Access Fund

Here on Expedition4am we've had the chance to climb a few rocks. While climbing is certainly not my forte, Cody and Adam are really into it. I think Rom would get into it more given the right circumstances. And of course many of our readers, skibabeage for one, are fanatics of the vertical.

As it is with every outdoor sport, certain issues arise and political struggles ensue. After all, we're talking about using the environment for enjoyment, and you can bet not everyone agrees on what is and what is not the proper use of sought after land. Whether it's land George Bush wants to poke oil wells into, or land someone wants to ride a bicycle across, you can be certain people are going to squabble and debate over it.

This includes rock formations and mountains on which climbers and mountaineers use to challenge their skills.

As it is, climbers don't exactly have a huge lobby in Washington. Their concerns and arguments can pretty much go unheard in the world of government legislature and bureaucracy-- which is where Access Fund comes in.

While on our 4am adventure, the Crew and I had the opportunity to chat briefly with the folks at Access Fund, a national nonprofit membership organization dedicated to keeping climbing areas open, and conserving the climbing environment. It is their efforts with local and national government that help keep climbing areas open and free from development.

Robb Shurr, Director of Marketing and Business Development, explained Access Fund supports and represents over 1.6 million climbers nation wide in all forms of climbing: Rock, Ice, Mountaineering and Bouldering. Five core programs support their mission of keeping climbing areas open and conserving the climbing environment-- public policy, stewardship & conservation (including grants), grassroots activism, climber education, and land acquisition. Since 2000, Access Fund has provided over 125 Climbing Preservation Grants totaling nearly $800,000.

Access Fund envisions a future where climbing and access to climbing resources are viewed as legitimate, valued and positive uses of the land; where climbers respect and appreciate the places they climb and the climbing environment is conserved for current and future generations.

To Bolt or Not To Bolt --

Even within climbing community, itself, there is some disagreement. The popularity of sport climbing in the last decade or so has resulted in the bolting of a great many climbing routes. While bolting provides better access and safer climbing, especially for newbies, some purists are completely against and permanent fixtures.

Occasionally, bolts are cut from climbing routes, obviously upsetting sport climbers who feel that the eye hooks hardly represent an environmental strain whatsoever. Anti-bolting activists disagree, insisting that only temporary climbing protection, such as cams, nuts, and slings, are the only form of pro that should be used.

Access Fund seems caught in the middle of this debate, especially since this issue is not directly related to their focus and they advocate both sport and trad climbing access.

The Boulder Project --

According to Robb Shurr, the newest wave of climbers in the climbing community are learning in gyms, on rock walls. As a result, Bouldering has quickly become very popular.

Shurr explained, "There's a lack of mentorship in Bouldering, it's a sport where traditional climbing skills are being lost or simply never learned."

In the past, when someone learned trad climbing, or even sport climbing, they did it with the help of someone more experienced, someone who could literally "show them the ropes" and introduce them not only to the technical aspects, but also the culture of climbing.

Bouldering, however, can be learned individually with little equipment or instruction. The result is a new generation of climbers with different values and understanding about climbing. Furthermore, these climbers are more visible because they are closer to the trail on low, accessible rock formations.

"It's reminiscent of early skateboard culture of the '80s or mountain bike culture of the early '90s." noted Robb. "They're more visible, and are more prone to leaving behind signs they were climbing."

The signs he refers to are chalk marks on the rock, trash on the ground, and occasionally safety padding left behind or discarded. Accessing bouldering areas also tramples vegetation as climbers venture off established trails, creating new paths. "Generally speaking, Robb explained, "Bouldering is higher impact."

The Boulder Project takes a grass-roots approach to help curb the impact of Bouldering Enthusiasts on the image of rock climbing. It's a subtle education program, relying heavily on education and spreading the message by word of mouth.

Additionally, the Boulder Project's Adopt a Crag Program stresses the importance of taking ownership in the places you climb (your crag), by cleaning maintaining and trash removal. The overriding idea being: What you do to the environment where you climb has direct impact on future access. This reminded me of early efforts by the Mountain Bike equivalent of Access Fund, the IMBA. They took responsibility for the trails they rode by volunteering to work on building and maintenance crews. Adopt a crag is a similar approach...and I suspect over time it will be hugely successful.

Access Fund gets most of its money through donations and corporate sponsors. The Expedition4am crew would like to thank you guys for your continued efforts.

To learn more or donate, go to: . . . or . .