Climbing Advocacy Conference: A Global Perspective on Local Solutions [Recap!]

A recap of this year's Climbing Advocacy Conference, organized by Access Fund and The Climbing Initiative, which brought together over 650 registrants from 36 different countries.

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India, Lebanon, Germany, Australia, the United States, Ecuador, Iran, Canada.

These are just a handful of countries that participated in the Climbing Advocacy Conference last weekend. Each year, Access Fund hosts a summit of local climbing organizations to discuss different topics about conservation and climbing accessibility. Historically, this annual conference has been limited to U.S.-based organizations. This year, however, they decided to take it to the next level and invite attendees from around the world. In order to achieve this, Access Fund enlisted the help of The Climbing Initiative (TCI),  an organization dedicated to supporting climbing communities worldwide.

“TCI was absolutely critical in organizing the international community—it was like the magnet that attracted folks from around the world to this event,” said Access Fund Executive Director Chris Winter. “We were thrilled to be able to bring together people from all over the world to share stories and celebrate climbing advocacy.”

The joint efforts of Access Fund and The Climbing Initiative culminated in a list of over 650 registrants from 36 different countries.

Roundtable Introductions from around the globe at the Climbing Advocacy Conference. Photo: The Climbing Initiative.
Roundtable Introductions from around the globe at the Climbing Advocacy Conference. Photo: The Climbing Initiative.

Over the course of the weekend, attendees had the chance to sit in on a dozen panels and interactive meetings covering a slew of topics such as  Climbing as an Economic Force, Innovative Approaches to Sustainability in the Mountains, Measuring Community Impact, and many more.

[Also Read An FA for Access Fund: The First-Ever International Climbing Advocacy Conference]

Liz Ndindi, Founder of Climbing Life Kenya, summed up the key takeaways of the conference. “The Climbing Advocacy Conference was an excellent demonstration of the giving nature of rock climbing and the potential it holds as a tool for positive social impact,” she said. “It was a demonstration of the massive cross-learning that comes about when people from different social, cultural, and economic backgrounds share experiences and are willing to listen and learn from other people’s successes and challenges. Having a global perspective to local solutions helps redefine community and grow rock climbing in a more impactful, sustainable, and inclusive manner.”

Some cold and tricky aid climbing in the opening of Pumamaki 5.11R, Simiatug, Ecuador. Photo: Nicolas Davalos / Fundacion Acceso Andino.
Some cold and tricky aid climbing in the opening of Pumamaki 5.11R, Simiatug, Ecuador. Photo: Nicolas Davalos / Fundacion Acceso Andino.

Permeating the conference was the realization that climbing communities in all corners of the world have more in common than we think. Zooming in from Ecuador, Fundación Acceso Andino’s Founder and President Felipe Proano said, “Every participant related in some way with one another. It was evident that we all have the same issues and address them with the same principles. I think we’re a global community now.”

Jason Hall, Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance and speaker on the panel Global Perspectives on Bolting and Anchor Management, shared, “As climbing grows in the U.S. and elsewhere, the challenges to responsibly manage the activity have many commonalities. Our need for solutions isn’t geographically bound. We all benefit by learning what methods are proving effective near and far.”

Another major theme across the board was inclusivity. With the growth of climbing worldwide, access no longer simply refers to the physical act of getting to a crag. The definition has expanded to encompass the social and cultural barriers that can exclude an individual from the climbing community.

Day two of the conference included a knock-out panel titled The State of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Climbing – Case Studies from India, Kenya, and the U.S. Ndindi joined Climb Like A Woman Founder Gowri Varanashi and Memphis Rox Director of Operations Jon Hawk to share how they are making climbing accessible to their communities. This intention also resonated with Katya Ortiz of Escalada Sustentable. When asked what the biggest takeaway from the weekend was, she answered: “The need for inclusive and safe spaces as a means to solve other issues definitely was something that resonated and that I personally think will be a key piece to provide current and next generations with the chance to enjoy this activity in a sustainable way.”

*Enjoying the view after a great climb at Gumshoe Crag, Lukenya, Kenya. Photo: Climbing Life Kenya
*Enjoying the view after a great climb at Gumshoe Crag, Lukenya, Kenya. Photo: Climbing Life Kenya.

Climbing development is booming in every region of the world and having lasting effects in many communities. Executive Director of TCI Veronica Baker shared the virtual stage with Associate Professor of Sociology at Eastern Kentucky University Dr. James Maples and Climb Kalymnos co-founder Katie Roussos to discuss Climbing as an Economic Force.

“Having people from all over the world engage in a conversation about how to maximize the economic power of climbing was a historic moment in our sport,” said Baker. “We have to come together and share our lessons learned in order to create prosperity for all.”

A new generation of climbers. Jose Luis, son of Manuel, trying climbing equipment with unique curiosity and enthusiasm. Photo: Nicolas Davalos.

Local communities in climbing areas are seeing more and more opportunities to capitalize on the economic benefits of climbing tourism, but it is crucial for climbers to support them in order for this to be a feasible means of growth and development for all parties. “I think this event again reminds us of the importance of climbing as an economic value to local communities across the globe,” said Maples. “Climbers represent a valuable form of sustainable economic activity that can be a significant option for rural communities. They are well-educated visitors interested in supporting local businesses.” For our sport to elevate climbers and non-climbers alike, we must continue advocating for wide-spread equity and inclusivity.

After hearing panelists from so many different backgrounds and experiences, it was clear that climbers have tremendous strength beyond the crag. This global community has the power to create lasting social, economic, and environmental change. Innovative strategies to reduce climbers’ environmental impact are being implemented around the world. Local communities are being brought into the conversation and given a say. Climbers are taking a stand on the issues that matter, and together they are building productive and safe spaces.

As Southeast Regional Director for Access Fund Zachary Lesch-Huie put it, “Climbing and climbers are a force for good, in so many different ways, all around the world. The issues we face and ways we use climbing as a way to make the world better are surprisingly similar. We can learn from each other.”

Efforts to continue engagement among all conference participants are underway. One such initiative is TCI’s recently announced Best Practices project, which will bring together lessons learned and guidance from experts in crag development, community development, economic impact, environmental conservation, climbing organizations, and impact measurement. Working together and supporting each other through things like the Best Practices project and the Climbing Advocacy Conference will undoubtedly result in a better world for all, and this is just the beginning.