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ROCK Project: Our Athletes are Committed and Here's Why

Sunday, November 27, 2016
Let’s face it. The time is now. With the world of climbing growing super fast, our community is expanding, and with that expansion is the need to educate and inform new climbers about crag stewardship and sustainability. That’s why we’ve partnered with the Access Fund to establish the ROCK Project—a tour that brings our athletes to communities specifically to educate and teach climbers about Responsible Outdoor Climbing Knowledge. But it’s not just the “students” who learn. We’ve asked our athletes and ambassadors to share their own experiences, because, as Sam Elias puts it, “the simple act of showing the younger generations that we are willing to admit inexperience, and then seek out the skills, will go a long way to encourage the younger people to do the same.”

As this year’s ROCK Project tour comes to a successful close, our Athletes and Ambassadors explain why being involved in this movement is so important...

All Images: Michael Lim


I never realized how important conservation was until I felt the backlash from the climbing community. I made a mistake while bolting a new crag in California. The mistake turned viral and the negative responses were massive. That was the point I realized how important it is to expose proper crag etiquette and stewardship to the masses. I feel like it is time the pros and public figures start setting examples.

Every area in every country has different rules, regulations and ethics. This is the one thing that I am constantly learning and applying to my very own stewardship practices. When I pull up to a new roof and a new crag I need to learn about how the locals run their show.

The areas we climb at need to remain the way they've always been. Not to mention staying available for us all to enjoy. With the amount of people visiting and the inevitable impacts, there needs to be platforms to inform people how vital it is to care for what we have. I want the crags I have developed to stay there forever. The best way I will continue to be a steward is through the ROCK Project and my own social media.

The ROCK Project has given me a platform to give back. It's given me a way to reconcile my own mistakes and appreciate how many people are on board with this necessary movement.

—Joe Kinder


With each successive trip to climbing areas across the country I’ve learned more and more about the specific issues that face each of our treasured crags and boulder fields. Developing an attachment to these areas over time has made me feel responsible for them.

By continuing to be a vocal and active member of the climbing community, I hope to pass along my knowledge of how to be a good steward for the climbing world. Volunteering my time for trail workdays and crag clean-ups is a great opportunity to show initiative and set a good example for newer climbers. Sharing knowledge is important for keeping our cherished outdoor areas open and in good care.

It’s massively important to have climbing mentors and for some reason it’s become harder to find people willing to assume this role as climbing grows. Moving forward, athletes and community leaders need to assume this role. They are usually the ones inspiring people to move from the gym to the outdoors and they should take responsibility for making sure that that move is done carefully and with the best information possible.

Through the ROCK Project, I ‘ve learned that setting an example is one of the best ways of inspiring change. The movement has made me more aware and in tune with the diverse local climbing scenes across the country.

—Carlo Traversi


I first noticed the importance of crag care and maintenance when I moved to southern Utah. That was when I really learned about desert landscapes and how sensitive they are to a climbers’ or hikers’ impact. Also around this time I met a lot of the locals who developed the crags. I saw how they maintained trails and cleaned up routes for climbing. It was the first time I had actually seen the people who develop and maintain the land first hand. Whether it was replacing a bolt that was sketchy or cleaning up trails that were worn, these guys had a passion for building trails, bolting routes and creating a good, safe crag environment.

I genuinely believe the ROCK Project is great way to pass along knowledge of crag stewardship and I’m so happy to be a part of that. I try to find ways to communicate these principles every day at the crag without being over bearing. One example was the other day in the Red River Gorge, I politely asked a climber going up my project to “please brush” as he worked out the moves. Doing simple things like this demonstrates good crag ethics, which should become the social norm for new climbers coming in. Another super easy way is picking up other people’s trash at the cliff. So many times I do this at the end of the day and other people follow suit. We make it the norm and then it’s really not “extra work,” it just is.

I’d say that I’ve been a pretty selfish climber the past 10 years. I had someone who really loved getting people into climbing invite me to the sport. For a long time I didn't think I was good enough to teach something to someone else. Now I know stewardship and leadership isn’t as much about being an expert as being someone who is patient, dedicated and willing to give his or her time to another.

ROCK Project has given me some vocabulary to use when working with newer climbers as well as made me more accountable for my own actions day in and day out at the crag.

—Colette McInerney


I’ve seen crags change and become worn from people, I’ve seen wild places littered with human garbage, and I’ve seen wildlife unhealthy because of constant human contact.

There is some responsibility on the younger generation. They must care, be self aware, and honest, and they have to be willing to admit that they don’t know something. With hard climbing knowledge and skill, this whole process is easier. But with responsible stewardship and practice, this is really difficult, because no one has really been talking about it until now. So in a way it’s on all the older generations to admit and put themselves in the inexperienced, “newbie” category, and go out and acquire these skills. The simple act of showing the younger generations that we are willing to admit inexperience, and then seek out the skills, will go a long way to encourage the younger people to do the same.

I’ve learned that people do care and want to be involved. I’ve also learned that most damage is not out of malice. Most damage is done through ignorance. The question isn’t necessarily – “How can I do better?” – it’s more like – “How can I learn more?” or “What am I doing that is causing harm that I don’t know about.”

The ROCK Project is simultaneously about becoming a better climber, as well as a better steward and advocate for the pursuit of climbing and climbing areas.

—Sam Elias


As a young person, I remember being proud of my role as a climber and wanting to take on stewardship responsibilities because I was worried that no one else would. As I’ve grown up, I’ve realized how many people are willing to help out. It inspires me to foster that energetic mentality, and spread it throughout the community and beyond.

Guidance can be the first step towards initiative. My coaches acted as mentors and introduced me to stewardship values that have shaped my actions over the years.

I would like to learn how to better integrate stewardship into my individual climbing trips. Embarking on personal trips that are both climbing-focused AND support conservation can have a big impact.

I have witnessed the power of many folks coming together with a goal in mind, and accomplishing it faster than anticipated. It’s amazing to see and feel the energy of a community coming together for a common cause, and genuinely enjoying themselves in the process. These connections shape us not only as climbers, but also as people, in that we are able to rally for a shared objective that benefits everyone.

My hope is that I have inspired climbers to pursue their own goals in spite of any fears or doubts that face them, whether its climbing-related or not. I specifically aim to reach women who have felt intimidated by the climbing community. I want all women to shatter their personal ceilings and realize their full potential.

—Nina Williams


My understanding of what it really means to be a part of a global climbing community has grown in the last few years. I’ve become aware of my responsibility to be an example of a responsible climber and an active steward for the places I love. We are lucky to have these amazing places to climb and it is our job to take care of those places.

Wherever I travel, I try to involve myself and take the time to connect with the people and the communities instead of just connecting with the climbing. Through those interactions and friendships, I’ve learned about issues specific to certain places as well as issues that are prevalent throughout the climbing world, and I’ve learned how to address these issues both as an individual and as the member of a community.

For me, having climbing mentors was paramount to my development as a climber and member of the climbing community. Now more than ever, as more and more people have their first experiences with climbing in the gym, we as experienced climbers need to take every opportunity to offer mentorship to people who are new to the sport as they are also new to our community.

One specific area I could always improve is through the maintenance of the rock climbs I try. This means brushing tick marks when I’m done with a climb, keeping an eye on the quality of the gear I’m climbing on, as well as the hardware, i.e. the bolts on the route, the fixed quickdraws, the anchors, etc. I want to always be willing and prepared to address and replace bad gear or bad bolts if there is a need.

—Dan Mirsky


I started climbing in the mid 1990’s and back then there were way fewer climbers. Some areas have become really popular and that’s when I started to notice that we would need to pay attention and become responsible. Since 2010 the climbing scene has exploded and we’ll need to double our efforts.

I’ve always tried to pay attention to the impact I have at the crags I climb at. But honestly I learned a lot during the ROCK Project. I learned that it is really important to pass on our knowledge.

—JP Ouellet

Triangle Rock Club in Raleigh, North Carolina

Earth Treks in Washington DC

Learn more: ROCK PROJECT