Editor's Note: The Real Cost of Travel (Plus February/March 2020 Issue Preview)

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Nina Williams shaking out on Pirates of Penance (5.12b), Wave Wall, Cayman Brac. 

Nina Williams shaking out on Pirates of Penance (5.12b), Wave Wall, Cayman Brac. 

This issue marks our annual Travel/Road Trip Issue, a celebration of the climber-vagabond lifestyle and the incredible places we get to visit. I’m excited about the destinations, including our cover feature Cayman Brac, Mount Lemmon, Arizona, Bishop, California, the epic-long sport climbs of Washington’s Cascades, the granite of Cathedral Ledge, New Hampshire, and a multi-pitch (!) crag in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

It is almost impossible to extricate getting vertical from globetrotting—even if your local area has thousands of routes, at some point you’ll crave fresh terrain or a go at bucket-list climbs like the Hunchback Arête on Mount Lemmon or High Planes Drifter at the Buttermilks or Flyboys in the North Cascades. We climbers have always traveled, stretching back to the Golden Age of Alpinism (1850s–1860s) when wealthy British climbers would visit the Alps in a mad dash to claim virgin summits. It’s as much in our DNA as any other aspect of the sport.

However, as we’ve come to realize after seeing how fossil-fuel emissions—among many other out-of-balance aspects of modern life, including industrial farming and the wanton overuse of plastics—have reshaped our planet for the worse, that travel comes at a cost. And it’s a cost that we climbers, including the pro climbers who jet-set between A-list crags, producing the media we all so voraciously devour, often choose to ignore. Because, well, it’s a bit of a buzzkill.

When I first heard about global warming, I was in middle school—my father read and shared with me a New York Times story about “greenhouse gasses” like CO2 and methane heating the planet. When things might get catastrophic no one knew, but a consensus was emerging that we could do real harm. It’s one that’s since been backed up by untold studies and reports, including the Executive Summary of the U.S. Global Change Research Program Climate Science Special Report, which noted that the earth’s annually averaged surface air temperature increased by 1.0 degrees C (1.8 degrees F) from 1901 through 2016.

Now consider that in the relatively short span of 40 years since I first learned about global warming, I’ve seen these effects firsthand at cliffs in the Southwest where climate-change-fueled drought and “global weirding” have wreaked havoc on the landscape. There’s Cochiti Mesa in my home state of New Mexico, which saw its monolithic tuff scarred, soot-stained, and spalled by the massive Las Conchas fire of 2011, not to mention the loss of the towering ponderosas that shaded the rock. There’s the Flatirons, Colorado, where a lightning-sparked fire in the dry year of 2012 threatened to burn down all of Bear Peak. And there were the floods of September 2013, during which a freak cyclonic storm parked over the Front Range for five days and dropped 18 inches of rain on Boulder, with raging creeks scouring the canyons where we climb, destroying roadbeds, approach gullies, and trails, and in one case undermining one block so much (Black Ice in Fern Canyon) that it tilted downhill, forever burying the problem.

Bottles and flip-flops litter the blowhole at Pollard Bay on Cayman Brac-"Great job, humanity!" 

Bottles and flip-flops litter the blowhole at Pollard Bay on Cayman Brac-"Great job, humanity!" 

Of course, these are but a few examples, and I bet you can think of ways climate change/extreme weather has impacted your local areas, too.

I get that it’s hypocritical to talk about climate change out of one side of my mouth while promoting travel from the other. But with all problems of such a massive scale, having the conversation is a good place to start. So I’ll consider our own impacts in putting together the Cayman Brac story. To fly six of us there released 7.9 metric tons of carbon. Meanwhile, the estimated 600 miles we drove (two cars x 300 miles each) during our 10 days on the island released another 0.48 tons. Then there were other things with their own carbon cost: our climbing and photo gear, the (imported) food we ate, the energy to heat water for showers and run the air conditioners in our rooms, etc. I acknowledge that our trip created carbon impact, and that if you choose to go to Cayman Brac—or any destination—you’ll be creating impact too. It’s inevitable.

But I also understand that there are things—purchasing offsets, carpooling to the cliffs, making the most of local climbing, driving a high-MPG vehicle, eating meat sparingly, etc.—I can do as an individual both to offset this trip and to reduce my carbon footprint. And at Active Interest Media, Climbing’s parent company, we are making efforts, including recycling 23,378 pounds of materials last year (comingled recycling, paper, cardboard, electronics, etc.)—preventing 11.64 tons of greenhouse-gas emissions—and buying renewable energy for our building to the tune of about 3,500 kilowatt hours per month. Also, our building recently received an EPA Energy Star certification, which means that energy-wise it outperforms at least 75 percent of similar buildings in the States.

I would truly hate to give up travel, but I also know that the days of $1/gallon gas and pretending that global warming is a can we can keep kicking down the road have passed. If we’re to limit our total temperature rise to the 1.5 degrees C beyond which scientists think human life becomes unsustainable, then we need to start taking these matters seriously—including take a cold, hard look at our impacts as climbers.

Matt Samet, Editor 

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In this issue... 

Features

Sonoran Gem

The 2,500 routes and endless bouldering at the overlooked cragging nirvana of Mount Lemmon, Arizona.

Paradise Found

Palm trees, blue seas, and brilliant limestone on the Caribbean island of Cayman Brac.

Long, Easy Routes

Climbing America’s tallest bolted moderates, deep in Washington’s Cascades.

Flood in the Desert

How a tidal wave of climbers is reshaping Bishop, California.

Departments

Basecamp

  • Inbox
  • Top 10: Resolutions We'll Be Breaking in the New Year
  • Re-Gram: Crowded Crags 

Talk of the Crag

  • Why "Get'Er Done" Doesn't Work: Shift Your Focus Into the Present to Manage Fear-Including Your Fear of Falling
  • The Skinny on Fad Diets: Are They Messing With Your Performance? 

Onsight

  • Our regular climbing photo gallery 

Tested

  • Gear Reviews 
    • Mystery Ranch Tower 47

    • Beal Birdie

    • BlackYak Calvana Hoody

    • Armaid

    • Black Diamond AirNet 

    • Butora Acro Comp

For the Love of Climbing 

  • Mentors Wanted: Remedying the teaching and leadership gap for women climbers

Grasping at Draws

  • Beware the Future! Four Climbers Learn Their Fate

The Place 

  • Silver Mountain: Northern Michigan's Hidden Gem

Topo

  • Cathedral Ledge's Life, The Universe, and Everything

Unsent

  • Herding Your Partner: The Selfish Climber's Guide

Skills

  • Avoid the Newbie Syndrome: How to Prevent Gym-Bouldering Injuries Early in Your Career
  • Rapid Weight Loss vs. Slower Body-Composition Changes
  • The Allfreefi: Maximize Big-Wall Efficiency with an Adjustable Fifi Hook

Rock Art

  • Mixing Elements: The Artist Jezryl Castelo

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