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The Ontario Alliance of Climbers Virtual Town Hall

An exploration and summary of the virtual town hall held April 28 by the Ontario Alliance of Climbers

On April 28, the Ontario Alliance of Climbers (OAC) hosted their first virtual town hall. The event was designed to address the growing number of questions regarding access to outdoor crags and the future development of climbing after isolation.

The Town Hall

The town hall was composed of a multi-director board, headed by Ontario’s Kacy Wilson. Wilson has long been a member of the Ontario climbing community. Wilson is an experienced climber that has participated in competition, community and crag-work for years. This experience makes her an ideal person to bring together Ontario’s climbing community.

The event featured 139 participants, each listening in over Zoom. Participants were asked to submit questions in an effort to shape the discussion around the interests of the community. Over the course of the event, a variety of topics were discussed. The panel began with a description of climbing in Ontario and a summary of COVID-19 provincial mandates.

The discussion grew from this platform to address key points. the first topic addressed related to land closures. All land closures that have been in effect, are still in effect. For Ontario Provincial Parks, these closures will remain until May 30th at the earliest. That said, it is important to stay informed by the Government for this developing situation.

Regulations established, the panel moved into a discussion of outdoor climbing during and after isolation. The OAC maintained that climbers should stay away from outdoor crags for numerous reasons. It is important to prevent the spread of the virus generally, and all people should limit themselves to essential travel. Climbing is not an example of essential travel.

Kai Malcolm on Hugh Jackman at the Niagara Glen – photo by Ilya Sarossy 

Staying Home

Another reason for climbers to stay home is to preserve access to Ontario’s crags. For crags like the Niagara Glen, for example, there is not a climbing-specific ban but a ban on all recreational activities that are defined by anything other than passively walking through the park. To this end, the Ontario and Niagara climbing communities has done well to respect the land, removing themselves from the Glen before it was mandated by the park system. This is exceptional behaviour as its continuation will help preserve climbing access in the future. A climbing-specific ban has the capacity to eliminate crag access forever and should be approached with perfect abstinence as a result.

Community Management

To this end, the question of climbers policing other climbers was addressed. Though a majority of the community remains at home, there is the possibility that some people are still going out to climb. The question of how this situation should be managed was raised. Wilson said, “We have a responsibility to keep each other informed about what the best practices are.” In the same way that a climber might respectfully point out a dangerous hold to an unexperienced climber, it is important to respectfully point out the reasons for social distancing from crags. The word to note here is “respectfully.”

The OAC is not an organization that governs climbers, but an alliance of volunteers that wish to better climbing over the province. It is not the OAC or the community’s job to police other people through social shaming, but instead to educate and inform those climbers of the dangers extenuating from their actions. If a climber is educated about their impacts, they will not make dangerous decisions.

As far as climbing after isolation is concerned, the Town Hall worked to begin the conversation. The “Q and A” portion of the event served to address many of the concerns regarding climbing going forward. Many of these concerns were related to crag overcrowding following the end of isolation. As crags will probably open before gyms, future safe climbing is likely to change from past ethics.

Community

It is important that Ontario climbers seek to participate in these discussions as the strength of community effort is defined by the community’s participation. Even though there are climbers that do not wish to participate in the community, it is important to follow best practices so that we do not make a bad name for the community. Said Wilson, “We don’t want to make a name for climbers in the public eye.” If anything, we should refrain from any practice that allows climbers to be identified as a community opposed to distancing guidelines.

Finally, the OAC discussed what it meant to act as a community outside of government-based restrictions. Said Wilson, “We have to think about our role as community members and look beyond what is technically allowed. Though crags may open, it is important to keep an ear turned towards community discussion. For example, an influx of climbers to a crag after the restriction-lift could cause a crag to close due to the detrimental effect a large number of people can have on an environment. We must remember that climbing is a privilege, a stewardship that depends upon the community’s love and respect for the land we climb on.

Going Forward

As the situation develops, there will likely be additional virtual town halls. Wilson discussed that the next town hall could focus on what climbing might look like in a post-restrictions’ world. Additionally, there will be additional content from this past town hall coming out over the next few days. You may access this information via this article, the OAC website, or their Facebook page as this information becomes available.

This is a difficult time for everyone, but it is made better knowing that each climber has the support of another. If you have any questions or concerns, you are welcome to direct them toward the OAC. Asking questions is essential to better understanding any unfamiliar situation.

Featured photo by the OAC.