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Should Some of Canada’s Backcountry Close? Some Say Yes

Most search and rescue groups don't have the equipment they need to stop the transmission of the coronavirus

As the world comes to grips with the novel coronavirus covid-19 outbreak and governments try to control the spread of the virus, mountain towns and search and rescue groups want people to stay out of the hills.

Why? Because any unnecessary hospital visits could put a harmful strain on the health care system as front line workers prepare for the impending outbreak. Not only that, but if someone needs a rescue, then search and rescue responders can’t follow social distancing guidelines.

On Thursday, Chatter Creek had a B.C. local break his leg after the operation had closed. The pilot was on a mandatory isolation order but most interior pilots are under quarantine due to their forced interaction with international clients. That means that volunteer search and rescue techs had to expose themselves to a dangerous situation to save a skier.

A story in Pique News by Joel Barde, reported that the Whistler Search and Rescue (WSAR) and Avalanche Canada are asking people to use extra caution in the backcountry. Barde reported that WSAR said their ability to respond is hampered with WSAR manager Brad Sills saying the current situation is like having a swimming pool with no lifeguards. “You have a decision to make,” Barde reported Sills saying. “The pool still there—you can still swim—but if you get in trouble, it may be a long time before somebody comes to you.” Read full article here.

WSAR and other search and rescue groups don’t have access to personal protective gear to guard against the coronavirus. Sills is calling on B.C. to close backcountry recreation. France recently shut down climbing and touring in Chamonix and police can fine people who break the law. Parks Canada closed all visitor services.

Barde also reported that “longtime WSAR member Wayne Flann is also voicing concerns about responding to calls given the lack of access to protective equipment: ‘I personally will not go out on a call until I am supplied with the proper [personal protective equipment] if I need to make contact with a patient.’

Since Avalanche Canada gets a lot of their information from now-closed ski operations, their information is limited, which means backcountry skiers don’t have the best information. That could lead to more accidents. More accidents is a bad thing during a global pandemic.

San Juan County, Colorado, has banned all forms of backcountry recreation including skiing. The ban comes following huge numbers of skiers and riders taking to popular backcountry locations across Colorado. Read the story here.

Across Canada, popular hiking and climbing areas have been closed, including The Chief in Squamish and Mount Nemo in Ontario. Many provinces are starting to enforce social distancing, saying that people are not following the rules. See below for some closures.

Should some of Canada’s backcountry be closed? Maybe some of the busier places. I know a lot of search and rescue workers who don’t want to be exposed to the coronavirus. There are a lot of responsible low-risk backcountry users out there, but there are also irresponsible backcountry users who could put others in harm’s way by their bad decisions.

I’m a climber, skier and love running up peaks, but during this time I won’t be climbing, skiing or hiking up popular trails. I’ll be staying close to home and hiking in not-so-crowded areas. I encourage everyone to do the same. I know this sucks and none of us want this to happen, especially during spring, but we have to let health care officials and our friends in essential services know that while they’re out there working for us, that we’re doing what we can for them.

If we want the backcountry to stay open, then we’re going to have to use extra caution, practice social distancing and be responsible.

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We have made the decision to close all Conservation Halton parks indefinitely. On March 13, we reduced staff in our parks and gatehouses, closed all facilities, cancelled all programming and closed some of our parks, while leaving others open for people to engage in passive recreation. We also suspended our regular fees and encouraged visitors to pay what they can. The parks were still served by Park Rangers and other park operations staff with no direct contact with customers. They were monitoring conditions, parking and visitor safety for adherence to social distancing related to COVID-19. Our parks were extremely busy on Saturday with a spike in hiking visits from 12pm onwards. Although many of our visitors have respected social distancing, our Rangers observed and reported concerns with crowding in some areas, parking lot capacity and illegal parking, and people entering areas that are marked as closed. Considering these challenges, all Conservation Halton parks will remain closed indefinitely. These include Kelso, Mountsberg, Crawford Lake, Rattlesnake Point, Hilton Falls, Mount Nemo and Robert Edmondson Conservation Areas. For parents with children at home, we have prepared some online resources to support learning about nature without leaving your home. You can find them on our website. Stay safe and stay well.

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The Chief is now closed.

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All ACC backcountry huts remain closed until June 13, 2020. . As of March 20, we have updated our cancellation policy to include two options for booked parties during this time: . 1. 80% REFUND. Our standard cancellation policy allows for a refund of 80% of a cancelled hut booking. 2. 100% CREDIT. We are offering our guests a credit for 100% of the booking. The credit can be redeemed for future bookings at any ACC facility and will be valid for two years. . We had previously announced that we were offering only the credit option to all of our users. We have updated this policy today to include the refund option. We thank all of our members and guests for their patience, their understanding and their input to this process. . All booked parties will receive an email shortly. We are requesting all of our guests to not call our office at this time and to wait for our staff to reach out to you. . Full details via link in our profile. . Take care friends 🙂.

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A lot has happened over the course of the past week. Restaurants, bars, entertainment facilities, and climbing gyms have closed in efforts to slow the transmission of COVID-19. It's a time of uncertainty for everyone, and it affects us all both physically and mentally. Climbing, physical activity, and being outdoors are all ways to alleviate stress. With the inability to climb indoors, it's easy to think that heading to the crag is a safe and viable option. But should we be climbing outside at this time? We encourage everyone to be responsible and respectful of the population as a whole. Even if we feel well, we may be asymptomatic carriers and not know it. By traveling outside your hometown, you increase the risk of transmitting the disease to other communities, many of which are remote and have limited access to supplies and healthcare services. All provincial parks are now closed, as well as many other public services. Additionally, if we get injured climbing, we increase the load on an already overburdened healthcare system. @tommycaldwell provided the @accessfund with the following quote: “I cancelled my upcoming climbing trip to the southwest, not because I think my family will get sick while we adventure in the desert, but because it’s the responsible thing to do to slow the spread and protect vulnerable people. It’s our responsibility to stay put. But it’s also a great opportunity to stay home with your family, practice low-impact living strategies, and get some fresh air.” We're in accordance with this line of thinking. Many climbing communities are urging visitors to stay away. We ask that you consider how your actions can impact the lives of others at this time. We all want to climb, and getting fresh air is crucial to staying both healthy and sane. But the crags aren't going anywhere, and staying local is only a temporary sacrifice that will protect our community. There are many resources that will help us stay in climbing shape while at home, and we'll be sharing some tips and inspiration to keep you motivated! But for the time being, we're willing to put the health and safety of our community before our own desires. We hope you'll join us.

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