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Climbers Cautiously Return to the Rocks As States and Countries Relax Stay-At-Home Orders

It will be important that those who resume climbing outside maintain social distancing to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

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While the battle against COVID-19 is projected to last into 2021, possibly beyond, many states are beginning to relax the strictest policies in their stay-at-home orders. As they do so, more and more climbers will be returning to the crags and boulders they have largely avoided in the past two months, prompting both excitement and apprehension over climbers’ ability to maintain proper social distancing.

Notably, on April 30, California Governor Gavin Newsom released new guidelines for permissible recreational activities (provided that social distancing measures are observed), and rock climbing is among them. While California’s stay-at-home order has no firm expiration date, the state is gradually introducing policies aimed at slowly reopening parts of the state.

Access Fund and the American Alpine Club have both released guidelines for climbers as they consider returning to the rock. The dominant points in both sets of guidelines are: to abide by state and local policies regarding closures and prohibitions; to observe social distancing measures while climbing; to climb only locally; not to travel for climbing; and to climb with a high margin of safety. For more detail see the AAC’s “Practical Beta on Climbing in the COVID Era.”

Several European countries have begun to ease restrictions on climbing, too, including the Czech Republic and Austria. Adam Ondra wasted no time in his first sessions back on real rock in the Czech Republic, making quick work of Iceberg, an 8C (V15) established by Marin Stráník, and doing the first ascent of Bohemian Rhapsody (9a+/5.15a). In Austria, Jakob Schubert made the third ascent of Alexander Huber’s famous 1994 testpiece Weiße Rose (9a/5.14d), which had only been repeated by Ondra.

While most of the world is just beginning to test the waters again in terms of climbing—should the number of coronavirus cases spike, local, state and national governments  will likely retighten restrictions on movement and outdoor activity—climbers in some countries with less stringent measures have experienced little to no change in their climbing habits. Finland is one such country.

Juho Knuuttila, a Finnish climber who last year came close to making the first ascent with Quentin Roberts of the North Pillar of Tengkangpoche, Nepal, explained to Rock and Ice what climbing has been like in his country:

It has been quite peaceful at least in the smaller cities where I have been. People have been following goverment’s advices well. Also Finnish Climbing Association gave clear ‘rules’ on how to act at the crags.

We can’t see more than 10 people at a time and it’s advised to keep a minimum amount of contacts. Basicly it means you can climb with your close family members but not go bouldering with a big group.

Also if you go to a crag which already has people, you kindly change your plans and place. Luckily, at least outside of the capital area, we have enough remote crags to climb the whole month without seeing anybody. This is also a good time to develop new crags, open new routes and boulders. Ofcourse it’s also advised to do only low risk activity, which means saving dangerous headpoint routes for later time. Also it’s wise to stay in your local region, as hospitals in smaller counties have a very limited capacity.

As all the climbing gyms are closed, it has been reported that there is a big bunch of new climbers outside which means we have to be very informative on how to act in nature/crags. Outdoor climbing in Finland has increased this spring, according to the 27 crags rock climbing app’s data.

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Also some of the very strong rock climbers whom work as route setters, have been able to spend more time in the nature. The best result by far is the first 8c boulder in Finland by Anthony Gullsten and first 8b trad route in the country by Olli-Petteri Manni.

Uusimaa region was closed for a month and access in and out was very restricted due to the highest amount of infections in that area, but we never had any restrictions on being outdoors, which I personally think is good.

In Finland climbing is mainly bouldering and single pitch cragging, so we can say it’s fairly safe. Of course some Finnish climbers think it’s irresponsible to climb at all at the moment, but I would say if you use common sense and follow given advices with your climbing, it’s okay.

Personally as an alpinist I’m totally okay to spend the summer in Finland, as rock climbing is actually really good here. I have a lot of new route ideas and big classics to tick!

Climbers have also kept climbing on real rock in Sweden. Back in mid April, Matilda Söderlund reported on Instagram that she had recently done Moonlander Assis (8A+/V12) and Armstrong (7C+/V10). “I’m grateful for the opportunity to still be able to climb outside,” she wrote.

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