Guest post by Pete Whittaker -
As I’ve grown older, traveled to a few more places and seen the sport of climbing grow I’ve definitely become more conscious and aware of the impact I’m having on climbing areas. As our sport gains more mainstream popularity, becomes Olympic and the ever-growing number of gym climbers start to see the beauty of climbing outside, the impact on our outdoor climbing locations is only going to become greater.
As long as we recognize this I think its fine, as rocks are there to be climbed right? However, if we neglect it, the clean, neat places we love now, will only turn into those climbing locations we have a bit of resent for already; why has that person shit in the middle of the footpath? Why has someone just left his or her lunch wrappings on that boulder? A condom, really?
We go to these places because we love the climbing, but the climbing is not as good if you have to place your bouldering mat in a human turd. It’s nice to have a bit of respect for the future climbers of tomorrow and the future climbers of 50+ years.
I’ve been a developer of new climbing in Canyonlands National Park in recent years and being one of the first and few to really give a go at developing the area for future climbers. Let's be honest this location is never going to be a popular hotspot, but from pioneering in a new and sensitive area (it’s a national park so strict rules), its given me incentive to just try and be more conscious about the impact in other areas that I climb.
In Canyonlands they have a very basic and simple rule of taking everything in with you, bring everything out. Essentially gain only experiences (don’t take from the environment) and leave no trace (don’t leave anything behind). This obviously means take your rubbish, take your food waste and take your dirty toilet paper. It might sound like a hardship to pick up your dirty bog roll (or burn it), but when I think about it, I’d much rather pick up my own rather than stand in someone else's and get shit on my shoe. Maybe I should make the change for good and not just apply this to specific areas where it is the rule.
The same with food waste, it's easy to lob that apple core off into the bush, but in reality, it doesn’t take much to put it in the top of your rucksack and dispose of it reasonably. I’ll be honest I’ve been as bad as the next person in this realm, tossing my banana skins into the bushes at Spanish sport crags. But if we get used to this habit, add a couple more thousand people using the crags each year, it's going to be banana skin city.
Climbing chalk has become a big discussion nowadays. It’s nice to see that sensitive areas such as Canyonlands NP have gone the extra mile to prevent visual impact by making climbers use chalk that is the color of the rock. I’ve been lucky to meet Shawn at Climbing Addicts who cares about the environment and is forging forward with a chalk product which reflects this; different colors for different rock types. I’ve been using his product in Canyonlands and its great for the job. I can see brilliant advantages and the benefits of this for more sensitive areas. It’s unlikely everyone all over the world, is going to start using colored chalk to match the rock they are climbing (although I’ll happily be proven wrong). However, with pushes from people like Shawn and Climbing Addicts, maybe it will make climbers think about their impact with regular chalk and get them to clean the holds when they’ve finished a boulder problem and brush the big tick marks away.
It’s hard for us to change because it's so easy to do these little things thinking you have no impact at all. But modernize the sport, bring a few more thousand climbers into the outdoors, make them see that this is the norm, then things won’t get any better.
From being one of the first in certain areas of Canyonlands, it’s definitely made me think about leaving no trace there, as well as improving my impact in other climbing areas.
Many climbing areas are great locations, I want the next person to enjoy the area, routes, and adventure as much as I have done, and that can’t happen for them if I’ve pooped in their bivvy spot, ticked all their sequences or made them slip on my banana peel. Maybe it’s time for me to be more conscious about the little things, which added together with thousands of others would have a big impact on other peoples experience.
Pete Whittaker - August 2018.