Episode 16: Chris Winter — Pulling Climbing Back From the Tipping Point

Chris Winter, the Executive Director for the Access Fund, has 99 problems but finding a solution ain’t one. Chris, along with his tireless staff spread across the country, is forging a bold path forward for the Access Fund, tackling the issues attendant with climbing’s massive explosion in popularity.

Overcrowding, crag erosion, social trails, an often challenging federal political machine, human waste polka-dotting the crags, and the general ecological impact of millions of new climbers are just some of the issues gnawing at the iconoclastic, freewheeling ethos that climbing once held so dear to it’s chest. As a million recent articles online and in the mags (most recent Climbing magazine issue) have highlighted, our dear sport is at a tipping point of sorts, a cliff edge none of us want to rappel from.

Luckily, we have an army of capable advocates in the Access Fund (and hundreds of brilliant grassroots climbing organizations), fighting to maintain our land rights and at least a modicum of the freedom most of us uncoil our ropes in search of. Today, however, after Academy Awards, social media saturation, front page stories in The New York Times, and the gym-to-crag phenomenon, Chris and his team are dealing with issues that previous advocates fidgeted over hypothetically.

Chris generously invited us to the Access Fund headquarters to chat about some of the issues unspooling at hyper-speed at nearly every short-approach crag in the country, especially locales hit hard like the Red River Gorge, Indian Creek, Red Rocks, Bishop, and countless others. Rather than hunting for a target to blame, however, Chris is focused on resolving the issues of overcrowding and Leave No Trace education, a daunting quandary. Together, Chris proffers, by supporting our local climbing orgs and the Access Fund — and offering ourselves as stewards and examples at the crag — the tipping point that climbing is rapidly approaching can mutate from a desperate collapse of crag integrity to a huge success story.

We are the foot soldiers. And it’s time to get to work. It’s time to flip the script.

Thank you, as always, to Ryne Doughty for the musical stylings.

Have a question, concern, pitch, or criticism? Drop us a line at thunderclingpodcast@gmail.com. Toss us a DM on Instagram @thethundercling. We read and respond to every note we receive.

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