As climbers, we have the opportunity to experience nature more closely than many people do—hiking remote approach trails, perching on belay ledges, sleeping on the ground. That intimacy can lead to a deep concern about the landscapes we love and the environment in general. But what can we, as individual climbers, do to help minimize our own environmental impact? From travel to our campsites to what snacks we take to the crag—all of it has an impact on the world around us. We chatted with pro climbers and community leaders to find out what they’re doing to help lessen their own environmental effects, and what you can do, too.
“Travel is by far my biggest impact on the world. I try to offset it in a few different ways. The best way would be to simply not travel, but since I’m not willing to make that sacrifice, I try to mitigate the impact as best I can. … So each year I’ve been personally setting up some family or friends’ houses with solar. … And now the last few years, I’ve also started directly offsetting my travel through Mossy.earth, a tree-planting organization that supports rewilding efforts in several parts of Europe. All that to say, travel is probably the biggest impact for most climbers, and there are many ways to minimize it. It’s definitely worth doing something.”
—Alex Honnold, professional rock climber
“A big thing I like to do, when climbing with a group, is to carpool with my friends. Most climbing crags have limited parking anyway, and you’re able to plan out your day more easily. Plus, it’s more fun to ride as a group. Who doesn’t love a good car karaoke?
Being a responsible gear user
“I try to find products that have good repair programs so that clothing lasts longer. In that same vein, I try to invest in higher quality goods that will last longer, versus something that is cheaper but can only last a year or two. If I can get it used, I will, so as not to contribute to new goods being made. I try to take care of my equipment so it’ll last longer. If I don’t need something anymore, I try to be responsible for the future of the product by giving it away or selling it to a secondhand store, where there is a higher chance it’ll be reused.”
“When choosing gear and clothing, I first try to find things secondhand if it’s safe to do so. Secondhand puffy jacket? Sure, why not? If I can’t find it secondhand, I’ll look into a company’s production methods and review their website for an environmental impact statement.”
—Laura Edmondson, climber, Brown Girls Climb regional leader
Reducing your impact at the crag
“As climbers, we are an impact, plain and simple. It all depends on, are you willing to take the time to make sure you are limiting your impact as a climber? Are you taking the time to be respectful in the area for the community, visitors and the ecosystem? That means respecting the rock by letting it dry after a rain, making sure you’re not leaving tick marks and cleaning up your chalk and tape.”
“As a community, we might need to think about how we deal with increasingly crowded crags and be ready to accept solutions that might mean we don’t get to climb wherever we want, whenever we want, as seen with the Hueco model.” (Editor’s note: At Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site, climbers must make a reservation ahead of time to enter the self-guided climbing area, and only a limited number of climbers are allowed in the area at a time.)
“Here in the Northwest, the combination of rain and climber trails can cause unintended erosion, which can have a massive impact on climbing areas. As developers, we do our best to create a path that’s sustainable, and we encourage other climbers to stay on those paths.”
—Gabriel Cisneros, climber, route developer
“We’re lucky in the United States, where most of our public lands have a plan in place for dealing with poo, but that’s absolutely not the case in most developing countries. … Always have a plan for poo. You wouldn’t leave dog poop in a park, so why would you ever think it’s OK to leave your own?
Microtrash is my own personal pet peeve. I’m thinking of teeny little pieces of energy bar wrappers, sunflower seeds, even half a used tissue. These things usually aren’t left intentionally—they almost always come out of people’s pockets when they’re fumbling around. To fix this, I’m pretty ruthless in coaching people to carry their own personal trash bag—all of those little pieces of wrapper go straight into your sealed bag, not in a jacket pocket.”
—Charlotte Austin, writer, editor, mountain guide
“You should also understand, acknowledge and respect the land that you’re climbing on. Many of the areas we love climbing at have an importance to the Indigenous communities all around the country. Learn which areas are off limits for ceremonial use and when those times of the year are. Learn where you can camp and make sure you are traveling on durable surfaces when accessing off-trail routes. When setting up your climbing area, make sure to not scatter gear along the trail or crag.”
Looking at the big picture
“I learned in school just how much energy is required to produce food for animals, then to raise and transport and slaughter those animals also takes energy. Not to mention that cattle emit methane gas. …I stopped eating meat in 2006 or so, and I know many top-level athletes who have made the same choice without any compromise to performance. … Compared to many other radically carbon reducing lifestyle choices I think that not eating meat is certainly the easiest.”
—Jonathan Siegrist, professional climber
“As for waste, especially food waste, if you can eat mostly [foods] that don’t come in packaging and use glass jars at the filling station or reusable produce bags, you can help reduce your consumption plastics and packaging. … Of course, many of us supplement with lots of foods that come in packaging, myself included, but it’s good to be aware and try to make an effort when possible.”
—Taylor Rees, climber and filmmaker
“Donate to organizations that promote and support climate change advocacy at a legislative level, like Protect Our Winters, or organizations like the Honnold Foundation, an organization founded by Alex Honnold that helps reduce environmental impact and inequality through solar initiatives around the world. And most importantly: vote.”
—Emily Harrington, professional climber