While nearly a trillion dollars will soon be unleashed into the American economy in the form of a wide ranging stimulus package, thus far none of this money has been allocated to the climbers of the United States and this is an outrage.  Therefore I propose the Climbing Resource Assistance Program.  The program’s main goals will be to:

  • Employ as many as 50,000 young men and women as government climbers
  • Develop a corp of world class American climbers
  • Repair and build trails and structures
  • Replace dangerous fixed equipment on climbs nationwide
  • Stimulate the outdoor industry
  • Appoint a Climbing Czar to oversee the program

The core of the CRAP is the mission of job creation.  By creating 50,000 new jobs CRAP will provide young people with an opportunity to work to better America while pursuing their passion.  Climbers employed by the program will be expected to climb a minimum of three days a week, while devoting three days a week to environmental projects such as: trail building, habitat restoration and trash cleanup.  Most importantly the program will keep potentially revolution prone young men and women off the streets and busy working towards a better America.

Climbing areas across America  are littered with rusty bolts and manky fixed pins.  These ticking time bombs represent a grave threat to the climbers of the United States and need to be replaced.  Together CRAP climbers will do their best to eradicate the looming menace of failed fixed gear.

The struggling outdoor industry will also benefit from the CRAP, as more climbers require more gear to go about their jobs.  Saving jobs is our priority and by keeping the outdoor industry alive we are preserving an important part of the private sector.  The used van market will also see a boom as newly employed government climbers will need places to live.

There are a number of details yet to be worked out.  The Climbing Czar will have the serious task of shaping the CRAP into a viable program, so their appointment must be considered carefully.  The appointment of the Climbing Czar will show that this administration takes the CRAP seriously and is willing to work on development of this innovative plan.

What is good for American climbers is good for America.  Passing the CRAP will allow American climbing to retake its rightful place on the world stage by nurturing the next generation of  climbers and preserving our climbing areas for decades to come.  With a proposed budget of merely $100 million, I expect that Obama will see what a deal this program is and implement it in time for the spring Yosemite season.

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skinsTilly Jane Ski Cabin circa 2007: a depression era building project that is still very much in use today

Oregon’s Mazamas climbing club maintain a library at their Mountaineering Center in Portland. I visited the library and spent a few hours looking through their old journals. Reviewing old climbing publications is always an interesting exercise for those interested in the sport. They really capture the time period and as original sources give a historical perspective that can’t be found elsewhere. The grainy black and white photographs of happy young men and women in the backcountry exemplify the freedom found in the mountains and it is easy to feel a connection to these people. Love for wild places transcends time and they remind me of my friends and I, minus the wool clothes and hemp ropes of course.

In the journals there was little direct mention of the economy or much written that would indicate there was a depression happening. I suspect that a glut of bad news circulating, people most likely wanted to keep economic news out of their climbing news. The Mazamas annual publication mostly contains articles on climbs in which club members participated. Most of the reports during the years I reviewed were local climbs in Oregon and Washington, as well as some documented trips to Canada and the Tetons. This isn’t all that surprising in that during this time period much of the Cascades were still unexplored. There were also a number of research related reports including such topics as: A Photographic Survey of Glaciers and Mountaineering Physiology.

In the December 1932 publication, Margaret A. Redman wrote in the article The Lure of Other Lands that there was, “a movement towards private jaunts and journeys, alone or with other clubs, North to Alaska, South to Mexico, Central and South America, through the Mediterranean Sea, to Africa, around the world- where not? And why not? Since we come back satisfied that, for us, ours is the best.” She mentions that perhaps this is because of depressed prices. This is also evident in the 1931 American Alpine Journal, where the editor writes, “The Himalayas are becoming more popular. We read of at least four expeditions now under way for climbing there next summer.” More than anything this highlights the deflationary nature of the Great Depression. Those that had jobs and money were doing well enough financially to have the luxury of traveling abroad for the seemingly frivolous activity of climbing mountains. Those without were having The Grapes of Wrath experience.

There were a few other interesting points of note: a change in the kind of advertising in the Mazamas annual publication and the steady number of club members. In the 1930 publication there were a variety of advertisements for services ranging from sheet metal workers to florists to hardware stores. By 1938 the bulk of the advertisers were skiing and outdoor retailers and service providers. The other obvious statistic to look at was club membership. In 1930 the club had 627 members. By 1932 that number dropped to 612. Unfortunately numbers were not available for the next five years, but by 1938 club membership had increased to 698. It is interesting that throughout the 30’s there seems to have been little fluctuation in the number of club participants.

Not necessarily related to the economy, but an interesting case of what is old is new again, I came across at least three articles dealing with concern over glacial recession. In the December 1938 annual publication Kenneth N. Phillips writes in an article entitled Our Vanishing Glaciers, “While we in the Pacific Northwest are in no danger of suffering glacial bankruptcy, it does seem worthwhile to take some inventory of our glacial assets at this time.” I suspect that if Mr. Phillips saw our glaciers today he might be surprised at the extent they have changed.

Most climbers today (myself included) are not part of regional climbing clubs. I don’t doubt that there were a number of climbers operating outside of the Mazamas in Oregon in the 30’s. Therefore I don’t believe that the Mazamas journals provide an exhaustive record of everything that was going on during this time period, but they do give us an idea of the level of activity in the region. I would be interested in knowing the number of active Oregon climbers who were not members of the Mazamas and what they were doing in the mountains.

Another lasting impact the Great Depression had on climbing were building projects stemming from Roosevelt’s New Deal. For the last 70 years climbers and skiers have benefited from depression era construction of trails, huts and other structures in the mountains. The Civilian Conservation Corp had a number of projects around the state. Probably the most recognizable CCC project in Oregon is Timberline Lodge. Other construction on Mt. Hood included the Timberline Trail, which circumnavigates the mountain, and also the Tilly Jane trail and ski cabin which are both still enjoyed by backcountry enthusiasts.

Climbing for sport has been around since, at the latest, 1786. People have continued to climb despite over 200 years of human history and all the turmoil and tragedy associated with that time. The sport has survived depressions before and will continue to survive. With America’s new financial reality perhaps a new Civilian Conservation Corp will be created that will repair neglected trails and build new hut systems, allowing those that love the mountains to live and work in them. Climbing may begin to seem like an impossible luxury to those struggling financially, but those that can will always find a way to get into the mountains.

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