Each of us has a tick-list of climbs we study in photos, and descriptions in guidebooks to far-away places. We may live in North America, but the climbs we’ve done and those we aspire to are worldwide. That is why Potero Chico and Northern Mexico are emerging as frontiers of Northern American climbing and some of the best winter rock climbing destinations in the world. And it is why climbers are captivated by Valle Cochamó, a valley in Northern Patagonia with perhaps the longest, ice-free granite on earth and countless untouched, unnamed walls.
These places fill our dreams. They are also linked in another way. Potero Chico and Cochamó are unprotected. No legal protection keeps them open and no local, regional, or national organizations exist to fight their threatened closures and restrictions. These and other emblematic climbing areas in the Western Hemisphere are, literally, in climbing limbo, neglected, with no prospect of preservation for our climbing future.
“I would call it ‘no man’s land’, ” says Alex Catlin, the principal developer of Potero Chico, who has been climbing there for 20 years. “Here, most undeveloped land is claimed by the Federal government, the state government, the ejido or local commun, and at least one private owner. The governmental park system is almost non-existent. We need so much help. But without direction, we tread water.”
Access Pan America is the first ever campaign to keep climbing areas open and protect the climbing environment in all the Western Hemisphere. Just forming in 2009, it is a grassroots effort of individual climbers, climbing organizations and federations, outdoor clubs, and corporate supporters. The network will meet for the first time during the Squamish Mountain Festival, presented by Arc’teryx , August 12-16, 2009. The meetings are open and all climbers are welcome and urged to participate.
The Petzl Foundation is providing the critical support for travel scholarships to bring Latin American activists to Squamish. Other corporate partners, such as Mountain Gear, are supporting the travel of individual participants. Individuals and organizations that want to attend and may require a travel scholarship are invited to apply directly through its website, accesspanamerica.com.
Although the Access Pan America/Petzl meeting is a forum, it has the clear and undisguised intention of creating a climbers access organization for the Western Hemisphere. Its site says, “We can’t predict the form the future organization will take. That, after all, is the mission of the forum. But, we have heard enough to say that we will emerge with a commitment to work together in an organized way.”
The Western Hemisphere runs the organizational gamut from local climbing clubs to the recently launched nationwide access organizations in Brazil and Canada, to the almost 20-year old Access Fund in the US and the well established Climbers’ Access Society of British Columbia. A critical mass of organizations and interest exist to create local, regional, and national climbers access networks in most of Latin America.
The principal organizer of Access Pan America is me, Armando Menocal, and I am a Founder of the Access Fund in the USA, having started it in 1990 and run it through the 90s. For years I’ve been hearing from climbers all over Latin America asking for help on their access problems. I kept saying that someday we’d have to respond. I finally realized that we could delay no longer, and that the first step should be a forum to bring together as many activists as we could, and go from there.
Access Pan America includes representatives of the access organizations in Brazil, Canada, and USA, and individual climbers such as Alex Catlin, Rolando Garibotti, and Juan Laguna. With the help of the Petzl Foundation and other sponsors it expects to include participants from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Panama, Honduras, Mexico, Venezuela, and Peru. On the Forum at accesspanamerica.com, you can discuss the access problems in your area, apply for a travel scholarship, or comment on Access Pan America.