Photos by Paulina Dao.
Our favorite climbing places in the world are getting loved to death, and we have to be their active stewards if we want to continue climbing in them. Touchstone is passionate about outdoor access and stewardship, which is why we regularly host Gym to Crag events to talk about best practices when climbing outside and how to be caretakers of our outdoor spaces. We were so excited to team up with the Bay Area Climbers Coalition and Friends of the Inyo a few weeks ago to show some love to one of our most cherished climbing destinations: Bishop!
Programs Director & Event Coordinator Ryan Moon, along with BACC Founder Matt Ulery, made the trek. One of Ryan’s favorite parts about his job is brainstorming fun Gym to Crag events, and we sat down with him today to chat about what Gym to Crag is all about and how this most recent trip to Bishop went.
What is Gym to Crag? How often do we host these events?
Gym to Crag is an interactive, lecture format class where community members talk about outdoor ethics and best practices. They’re opportunities for us to stay up-to-date about any access issues affecting our favorite outdoor spaces and to share knowledge with people who may not be familiar with things like Leave No Trace or the Climber’s Pact.
We try to host Gym to Crag events regularly, and they usually happen every one to three months. You can learn about any upcoming events by following our Facebook page. We’ll also post about Gym to Crag events on Instagram and the Facebook pages of any gyms near the event.
We believe that educated user groups will feel invested in lessening their impact and be empowered to make a difference.
We host Gym to Crag because access to climbing areas is constantly threatened—especially due to increased impact from greater numbers of climbers getting after it outdoors. We believe that educated user groups will feel invested in lessening their impact and be empowered to make a difference.
What can someone expect from a Gym to Crag event?
We host Gym to Crag events both at our gyms and, of course, the crags! But whether we meet up indoors or out, you can always expect FREE BEER and swag. We often partner with climbing coalition representatives, rangers, guidebook authors, active and knowledgeable community members, and professional athletes like Beth Rodden and Carlo Traversi, so participants get some great insider tips in addition to learning new ways to maintain access to awesome climbing areas.
Tell us more about this particular event.
We teamed up with BACC and Friends of the Inyo to host a several-day clean up and informational event at the Buttermilk Boulders in Bishop. On Thursday, Matt led the Gym to Crag session at Cliffs of Id with some general ethics and stewardship talks. We had about 30 people in attendance. Matt broke the crowd into smaller groups and gave each group an access concern to discuss and present, which was a great way to get everyone thinking specifically about how to take care of the crags.
The second half of the session was led by LA County Bouldering Guidebook author Matt Dooley. He provided regional dos and don’ts, valuable LA County beta, and some inspiring images of the places that LA boulderers can expect to climb. Sufferfest hooked us up with a ton of scrumptious gluten-removed beer. Free beer = the best beer.
Redoing a version of what Matt and I had done last year at the Happy Boulders, we tabled at the Buttermilks on Saturday to touch base with climbers about best practices and outdoor ethics that pertain to climbing. Local partners like Black Sheep Coffee Roasters and Great Basin Bakery provided some enticing goodies to get people to initially approach us. Stewardship is not a topic that gets people in the door!
We decided to bring a few goodies to encourage people to join us on our stewardship quest, too: We created challenge sheets that, if completed and brought back, earned participants a Touchstone boar’s hair bouldering brush, and if anyone brought their dog (or mentioned having one) we handed them an Access Fund x Touchstone Climbing slip lead leash. We were even able to catch a few people walking on restoration areas they shouldn’t have been walking on—not because they didn’t care, but because they didn’t know. Basically the EXACT reason for our visit. As always, it was great to share with people how to take care of the climbing area, and everyone was very receptive.
We were even able to catch a few people walking on restoration areas they shouldn’t have been walking on—not because they didn’t care, but because they didn’t know. Basically the EXACT reason for our visit.
Sunday was a clean up at the Buttermilks around the pit toilet, Birthday Boulders area, and the Y Boulder (near the Get Carter Boulder). Tasks included general trash and micro trash pick up, re-delineation of trails and appropriate parking, breaking down unsightly camp fire rings, and raking restoration areas that had been trampled. We had 30 cheerful, zealous volunteers show up—most of whom were not even climbers (where y’all at?!).
We had 30 cheerful, zealous volunteers show up—most of whom were not even climbers (where y’all at?!).
Friends of the Inyo Stewardship Director, Julia Runcie, lead the charge by bringing a truck and cleanup tools, and delegating duties to any capable person with arms and legs. By the end of the day we had dismantled 13 fire rings, did a ton of raking trespass, delineating roads and parking areas, and picked up a whopping 320 pounds of trash!
The Buttermilks is the busiest climbing area in the world, but also one of the most sensitive. It’s on public land, which has lead to a free-for-all attitude for camping, littering, and parking. On any given winter weekend visitors can expect to see around 120 cars parked from just beyond the pit toilet all the way down to the entrance to the Peabody Boulders. During Thanksgiving break, a new record of 170 cars was spotted—not a sustainable trend. The climate is unfriendly to the existing wildlife and the presence of climbers has mad it even less habitable to barely-hanging-on plants and animals.
During Thanksgiving break, a new record of 170 cars was spotted—not a sustainable trend.
What are your thoughts on where climbing gyms fit in with access issues?
When it comes right down to it, nobody really has mentors in climbing anymore. New climbers either get their information from the gyms, the internet, or not at all—and this affects access. It’s really great that Touchstone’s leading the charge here, and I’m stoked to see our Gym to Crag events getting bigger every time.
While stewardship and conservation aren’t the biggest or sexiest topics in the climbing community, we have a responsibility as a community the recreates outdoors to care for these wild spaces.
Matt Ulery might actually say it best: “While stewardship and conservation aren’t the biggest or sexiest topics in the climbing community, we have a responsibility as a community that recreates outdoors to care for these wild spaces. Our actions as a community can truly make or break our access to a climbing area. The fact that Touchstone is willing to support passionate employees to organize and lead these types of events is a huge deal and I hope that other Touchstone members take pride in this and take the time and effort to educate themselves about stewardship best practices.”
Want to take care of your crags? Here are some tips:
- Leave No Trace. Pack out ALL trash and gear. Use pit toilets if you don’t want to pack out your poop! Consider bringing a small bag with you to pick up bits of trash you might see in the area left by others.
- Stay on trail. In non-regenerative ecosystems like Bishop, plant damage can take decades or even centuries to recover. We can help give plants a chance by staying off them.
- Leave fido at home. If you must bring your dog, keep them on leash and pick up their poop.
- Respect the rock. Brush off your tick marks, never climb on rock art or petroglyphs, and give sandstone at least a couple days to dry after the rain to avoid breakage.
- Don’t bother the locals. Take care not to spook wildlife by yard saling your gear or playing music on speakers.
- Join the Climbers Pact and come to our Gym to Crag events! They’re fun, they’re free, and they’re a great way to stay involved.