A little over a decade ago, I landed in Park City with my snowboard and my big red suitcase. I was coming straight off the travel bus. Having hiked the Appalachian Trail, traveled through South America and lived in Japan for the previous year, I was planning to stay in Park City just for a winter to be a ski bum and then hit the road again. That’s until I wandered into White Pine Touring and saw they had a rock climbing program. I had never climbed before, but thought that guiding rock climbing sounded like a fun summer job, so I asked for an application. That moment is when I met Charlie Sturgis, the former owner of White Pine Touring. Charlie, with his uber-friendly smile, took one look at me and said, “You’re hired! We need more women.”
From that point on Charlie became my climbing mentor. He taught me how to climb and guide climbing tours. Fast forward to a few years ago. Charlie and I were in IME, a local climbing shop in Salt Lake City. One of the guys who works there, Shingo, told Charlie that the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance (SLCA) was looking for an Executive Director. Charlie reminded Shingo that he already ran Mountain Trails Foundation, but suggested that I apply for the SLCA position instead. I had no idea what SLCA was, nor did I know the first thing about running a non-profit. Charlie assured me that he would show me the ropes. I knew that if that was anything like him showing me how to rock climb, I was in for an adventure.
Five years later, I can honestly say that my climbing experience has been enriched through my advocacy work with the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance. Prior to becoming the Executive Director, I had no idea what “advocacy work” even meant. Now I know that it’s not just about the rock and sending the route. It’s about having a deeper connection to the places I love to climb through stewardship and a greater understanding of what goes into keeping access open to public and private lands for outdoor recreation. It’s about being a part of a greater community of outdoor enthusiasts. It’s about policy and laws that try to balance use on public land. It’s about connecting the outdoor industry and local businesses with the places they depend on to sell their climbing gear and guided experiences.
This summer, White Pine Touring sponsored the Ruth Lake “Adopt a Crag” day, which was one of three new rock climbing areas in the Uinta Mountains that White Pine had secured permits to lead guided tours. As part of the sponsorship, White Pine provided breakfast for over 20 volunteers and sent some of their staff to help work on the trails with us.
Ruth Lake is one of the most popular crags in the Uintas. Climbers from Park City and the Wasatch Front enjoy the cool summer temps at this 5.7 – 5.12 sport climbing destination. With the increase in the popularity of rock climbing, including a large number of new climbers being pumped into the outdoors from climbing gyms, climbers are having a negative impact on the land. Climbing trails and staging areas (at the base of climbing routes) are some of the worst trails that suffer from erosion. Climbers like to go straight to the climb with little regard to sustainable trails.
Due to the lack of maintained and well-planned trails leading to climbing areas, soil erosion and destruction of the plant life threatens to destroy the very places we seek to enjoy. One random Saturday this summer, I counted eight dogs and 42 climbers at the Good Medicine Wall at Ruth Lake, a wall that has 25 total routes in a pretty small space.
This is why the SLCA works with land agencies to be able to do trail maintenance at high-volume climbing areas. The goal is to harden these areas with rock work and create more sustainable trails, not only to make it easier for climbers to get to the base of the climbing route, but also to protect the soil and vegetation surrounding the crag. SLCA is stoked to continue to partner with White Pine Touring with the goal of getting more employees and potential climbing tour clients to participate in future Adopt a Crag events.
The next challenge is how to connect our out-of-town guests with these places through active stewardship and advocacy. The more we can promote our local nonprofits that are out there advocating on our behalf for recreation and conservation, the better chance we will have that these areas remain available to recreate.
Utah has the highest rate of volunteerism in the country and it’s a big part of why we love to live here, but it’s up to us to share that passion with our visitors to get them involved. Whether it’s doing some hands-on trail work, donating at a local fundraiser or writing to representatives in Washington D.C. to keep public lands public, let’s connect visitors to the places we love to play, so that we can ensure that these precious areas will continue to exist in the future.
Sign up to volunteer with the SLCA on most Saturdays from now until Thanksgiving to give back to climbing areas in Little Cottonwood Canyon: http://www.saltlakeclimbers.org/adopt-a-crag/
Julia Geisler, Executive Director of the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance (SLCA) and White Pine Touring Guide