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Another slow climbing season expected with COVID-19 restrictions still in place

With fewer international climbers able to travel this year, it could be a good season for new climbers to get out of the gym
S-climbing Will Stanhope 28.20 taken by Tim Kemple
Will Stanhope tackles the Tom Eagan Memorial Route on Snowpatch Spire in the Bugaboos, B.C.

With the snow beginning to disappear and the weather slowly but surely starting to warm up, Sea to Sky locals have switched focus from the slopes to the trails and crags. 

And with COVID-19 restrictions continuing to linger and fewer international climbers able to travel to enjoy local routes, the Squamish Access Society (SAS) expects another slower year for the upcoming 2021 climbing season. 

However, fewer crowds on the crags and cliffs could be good news for new climbers that are looking to make the jump from gym climbing to outdoor. 

If you are a new climber looking to get outdoors for this season, there are some things to keep in mind to both stay safe and make sure everyone can enjoy the mountains.

According to Will Stanhope, pro climber for Arc’teryx, who will be giving a crack climbing clinic at the upcoming Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival in June, a couple of easy things that can be done to get the most out of climbing include avoiding the use of leaky hydration packs, which often become more of a hassle than anything, and also packing real food.

“I think the big mistake people make is they basically just bring candy when they go climbing and kind of crash when the sugar buzz wears off,” said Stanhope. 

“So a tasty sandwich and an apple goes a long way.”

But the No. 1 thing for new climbers, according to both Stanhope and the SAS, is to go with an experienced climber until you get your feet under you.

“I would just say if you’re new, a great investment is to hire a certified ACMG guide and learn the basics,” said Stanhope. 

“That is really well worth the money and a lot safer than freestyle. Also, place protection early and often—don’t be afraid to do some mock leading before you do some real leading-—and clean up after yourself.”

Stanhope also urged any veteran climbers who might be a little annoyed when they come across a slower climbing party, “not to get too aggro” and to just “be nice and give everyone the time of day.”

And if you are still nervous about getting out there, or don’t know where to start, there are organizations like Belay All that are dedicated to helping people get started while making climbing a more inclusive sport for everybody.

Founded in 2018 by Anaheed Saatchi and their climbing partner at the time, Belay All started as a simple meet up group for people like Saatchi to get together and create their own community of climbers.

“And then, since 2018, we’ve grown in the sense that there’s a lot of need for different spaces,” said Saatchi. “But there’s also a need to challenge climbing culture. A lot of the power in the industry is pretty uniformly in the hands of [cisgender] white dudes. And at this point, you know, that just doesn’t bode well.

“Everyone’s welcome [in Belay All]. We talk about things pretty transparently and are intentionally challenging norms. So asking folks who would normally take up a lot of space to take up less space, asking folks who would normally be really shy to try new things and see if climbing can be something that they vibe with.”

Along with raising awareness and consulting with industry, Saatchi and Belay All still continue to set up weekly climbing gym meet-ups and monthly training meet-ups to teach new members some of the basics like “intro to rope,” how to anchor and “all that sort of technical stuff.”

However, much like everything else during the pandemic, those things need to be postponed until the vaccination rollout is complete and the travel restrictions are lifted. 

But Saatchi is still hopeful that they will be able to take a group out climbing later this summer.

“It doesn’t really make sense for me to go to Squamish while focused on the process of being vaccinated,” said Saatchi. 

“And so that just looks like more low-key, less formal gym meet-ups and then there’s a few things in the works maybe later in the summer, but it’s kind of on hold until that artery of travel feels better.” 

Climbers in Whistler can check out whistlercore.com to find out more about opportunities and training here.