A group of the top U.S. rock climbers who are also concerned about climate change have worked with Protect Our Winters to launch POW Climb, a new division that will focus on engaging the climbing community to join the climate fight.
GreenSportsBlog spoke with elite professional climber Tommy Caldwell to find out how he came to support POW and POW Climb as well as what he hopes will result from his efforts.
“It’s time to give the climbing community a platform to speak up about climate change.”
Protect Our Winters turns passionate outdoor and winter sports enthusiasts of all levels into effective climate advocates. The Alliance is POW’s community of elite athletes (skiers, snowboarders and more), thought leaders and forward-thinking business leaders working to affect systemic political solutions to climate change.
One of the top professional climbers in the U.S., Caldwell joins fellow climbers and Alliance members Conrad Anker, Adrian Ballinger, Emily Harrington, Angela Hawse, Beth Rodden, Matt Segal, and Graham Zimmerman as charter members of POW Climb.
LIFELONG CLIMBER AND ENVIRONMENTALIST SEES THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE
That Northern Colorado native Tommy Caldwell is a world class climber and an up-and-coming climate change fighting eco-athlete would surprise absolutely no one once they learned the outlines of his story.
“I grew up climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park,” Caldwell recounted. “My dad, who taught during the school year, was a mountain guide there. We climbed every weekend. I was climbing in Yosemite when I was three years old. In my teens, I climbed in the Alps and Bolivia. Of course this meant I was in nature all the time and developed a deep passion and appreciation for it.”
Tommy Caldwell of POW Climb ascends the Dawn Wall of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park (Photo credit: Brett Lowell/Red Bull Media House)
Rock climbing globally for more than three decades means Caldwell has experienced the impacts of climate change up close.
“I’ve been climbing in the Argentine part of Patagonia since my early twenties,” Caldwell recalled. “You can’t miss or doubt climate change when you go there over a period time. There’s one incredible mountain, Aguja Poincenot, its east face is accessible only by traversing a glacier. Or, should I say was accessible. Fellow climber Topher Donahue told me the glacier was passable in the 80s and up through part of the 90s. By the time I first visited there in 2003, the glaciers had receded and broken up to the point where crevasses blocked the passage. The beautiful approach from the east is now virtually inaccessible.”
The lower east face of Aguja Poincenot in the Argentine section of Patagonia is now virtually inaccessible to climbers. (Photo credit: Elvis Acevedo)
Sadly, reported Caldwell, the weight of climate change’s impacts is heavier on mountains that are still being climbed: “Now, in some parts of Patagonia, virtually when there’s a good weather window for climbing, someone dies. That’s because the mountains are thawing for the first time since climbers started visiting the area. Rocks loosen and ultimately fall. Death from sporadic rock fall is becoming common. I question weather I should climb in those mountains anymore — hey, I have kids now.”
ON BECOMING A CLIMATE CHANGE FIGHTER AND PART OF POW CLIMB
Patagonia played a key role in Caldwell joining the climate change fight.
Patagonia the outdoor apparel company, that is.
“I got into climate activism when I became an Ambassador for Patagonia, a sponsor of mine,” said Caldwell. “Then, as a board member of the Access Fund, the advocacy organization for climbing, I got into lobbying in DC on climate change as well as other issues that are clearly important to climbers. In fact, my Access Fund colleagues and I lobbied, through our ‘Climb The Hill’ initiative, on behalf of the bipartisan Land and Water Conservation Fund Act which became law as part of a bigger bill that was signed by the President on Tuesday.”
Caldwell, who was featured in the must-see “Free Solo,” which won the Academy Award last month for Best Documentary, sees POW Climb as the next step in his climb up the climate change activism mountain, with the next challenge being carbon pricing.
“POW reached out to me a few months ago. I then went to an Alliance athlete training, heard from the scientists, saw their legislative and electoral strategies and I was all in. I’m excited to push on carbon pricing and to help elect candidates who will support it and other climate change fighting actions. Now is the time.”
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