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Words with the new Vancouver Climbers’ Association

The new group will work on local access issues, advocate for the sport of climbing, support new routing and more

The Vancouver Climbers’ Association (VCA) was established to advocate for the sport of climbing and to resolve access issues. The new-for-2020 association is a “community of climbing advocates who love our climbing landscapes and the experiences they offer. We are willing and committed to fight for them – not just for access, but also for the integrity of these amazing places.”

The president and founder of the group is Vancouver-based Brent Nixon, who’s been climbing for over 30 years. He recently acted as the vice president of the Climbers Access Society of BC. Len Chong is the new vice president of VCA and Lisa Newhook is the director.

We touched base with Nixon to discuss the new association and access issues in the greater Vancouver area. Be sure to follow VCA on Instagram below and Facebook here. You can enter to win in a day of climbing below if you follow along.

When did you start VCA? I started VCA this summer. It was officially registered as an incorporated society in June 2020. We are affiliated with Climbers Access Society of BC (CASBC) and currently in dialogues to work with other access groups.

Why did you start it? It was the culmination of several events that led to the start of VCA. First: CASBC President (Allen Agopsowicz) had been asking me to start a local climbing association for the last year. His goal has been to get many local climbing associations formed so they are closely networked to the local community and have boots on the ground to take action. Then CASBC would support all the local associations.

Second: Tunnel Point climbing crag parking at Ocean Point Viewpoint changed to 15mins and cars were being towed all last summer. Climbers would come back to their car after a day climbing to find no car and be stranded on the Sea To Sky Hwy 99!

Third: Climbing is not a recognized activity by Metro Vancouver Parks (MVP) and several excellent climbing areas exist within the park. Technically climbing goes against park bylaws and climbers could be fines for being on “unsanctioned trails”. This also includes using climbers trails to access crags. MVP really seems to not understand climbing or the rich history of climbing on the local cliffs. A lot of work has been done with CASBC and SAS to create policies for new routing and climbing with BC Parks but nothing exists with MVP.

So the impetus was multifactorial but it’s the right time for Vancouver climbers to organize, have a unified voice, and fight for the sport we love.

What’s the goal of VCA?
Our goals and actions are directed by six core values:
– Resolving access issues
– Advocating climbing and policy
– Stewardship and conservation
– Supporting new routes
– Climbing safety and maintenance
– Education and community events
– Climbing is growing faster than ever with new gyms producing V4 boulderers in months and local Vancouver crags becoming crowded. New climbers and new route developers need support and guidance from the collective wisdom of the whole community. The old tradition of being mentored by an experienced climber is mostly past and a new generation of climbers can benefit from our help.

Are you working with other access groups? We are affiliated with the Climbers Access Society of BC and currently in dialogue with other access groups (VOC, mid-Island Climber Acess) to work together on access and stewardship. VCA will be joining the next FMCBC meeting on recreation and conservation to become engaged with them too

Who can join? Anyone can join! We encourage as many members as possible to join since our strength is in our numbers. Elected government officials listen to voters – especially when you have many of them jointly voicing concerns. We have multiple membership levels to fit different budgets and we offer free memberships to First Nations. We do not want financial constraints to prevent climbers from joining. The most important thing is to just join. Our lowest membership cost (outside free to First Nations) is called “Living In My Van $5, You want your voice heard but you don’t have a lot of money. Lifestyle dedicated to climbing and minimalism. Philosophy of getting rid of excess stuff and living off the grid. Plan automatically renews but you can cancel anytime.”

What do you want climbers to know when heading to BC/Vancouver area? Be respectful of parking limitations and be mindful of towing zones. Towing is real and it’s a terrible way to end a good day of climbing when your car gets towed. Climbing is still not a recognized activity and access to almost all climbing areas is sensitive. Please practice “Leave No Trace” and be respectful of all local park bylaws.

How can climbers support the cause? Join VCA to grow our membership and write emails to the Metro Vancouver Parks Board to meet with VCA, to recognize climbing as a legitimate recreational pursuit in Regional Parks, and to work with VCA to adopt new routing guidelines like BC Parks has adopted. We also need emails sent to the Ministry Of Transportation to advocate for safe parking along the Sea To Sky Highway 99 for climbers and hikers.

Are there any crags around Vancouver that currently have access issues? Yes, there are two to three crags that are closed currently due to access issues. Tunnel Point has no parking right now since the Ministry of Highways changed the parking at Ocean Point viewpoint to 15min and started towing. Virtually nowhere to park now. Pirates Cove is currently closed because it is on private land owned by the Deep Cove Marina and the land owner says no climbing. 3. Seniors Center is also on private land and closed due to the land owner saying no climbing and there’s no parking on the local residential streets.

Who are the land managers that decide if climbing is allowed or not? On private land it is the owners. In the Metro Vancouver Regional Parks (MVP) there is an elected parks board that collectively decides policies. For example, Lynn Valley Regional Park, Grouse Mountain Regional Park, and Capilano Regional Parks are all MVP controlled land managers. Currently they do not recognize climbing as a recreational activity. Of course not acknowledging climbing denies any right to climbers accessing crags on seperate climbers trails etc since that becomes a bylaw infraction. In the local BC Parks it is a decision of the Area Supervisor in conjunction with the Park Management Plan that lays out all the allowed activities, and is decided on through a stakeholder process allowing public input.

Does MVP say climbing isn’t allowed? MVP does not say it is allowed or not allowed… they simply say do not recognize climbing as an activity and will not comment on it – super bizarre. As far as I know it has always been like this. The thing is though that MVP have been expanding the existing park boundaries and creating new parks over historical climbing areas and not recognizing climbing occurs. They can and do have the power to exercise prosecution under their bylaws if they decide that you are breaking the laws. This could be in multiple ways from replacing a bolt due to safety. Bolts are permanent structures against park bylaws to place. Removing tree limbs or wind blown trees that endanger climbers at crags is damaging vegetation. Walking to the crag on the climbers trail is hiking on unsanctioned trails subject to prosecution. It’s really crazy.

Anything else you want climbers to know? We are a new association and change takes time. Our website will become a bountiful resource for stewardship, and new routing standards but it needs a little time. Advocating for our sport requires joining together with one voice united – membership is key! Just because climbers have “always climbed there” doesn’t give you anymore right.