The (Hypocritical) Environmentally Conscious Climber

Recently, I read an article about one of the world’s most prolific climbers, Alex Honnold. In the article, a small blurb discussed Honnold’s carbon-neutral lifestyle and the charity that he began to help accomplish this. On the whole, I find that most climbers view themselves as part of an environmentally conscious group of people. We love the outdoors. Many of us often refer to nature as our “sanctuary” or “where we feel at home”. Yet, as Oscar Wilde wrote, “each man kills the thing he loves”. I find a striking hypocrisy between our love for the outdoors and our treatment of it. Unlike Alex Honnold, the more I learn to appreciate climbing and nature, the more of an environmental burden I become. Not only do I feel this rings true for me, but for many climbers.

How can this be? Well, I’ll use myself as an example. At first, I was just a young top rope climber. I didn’t need much gear. I hitched rides to my local crag and my minimal kit of rope, webbing and carabiners sufficed. As time went on, I wanted to lead climb, then ice climb, then aid climb, all requiring a special assortment of gear.  More gear purchased = more natural resources eliminated. On top of this, I was yearning for harder challenges, taller cliffs, different landscapes. Before long, I was flying across the country, then the world, to climb. As my appreciation grew ever-more for these environments, so did my carbon footprint. What did I do to help sustain it?

Nothing.

Sure, I helped out with a couple of crag clean-ups here and there and threw a few dollars towards the Access Fund but all and all, I did, and still do nothing. Take, for example, my trip to South America last winter. The carbon emissions for my flights alone are equal that of about 9,000 miles (14,500km) driven in one of those massive, 4×4, American pick up trucks that I am so fond of picking on. Most of the folks driving those aren’t leaving the state, let alone flying to foreign continents. For me, it is time to consider changing my habits. Below are some simple places of where I can begin.

  • Taking our rented kayak for a walk as we cross Finland

    Kiia-Riikka, taking our rented kayak for a walk as we cross Finland

    Borrow more. Everyone knows that “sharing is caring”. Do you really need three crashpads for those two weekends a year you boulder? Could you borrow one from a friend, or rent it from a local outdoor shop?

  • VOTE! I am convinced that “voting the environment” is one of the most important steps you can take to care for the outdoors. Policies that our leaders make are far reaching and have a lasting effect on our wild places.
  • Carpool. Yes, this is a no-brainer, but a good reminder. Don’t know anyone heading your direction? Post on local Facebook cragging groups and see if you can drum up some interest.
  • Lend more. About those “big cams” that you use all of 3 days a year. Maybe you could offer them up to your peeps so that they too can go get spanked on the local “wide pride” test piece, without having to buy their own large chunk of metal?
  • Tear-Aid used to repair a punctures Therm-a-rest.

    Tear-Aid used to repair a punctures Therm-a-rest.

  • Fix your own gear. These days, there are multiple companies who have entire products lines devoted specifically to repairing your gear. One of my favorite repair products on the market now is Tear-Aid. This is what duct tape wants to be when it grows up. It is air-proof (for leaky mattresses), waterproof (for punctured hydration bladders), and stretchy (for fixing those swanky new waterproof stretch shells).
Old Jacket, new zipper.

Old jacket, new zipper.

  • Send your gear back to be fixed (not replaced). Many outdoor companies offer bomber warranties on their products, especially apparel. Unfortunately, many of these companies will just replace your existing product with a new one versus repairing the current one. Some companies that actually repair their products are: Western Mountaineering, Marmot, and Chaco. Also, many local cobblers and sewing shops can repair soft good issues faster and cheaper than having to send the product back to the manufacturer.
  • Reuse broken or worn out items. The second of the “Three R’s of the Environment” is Reuse. Try to get creative and see what you come up with. Below are some of my favorites:

    Crampon Pouch made out of an old pant leg.

    Crampon Pouch made out of an old pant leg.

Ice screw protectors. Left one made from foam mat and duct tape, right made from old bike tire inner tube.

Ice screw protectors. Left one made from foam mat and duct tape, right made from old bike tire inner tube.

Pièce de résistance. A knife made from old Ice ax pick, blue jeans, animal horn, and love. Thanks Antti

Pièce de résistance. A knife made from old ice ax pick, blue jeans, animal horn, and love. Thanks Antti

  • Be a conscientious buyer. When the time inevitably comes that you do need to buy something, be sure to do your homework and try to find a quality, long-lasting product that will best suit your long-term needs. Consider the following questions:
    1. Can I buy this product used?
    2. Is this product made from recycled material?
    3. Can this product be repaired or parts replaced easily?
  • Sell unloved gear. Gear was made to be used. Help save on resources and put some extra cash in your pocket by selling what you don’t use anymore. Chances are there is someone out there who will use it, love it, and give it many more adventures.
Climbing on Store Blåmann in a hand-me-down jacket. Photo by: Lauri Hämäläinen

Climbing on Store Blåmann in a hand-me-down jacket.
Photo by: Lauri Hämäläinen

  • Last, but not least: Explore locally. Some of the best days out I have ever had involved good people in a comfortable environment. Spend some time in your own backyard exploring the local potential and growing your appreciation for whats right around the corner. Try to pick project routes close to you. Not only will you spend less time driving, but be able to take advantage of prime conditions.
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One thought on “The (Hypocritical) Environmentally Conscious Climber

  1. Pingback: Matkustamisen vaikeudesta – Revontulia

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