The notion of community is rather nuanced. For most of us, we tend to think of our community as the people and places in close proximity to where we live and work. Another type of community might include friends and family, or others within our regular social circles. But Avram Pearlman and Marie Schwindler, two of Great Western Power Company’s favorite fitness class instructors, had their ideas of community expanded and even redefined when they shared meals, stories, and adventures with the new climbers they met on their climbing trip last winter to Patagonia, Argentina. Despite their relatively short visit and differences in age, culture, and even language, they were warmly welcomed into this unique community through their shared passion for the outdoors.
One group of locals with whom they connected was trying to rebuild the town’s lone climbing gym, which had burned down in a recent fire. Centro Andino El Chaltén is headed up by Fidel Guirado, and serves their local community by providing a training and climbing space (essential to local and visiting climbers since the outdoor season is so short and unpredictable), as well as youth climbing and outreach programs and competitions.
Fidel explains, “In 1994, the El Chaltén Andean Center (CACH) was founded to meet the needs of a group of residents and mountaineers from the local area—a village located inside the Los Glaciares National Park —who believed it was important to have an institution to promote and raise awareness of mountaineering activities. For over 20 years we’ve been permanently contributing to and strengthening mountaineering culture among children, young people and adults from Patagonia.” While talking with Fidel and learning about CACH, Avram and Marie were struck by the similarities to their home gym, Great Western Power Company, 6,700 miles away.
Avram and Marie’s visit to Patagonia and its community of locals set their minds in motion. They came back to the Bay Area determined to return some gratitude for the hospitality they were shown. This spring, thanks to their coordinating efforts, GWPC donated over 1,000 climbing holds to the rebuilding efforts at Centro Andino El Chaltén.
We had the opportunity to ask Fidel a few questions about CACH, as well as the progress of their rebuild.
About how many people does your gym/organization serve?
We currently have around 400 club members, giving climbing classes to more than 150 kids and more than 80 adults. Also, we reach thousands more people through our Facebook page, plus all the tourism that comes to El Chaltén (Chaltén has only 1,600 inhabitants, but gets around 60,000 visitors during the tourist season).
When we were told of your story by our mutual friends Avram and Marie, we were heartbroken. When did the fire occur at your gym, and what has the rebuilding process been like?
During August 2016 the clubhouse suffered an incident caused by an electrical issue and burned to the ground. Efforts were made to contain the fire all morning, with great work done by the El Chaltén Voluntary Fire Service, the National Parks Firefighting Brigade, club members, and El Chaltén residents.
Just a few hours after the fire, many club members and friends came together to start work on rebuilding the club. Our rebuild has been a highly community driven process, from initial design and architectural review/approval, to construction and beyond.
Currently, we are coating the main structure, and are almost ready to start building the climbing walls.
What has been the response from your local community, as well as that from the global climbing community? We were eager to help out what little we could, but we’d love to hear about other people/groups who may have lent a helping hand during this rebuild.
The response was incredible, from both the Argentinian climbing community and the global climbing community. Even non-climbers and people outside our climbing and mountaineering community have approached us and are helping in a variety of ways. We received help from other climbing clubs in Argentina, and from tourist just passing by town, such as the case from Avram and Marie, who found us through our gym’s Facebook page, and asked for a meeting trying to find out how to help us. We feel blessed by all the help we’ve received.
Do you have an expected completion date for your reopening?
This one is hard. I would love to say before August 31st, but more likely it’s going to be closer to the end of September, or mid October. Our community has been so patient & supportive throughout our rebuild that we only want to reopen when we can provide them with the very best facilities we can.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with the Touchstone Climbing community?
Thanks to the Touchstone Climbing community! Climbing holds are one of the more costly parts of this rebuild and we appreciate your generosity in donating so many to an organization and community that you’ve never even met! As for us, we’re continuing to do our work to serve the local community and can’t wait to reopen our doors later this fall. We encourage you all to train hard, climb hard, and remember that the best climber in the world is the one having the most fun!