July 10 to provide input during this public comment period.

Now more than ever we need your voice to help protect Bears Ears National Monument. Find out more about the Bears Ears issue here and read AAC member John Climaco's opinion piece about it here. You can also learn more by reading about our recent trip to D.C. to Climb the Hill

Why a postcard? 

The Department of the Interior accepts comments both online and by mail. Adding your name to a petition or online comment chain is important. A unique and tangible note, however, carries extra weight with elected officials. 

Click on the button below to use our pre-addressed postcard template that you can print out and send to the Department of Interior. (Tip: print double-sided with card stock paper.)

Writing Tips:

Make it personal: Share your story about why you love Bears Ears National Monument.

Provide a call to action: Ask the Department of Interior to protect Bears Ears National Monument.

Use some of the suggested messages below or craft your own. Feel free to edit these messages and add your voice.

-The Bears Ears region in southeastern Utah is one of the greatest climbing destinations in the U.S. I love to climb in the Bears Ears area because.... 

-I support the Bears Ears National Monument because it protects climbing and significant Native American cultural sites.

-The Antiquities Act is a valuable tool for protecting America's heritage.

-Do not rescind or reduce Bears Ears National Monument.

Our template includes the Department of the Interior's address, but if you're making your own, address it to: 

Monument Review, MS-1530
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 S Street NW
Washington, DC 20240

Time is running out! No time for a postcard?

You can:

Thank you for helping to preserve this wonderful place! We're stronger together.

Artwork: AAC staff member Emma Longcope

Climbers Lobby for Public Lands

Climbers and policymakers discuss the future of our public lands. Stephen Gosling photo. 

Climbers and policymakers discuss the future of our public lands. Stephen Gosling photo. 

On May 11th, 2017, the AAC and Access Fund joined forces in our nation’s capital to Climb the Hill to advocate for the protection of public lands, a robust outdoor recreation economy and adequate funding for land management agencies. With a team of 50 climbers—including Tommy CaldwellSasha DiGiulianAlex HonnoldKai Lightner and Libby Sauter—we dispersed throughout Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress and leaders of the Department of Interior and the U.S. Forest Service. Over the course of the day, we attended 50 meetings on the Hill and with agency leaders.

Climbers showed up in force and found a responsive audience. Lawmakers were impressed by the unique perspectives of the climbing community. For example, Tommy Caldwell captured their attention when he began, “Fifty percent of my days are spent living and climbing on our public lands. Public lands matter to me because...” As climbers, we are experts on the value of public lands because we know them intimately and spend significant amounts of time on them.

Climb the Hill culminated with a Congressional Briefing to further provide members of Congress and staff from both sides of the aisle with a climber’s perspective. The briefing was packed, with standing room only. Speakers included Sasha DiGiulian, Tommy Caldwell, Alex Honnold and Senator Tim Kaine (former Vice Presidential candidate).

Climb the Hill was made possible by title sponsor Adidas and with contributions from The North Face and Brooklyn Boulders.

Alex Honnold speaks to the importance of public lands. Stephen Gosling photo.

Alex Honnold speaks to the importance of public lands. Stephen Gosling photo.

What's at Stake

About 60 percent of all rock climbing areas in the US are located on federal public lands—lands which are held in trust for all Americans. However, right now, there are unprecedented threats to our public lands. Both state and federal lawmakers have introduced legislation to sell off millions of acres, weaken public management, underfund land management agencies, and increase land development at the cost of public access. These measures threaten climbing as well as the fundamental notion that our public lands belong to everyone. As climbers, we have a responsibility to speak up.

Some members of the lobbying team. Stephen Gosling photo. 

Some members of the lobbying team. Stephen Gosling photo. 

How You Can Help

As climbing grows in popularity, climbers’ voices are an increasingly influential force for public policy issues. From now until May 26th, 2017, climbers are needed to speak up for Bears Ears National Monument, the first national monument to list climbing as a valued activity in its proclamation. Bears Ears contains world-class climbing, including Indian Creek, Lockhart Basin, Arch/Texas Canyon, Comb Ridge and Valley of the Gods. President Trump’s April 26th Executive Order on the review of national monuments lists Bears Ears National Monument as the first priority for review. We need your help to communicate to the administration that the Bears Ears National Monument has incredible significance to our community and must remain protected. As Libby Sauter said during Climb the Hill, policy is determined by those who show up. Please write letters, call, email and tweet at Secretary Zinke to ensure the administration knows how much Bears Ears means to us. For more information, check out the notice issued by the Department of the Interior.

You can:

  • Use the climbers’ letter writing tool.
  • Submit comments online at by entering “DOI-2017-0002” in the Search bar and clicking “Search.”
  • Send snail mail to: Monument Review, MS-1530, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW., Washington, DC 20240. (use our postcard template)
  • Call the Department of the Interior with any questions: Randal Bowman, 202-208-1906.
  • Tweet at Secretary Ryan Zinke: @SecretaryZinke.
The lobbying group at the Capital. Stephen Gosling photo. 

The lobbying group at the Capital. Stephen Gosling photo. 

Looking Ahead

Climb the Hill made a strong impression on our lawmakers. AAC and AF will Climb the Hill together again next year and, in the meantime, we will continue to advocate for the protection of public lands and strive to make a lasting, positive impact.

P.S. Did you miss our live coverage from DC? Watch it here:

Executive Power over National Monuments: An AAC Member and natural resource law Scholar weighs in on the future of Bears Ears

Photo by Taylor Luneau

Photo by Taylor Luneau

Taylor Luneau, AAC member & Natural Resource Law Scholar 

As happens to many climbers on their first trip to Indian Creek, I got spanked! The splitter sandstone was relentless and the grades fleeting. With the absence of face features, it was a whole new ball game for a climber born and raised on northeast schist and granite. However, within a matter of days, the climbing style grew on me and by the end of my first week I was floating up Incredible and Generic Hand Crack, stuffing in a #2 cam every ten feet or so. The trip was a formative one and I was hooked.

Leaving our slice of Heaven was made easier only with the knowledge that the Creek would always be there, waiting for me, nestled there in the canyons with desert washes and endless red rock walls. And, as many did on December 28th, 2016, I celebrated after President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation establishing Bears Ears National Monument—a 1.35 million acre area area in San Juan County, Utah that encompasses Indian Creek, as well as the Valley of the Gods and Arch Canyon. This Presidential Proclamation is the first to recognize rock climbing as a valued activity and to ensure it as a priority in the management plan. It conserves these climbing meccas for future generations and for my chance of reunion. Or so I thought.

Today, the future of the Bears Ears is uncertain. Utah’s political leadership has formally requested that the President rescind Bears Ears National Monument through a joint resolution. As a legal scholar, I began to investigate if President Trump could actually lawfully abolish the designation of Bears Ears’ national monument status.

The short answer is NO!

But that answer is riddled with caveats and requires an understanding of The Antiquities Act, the law that enables the President to designate National Monuments.

The Antiquities Act of 1906

The Antiquities Act has been used to create more than 100 national monuments and protect 80 million acres of federal land since it was passed in 1906 (1). While the Antiquities Act gives the President authority to declare national monuments, it’s silent about the abolishment of a national monument. The core provisions of the Antiquities Act:

1) Give the President the authority to declare historic landmarks, prehistoric structures and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon lands owned or controlled by the Federal Government to be National Monuments.

2) Allow that the amount of land reserved must not exceed the smallest area necessary for its proper management. (2)

The Antiquities Act is clear about the President’s authority to create national monuments, but does the President have the authority to reverse a national monument designation?

In 1938, President Roosevelt considered abolishing the Castle Pickney National Monument in South Carolina. However, his Attorney General, Homer Cummings, said the President had no such authority because the law did not authorize the President to abolish national monuments (3). As a result, President Roosevelt did not change the status of the monument. While Roosevelt could not undo Pickney National Monument, it was eventually abolished by Congress in 1956 (4). Although Cummings advice was not a judicial ruling, his statement was the only legal authority to provide a statutory interpretation (5). Cumming's legal analysis was challenged for the first time ever this past week by conservative legal scholars at the American Enterprise Institute but their argument raises constitutional issues and overreach by the Executive Office. 

Although Presidents do not have the authority to abolish national monuments, they have altered monument sizes in order to meet the smallest area compatible criteria. (6) For example, Woodrow Wilson reduced the size of Mount Olympus National Monument in 1915. (7)

If President Trump attempts a full revocation of Bears Ears National Monument, litigation will follow. While courts would likely deny an Executive Order to fully repeal Bears Ears, the President may attempt to alter the size of the monument to meet the smallest area compatible to protect the cultural resources. Such an attempt would require the President to establish that the Monument was designated unnecessarily large for the protection of the scientific, historic or archeological objects of interest-- a fact that would likely be challenged by the Native American Tribes who claim ancestral ties to the landscape. Another consideration here is that The Federal Land Policy Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) bars the Secretary of the Interior from altering the boundaries of monuments on BLM land so any Executive Order that attempts to direct the Secretary to make adjustments would not be legal (8). 

Congressional Discretion & Implications for Bears Ears National Monument

While the President does not have legal authority to undo a national monument, Congress does. Congress has broad discretion over national monuments primarily because of the Constitution’s Property Clause, which provides Congress the power to make decisions about public lands in the United States. Therefore, Congress does have the constitutional authority to create, modify, and abolish national monuments and it has exercised each of these powers in the past. (9)

What now?

The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, in cooperation with the Bears Ears Commission, will continue to work together to create and implement a management plan for the new national monument. Recreation, conservation and tribal groups will be watching closely as the Trump administration and Congress sets its public lands priorities.

In the meantime, as climbers, we must continue to speak up together about why public lands matter and why we value the Bears Ears area in particular. Let’s push back against efforts to weaken federal land protections and undermine conservation designations. We need to vigilantly remind our legislators that we want to keep our public lands in public hands.

Finally, I encourage you all to continue to support groups like the American Alpine Club and Access Fund that persistently look out for the preservation of our climbing landscapes. I’ll be there with you, because the indigenous peoples, the land, water, and wildlife of the Bears Ears region deserve this monument designation. And … I want a second chance at sending Anunnaki in the Creek.


Taylor Luneau, American Alpine Club Member

Dual Masters Candidate, 2018: Master of Environmental Law and Policy, Vermont Law School and Master of Science in Natural Resources, University of Vermont



[1] Coggins, Wilkinson, Leshy, Fischman, Federal Public Land and Resources Law, p. 394, 7th Ed., Foundation Press, 2014.

[2] Id.

[3] 39 Op. Att’y Gen. 185, 187 (1938).

[4] Vincent, Carol Hardy, National Monuments and the Antiquities Act, Congressional Research Service, p. 2, 2017.

[5] Id.

[6] Antiquities Act 1906-2006, National Parks Service Archeology Program, (Last updated Dec. 28, 2016).

[7] Id.

[8] Federal Land Policy Management Act of 1976,

[9] U.S. Const. art. IV, §3, cl. 2.

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 community 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


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: 

House of 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.


For some legal background on the future of Bears Ears, check out AAC Member Taylor Luneau's article Executive Power Over National Monuments

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.


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:



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.

For more information on Trevor, his research/blog, and other AAC Research Grant recipients, please see the following links:

AAC’s “Meet Our Researchers” Webpage

Trevor’s Trip Report for the AAC

Trevor’s Website

Trevor’s Contact: [email protected]

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