Hang On, or Rather Hold Off: A Climber-Physician Shares Her Thoughts on Climbing and Coronavirus

Dr. Kira Gangbar, a resident physician in Rural Family Medicine at the University of British Columbia, advocates a resting state, for now.

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In a message posted by a friend on the Womxn Who Climb Facebook group yesterday (March 18), a climber-physician in Kelowna, B.C., asked climbers to dial it back. Dr. Kira Gangbar is a resident physician in Rural Family Medicine at the University of British Columbia, and a regular at her area Gneiss Climbing gym and outdoors.

Noting that she was between long emergency shifts and would rather be climbing herself, Dr. Gangbar asked climbers to consider their risk of trauma, avoid travel and stay home as feasible, and temporarily consider hiking over climbing. And if you are going to climb, to be super conservative. Please, no whippers.

Annotated quotes from her message:

Dr. Kira Gangbar advises: “Act in a way that you can later reflect back on proudly, knowing you made the right choice.” Photo: Mitch McCambly.

° Increased climbing means increased trauma. I’m on orthopaedics right now. … If people get injured they increase burden on a system that runs over capacity and has hallway medicine daily. There is nowhere for them to go, so either they don’t get good care or it means the 80 year old woman who fell in her own home adhering to social distancing and fractured her hip doesn’t get her surgery…. how fair is that? It’s selfish to decide that during the LITERAL public health crisis of our lifetime that you’re going to do an activity with inherent risk during the 2 damn weeks we are asking people to NOT.

° I don’t think people “shouldn’t climb outside” indefinitely. I think it’s fairly selfish at this particular point in time … and given that if someone with COVID climbs the same route as you up to 3 days before you do theoretically you could get the infection just by grabbing the same hold or anchors … but if people insist on climbing they need to go to crags that are NOT BUSY, they need to NOT work on their hardest projects because if they take a whipper and sustain trauma they’re placing undue stress on a broken system. They need to NOT go into any stores in whatever community they’re climbing in. This means no gas, no groceries, no restaurants.

° If people can’t stay inside for that long that’s reasonable but going for walks or runs or easy hikes is lower risk.

As of March 20, she clarifies previous remarks, now removed, that the hospital was “not operating” on trauma injuries in order to save beds for expected need; elective surgeries are being delayed, and the hospital is ramping down surgical procedures in general as possible. The facility continues to treat urgent patients for fractures and other issues such as cancer “to our usual standard of excellence, but additional trauma surgeries will put additional weight on our system as it ramps up for COVID.”

The hospital at present has no time frame for when social distancing and other restrictions will no longer be necessary. It has no swab-confirmed cases, “but,” she says they are on the way.”

Vivian Tang, not lately, at Gneiss Climbing. She says, “It’s not fun to take time away from something I’m so passionate about (climbing), but if it means it’s helping in any way, I’m willing to stay away and train at home for the next little while.” Photo: Casey Reynolds.

Vivian Tang, the climbing friend who posted the message, added below the post, “We are so connected and sometimes we don’t realize that our actions might have consequences for others. Especially when being outdoors is being encouraged right now. I hope we can all stay positive but also do our part in educating ourselves.”

Tang tells Rock and Ice: “Basically it’s not just about transmission, but also about easing the burden and not taking unnecessary risks that may result in harm of yourself or others, which is so important to get through to the healthy climbing community right now.”

Gangbar adds to RI: “Healthcare workers across the globe are risking their lives, and the health and safety of their families in order to step up to do our duty on the front lines. They are dying trying to save lives. Respect these sacrifices.

“The climbing community is strong and full of integrity. Now is not the time for that to fail.”

Asked if she is essentially advocating a resting state, Gangbar says, “Exactly.

“Act in a way that you can later reflect back on proudly, knowing you made the right choice.”