Keep #OurWild public! Climbers from American Alpine Club voice up

Climber Emma Longcope at Indian Creek, Utah

Courtesy Emma Longcope

The climbing community doesn't want to see its favorite climbing areas bought and sold. These 3 climbers tell why they're against the public land takeover movement.

People who love to climb--be it alpine climbing or rock climbing--live for the opportunity to push themselves, both mentally and physically, in some of the most beautiful and serene parts of our country. But right now there is a growing anti-conservation movement that seeks to privatize and develop public lands in iconic climbing areas in southern Utah and throughout the country. If proponents of this public land takeover succeed, climbers may find themselves locked out of their favorite climbing ascents. The same is true for all people who love to recreate on public lands, whether on the ground in hiking boots or at water's edge with rod and reel. 

These climbers' stories are just a few of the many reasons to fight for keeping #OurWild public. In this 3-part blog, we share some of those climbing stories from avid climbers and members of the American Alpine Club. Learn why they are joining the movement.

The power of place connects us

By Emma Longcope, Wild Desert Spirit and AAC Communications Intern

Image: Courtesy Emma Longcope

“It’s just so… brown. There’s not much here,” my sister said as we drove South from Moab, en route to Indian Creek, Utah

“You just wait,” I told her, eager to share one of my favorite wild places. I watched her doubt quickly turn to awe as towering sandstone buttes and walls rose from the sides of the highway.

The following days quickly blurred together as we filled them with climbing, painting, chatting, and stargazing. Our clothes grew dirty and our muscles grew tired, but we also noticed that the simple style of living was gradually calming our minds and fostering a deep sense of peace.

The demanding style of climbing at the Creek requires hopeful ascensionists to fit their hands, feet, or entire bodies into the rock’s empty spaces instead of climbing existing holds. It’s hard. It hurts. But if you climb in this style enough, you begin to find the rhythm of the movement, and you might begin to think about the flow of water and the natural forces that shaped this place long before we arrived. You may never want to leave.

There is no cell service at the Creek, so climbers communicate by tacking up handwritten notes to each other at campgrounds. The nearest gas station is hours away, and the meandering dirt roads will beat up your car. The rocks become drenched with pink light in the mornings and evenings, and there are little lizards and jackrabbits everywhere, somehow thriving even though it barely ever rains… it’s magic.

After just a week in the land of sandstone and lizards, my sister was already planning her return trip. Watching her fall in love with the arid landscape was a testimony to the power of place and public lands to inspire and connect us all.

Watching her fall in love with the arid landscape was a testimony to the power of place and public lands to inspire and connect us all.

The Creek is one of an endless multitude of such places; they exist for all of us in different states, different landscapes, different memories. A sustainable future for these places and experiences is, unfortunately, in jeopardy. Extremist groups are pushing initiatives to privatize, de-fund, and close off our unique and precious wildlands. We, as a collective of engaged public landowners, cannot afford the losses that will occur if we do not push back.

It is crucial that we recognize, appreciate and protect the wild spaces where we are still able to roam and return to our most natural selves. As Mary Oliver writes in her poem Sometimes: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” If we all do our very best to follow this advice, I have full faith that we can be sharing wonderful and wild places for generations to come.


As long as we have protected land, we have hope for the future

By Ron Funderburke, B.C.D. (Badass Climbing Dad) and AAC Education Director

Image: Countesy Ron Funderburke

From the moment they were born, I hoped my sons would be climbers like me.

"I held Burke (now nine years old) in my arms and offered my fingertip to his tiny hand; his returning grasp indicated that he had already developed a good grip for climbing. I assumed my now five-year-old James’ precocious ability to escape his crib before he could even walk was an indication that he wanted to climb boulder problems all hours of the day, just like me, in the beautiful and wild places I’ve been lucky enough to explore.

The public lands where we climb have an amazing capacity to accommodate our young snack-eaters, bug and booger collectors, crayon-wielding virtuosos, and, once in awhile, their prodigious scrambles up small boulders. Experiencing climbing through the eyes of a child is about imagining a world that is free, natural, and full of wonder.

At the base of the cliff—in the interplay of light and shadow—my children find forts to build, mysteries to solve, a songbird’s eggshell, a snakeskin, and a wild turkey feather. These simple acts instill an appreciation for nature, wildlife and for healthy climbing landscapes. Their discoveries are made possible by this land: the 670 million acres of wildlands that we—as climbers, families, and Americans—own together.

In about the time that it will take my tendons to weaken and my skin wrinkle and grow thin, my boys will grow and thrive and strengthen. Our beautiful public lands will always be a part of their childhood, and I appreciate climbing more than ever because of that. 

Our beautiful public lands will always be a part of their childhood ...

I may have to accept that my children might never love the sport the same way I do, but they will absolutely love the national parks, forests, deserts, and wildlife refuges that we will share together throughout their lives. These lands will be accessible to them whether they choose to live in the city or the country, whatever their profession is, whoever they choose to become. 

We must, in this year of the National Park centennial, continue with renewed efforts to keep these spaces public in the face of the threat of land privatization and over-development.

My boys might never doggedly obsess over a single climbing move, or spend every single weekend camping in Canyonlands, or spend all their money on new climbing gear. But, then again, as long as there is protected land left to climb on, they might.


Will future climbers have the same memories we do? 

By Carol Kotcheck, Climbing Pioneer and AAC Accountant

Image: Carol Kotcheck

I grew up a city kid in Seattle. I had never gone camping or seen a starry night until high school when I joined an outdoor program.

Our instructor took us on all kinds of adventures in the Cascade mountains, even weekly night skiing expeditions. For the first time, I discovered I was a natural outdoor athlete. Skiing, hiking, and peak bagging became my passions.

After high school and with a spirit of adventure, I moved to Sun Valley, Idaho, where there are endless opportunities to explore the great outdoors. I was drawn to the tall spires of City of Rocks and began technical rock climbing in 1978 when climbing was still a somewhat obscure activity.

I discovered a rare feeling of timelessness. Far from an urban center, there is no light pollution, no developments or construction sites. The “Silent City,” they call it, is part of the old California trail. It feels like a homestead in the wild west. There are awesome vistas everywhere and lots of wildlife—birds of prey, badgers, bat colonies. Big, violent weather systems roll in and always put on a good show.

It is crucial that we keep places as incredible as the City of Rocks public and accessible.

As the years went by, I gained some notoriety from success on some of the more difficult routes at the “City.” I also have a popular moderate climb, “Carol’s Cracks” named after me because I did the first known ascent. My fifteen minutes of fame was being the cover girl on the City of Rocks guidebook for a number of years.

As the City became more popular with climbers and other recreationalists, land management became an issue. I contributed to the development of plans to manage climbing and keep the area preserved. In 1988, the City of Rocks was designated a national reserve. That designation has led to a fantastic signed trail system, hardened campsites with beautiful views, a climbing ranger, clean toilets, and a well-managed park that all can enjoy.

I now live in Colorado, but visit the City of Rocks every summer to climb. My visits bring back all the great memories of my start as a young climber. Seeing how well the park is managed currently gives me a great sense of accomplishment, knowing that I had a hand in keeping the City a wonderful place to explore that is preserved and passed down for future generations to enjoy.

I worry, though, that the next set of climbers may not be able to form their own memories here or in similar wild places if our public lands are seized and sold for development, privatization, and short-term profit. It is crucial that we keep places as incredible as the City of Rocks public and accessible.


Join the movement: Keep #OurWild public