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For Climbers, Every Day Should Be Earth Day

From keeping crags clean to limiting your impact, climbers must always be thinking about ways to protect the environment

Photo by: John Scurlock of Tsar Mountain

Earth Day takes place on April 22 to demonstrate support for environmental protection. It started in 1970 and is now celebrated globally in over 180 countries. In 2016, the Paris Agreement was signed by Canada, the U.S.A. and over 120 other countries.

Earth Day is good for a lot of reasons, including being a one-day earth-focused celebration for people, brands, governments and other organizations to come together with a common theme. It’s a time to talk about greener initiatives, new bluesign products or to post a photo with a #EarthDay2021 followed by a Carl Sagan quote, like “There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” Or one by John Muir, such as, “Climb the Mountains and get their good tidings.” All of these and more are like-worthy additions on Earth Day.

But for climbers, every day has to be focused on the environment. Not just climbers, but paddles, skiers, hikers, bike riders, trail runners and anyone else whose passion takes place outside. If we don’t celebrate and protect the spaces where we recreate, nobody will.

What are some ways to be a year-round Earth Day-er? You can volunteer on access committees. Their mission statements are easily found online. Help other climbers who seem to need direction. Politely remind those who don’t understand local traditions, rules or etiquette. Rock climbing is an intrusive sport where rocks are trundled, bolts are left and vegetation is scrubbed. Not all cliffs need to be developed, some can be left in their natural state. Working with the local access group is the best way to know what pieces of rock can and can’t be developed.

Leave no trace is the single most important rule. Do not leave trash of any kind. Pack out small items like finger tape, labels and tags from your new climbing gear, cigarette butts. It’s good style to pick stuff up you see around left by less considerate visitors. Hammocks strung between trees can damage the bark, and smoke is a form of pollution for everyone who is not smoking. Especially on boulders, don’t leave tickmarks and brush your chalk off after your send.

Never build a fire at the rocks. Dry brush can catch fire and the fire pit is unseemly and invites more people to light fires. The outdoor environment is fragile, and we are its stewards. Landowners will hold us responsible for our actions. So, keep Smokey the Bear’s 1947 campaign slogan in mind: “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.”

Don’t take a dump at the crag or parking lot. Even before the new influx of new climbers, areas have been closed because of inconsiderate, and disgusting practices of relieving oneself at the crag. Use the facilities before you come to the crag, and if you have to go, know the leave-no-trace etiquette that applies to your area. Note, however, that at many areas, you must use the facilities provided, or have the equipment or take out your waste.

Gyms are built to accommodate large groups and everyone expects the noise, lining up for routes and stepping over each other’s equipment. In the outdoors, large climbing groups can be unwieldy, noisy and hog large sections of the walls. It is best to climb in groups of a maximum of three, and ideally two. People waiting to climb create a bigger physical footprint, more noise, ground erosion and potential litter. At crowded crags, climbing with just one other climber will give you the advantage of being able to nimbly move around the cliff to climb the least crowded routes. Due to Covid-19, you have to keep your group to your household, bubble or cohort.

Climbers need to help protect the environment every day of the year, by being good stewards of the land and by promoting Earth Day-like ideas and attitudes. Happy Earth Day!


Lead photo: John Scurlock of Tsar Mountain