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Why I’m Not Climbing During the Coronavirus Outbreak

And a big thank you to everyone working on the front line during these times

It might seem a little strange for the editor of a climbing magazine to promote the idea of not going climbing, but here we are on the first day of spring 2020 and I don’t think anybody should be going climbing.

If you’re reading this and you’re unaware of what’s going on in Canada and around the world, I can only sum it up with: a contagious viral disease called coronavirus covid-19, that has an incubation period of two weeks, is sending 10 times more people to the hospital than the flu, and it’s deadly.

So, like many climbers, I’ve hung up the rope, harness, bouldering pad and sticky rubber for the time being while health officials try to control the outbreak. If you’ve been watching the news, then you know how serious this is, and, despite an overwhelming amount of information, one thing is clear: stay home.

Staying home doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the outdoors, go for a run or use home training equipment (I bet now you wish you bought a Moonboard), it just means that you should be limiting your time in public to occasions when you absolutely must go out.

The reason is because the virus can spread easily through the air. It can also be transmitted from one person to another via surfaces, that’s why you shouldn’t touch your face and always be washing/sanitizing your hands. This thing is no joke.

In some countries in Europe, it’s illegal to go rock climbing for the time being. Why? Because the healthcare systems are so overrun with coronavirus patients that they don’t have room for rescued or injured climbers. That’s why everyone needs to stay home, if you spread the virus and it infects people who then need to be hospitalized, then our healthcare system will be pushed to its limit.

I’m not going climbing during the coronavirus outbreak because I don’t want to risk getting injured and ending up in the hospital. Not only that, but roping up with a partner or spotting a fellow boulderer are intimate gigs where germs are shared. None of us know who has the virus right now, so we all need to create some space.

In my 23 years of climbing outdoors, I’ve been lucky to have only been injured a few times, but each time required a visit to the hospital.

I once tried to jump over a crevasse on the top of Snowdome, after climbing Slipstream. I leaped over, while on belay by my partner who discovered the crevasse by falling through a snow bridge, but screwed it up. I fell through while swinging my arms like Peter Garrett in Vertical Limit. My foot broke through the remaining snow bridge on the far side and all but extended arms caught the lip of the glacier. I ripped my right shoulder out of its socket. We got back to the car eight hours later and I went straight to the hospital with a anterior dislocated shoulder.

Another time, I was belaying a friend on an ice climb. He sent down some bombs and I jumped out of the way. Under the snow was a pointy rock that went through my pants and skin, and exposed my knee capsule. I went to the hospital, where a doctor (I can’t remember her name) told me that she was also an ice climber before stitching me up.

I can’t count how many folks that I’ve met who’ve visited the hospital with a climbing-related injury. Not to mention how many outdoorsy people I know who’ve been rescued.

Our amazing doctors and nurses need to focus on what’s most important right now and that’s preparing and delivering the best care they can to those who need it the most. I would feel selfish going climbing, knowing that one little slip could land me on a hospital bed needed by someone else. We’re lucky in Canada to have the services that we do, and our climbing projects and summits will still be there.

Social media is full of inspiring and thoughtful posts these days. Today, one by Ross Mailloux, who works in the outdoor industry, caught my attention. He said: I won’t be skiing, biking, climbing or doing anything that has an elevated risk during this time out of respect for front line healthcare workers. I will be going for walks, mellow runs and setting up a workout space in the house to satiate my need for exercise. I will also be working, reading, writing and only calling friends and family until this all passes and the experts deem it safe to return to normal life. I’ll be treating people with more kindness and empathy. This is the least I can do. #supportthefrontline

We need to support our healthcare workers right now because they support us when we need it the most. Not only that, but we need to do our best to keep our friends and family who work in emergency services, grocery stores, pharmacies and in other essential businesses happy and healthy. Bickering about politics, job losses and the fact that we can’t go climbing right now is unnecessary and downright silly.

I have nothing but thanks for everyone on the front line of this outbreak across Canada and around the world. I heard that instead of calling it social distancing, we should call it social cohesion/physical distancing.

Stay home and train, but also touch base with family, keep the stoke up and have fun. Because when this is all over, and it will be, you can be sure that we’ll be running to the hills with gear jangling from our harnesses and pads on our backs ready for the send.

Getting stitches, ice boot on, in Thunder Bay   Photo Noel Gingrich