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Threatened Climbing Areas in Latin America Need Help Now

Posted on: July 20th, 2010 by Erik Lambert

Cochamo Valley

The Cochamo Valley as featured in Alpinist 23. Photo by Crispin Waddy.

A message from Kika Bradford, executive director of Access PanAm:

Our numbers are strengthened by local climbers in almost all countries in the Americas with mountains and stone. The surge of climbing in the North is spreading southward, and most U.S. climbers will eventually make it to the world class winter rock climbing at Potrero Chico and the many other emerging areas in Northern Mexico or nearby Cuba. Others will make their first challenge at high altitude mountaineering on the volcanos of Mexico, and graduate to the Andes of Peru and Bolivia and finally to the highest peak in the Americas, Aconcagua. These areas are part of our climbing patrimony as “Americans,” and our inheritance as climbers and citizens of one of the nations of the Americas. We share responsibility to protect them with the climbers in those countries.

Most of these and other emblematic climbing areas in the Latin America are unprotected. No legal protection that keeps them open, nor even a local, regional, or national organization to fight threatened closures and restrictions. Aconcagua is experimenting with restricting climbing to local guides only and rescue bonds and guarantees. Most land titles in Mexico are ambiguous. Cuba denies its citizens the privilege of climbing, while welcoming climbing tourism. One of the hemisphere’s biggest potential climbing areas, and certainly its most endangered is Valle Cochamó, in Chile’s Patagonia, an alpine wilderness with some of the longest rock routes on earth. Cochamó is legally unprotected, and local utility companies have applied to dam the Valley for its water and hydro-power.

Cochamo Topo

Hand-drawn routes in the Cochamo Valley, in the AAC archives. Map courtesy of Clayton Laramie.

Enter Access PanAm, an organization dedicated to keeping climbing areas open in all the Americas. It launched last fall, and now is officially moving and shaking to tackle the issues facing many of these climbing areas.

“Unfortunately in places like the southern Andes lax government policies have allowed for the privatization of anything from glaciers to striking granite spires,” says Rolando Garibotti of the urgent need to help protect climbing areas in Latin America. Rolo’s conclusion: “Committed stewardship towards preserving not only access but also the natural character of the places we love is essential. What is happening in Cochamó is perhaps one of the most obvious examples, but unfortunately not the only one. Today the work of Access PanAm is indispensable.”

The issues vary, but they have a common core: No one solution fits. It will be up to local climbers to solve local problems. The basic mission of Access PanAm is to support access and conservation initiatives by climbers in each region and country. Preserving or creating access to climbs must be done by locally organized climbers and their supporters, who are familiar with the area and the issues.

The Western Hemisphere runs the organizational gamut from local climbing clubs to the recently launched nationwide access organizations in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and Chile to the almost 20-year old Access Fund in the US and the well established British Columbia Access Society. A critical mass of organizations and interest exist to create local, regional, and national climbers access networks in most of Latin America.

Access PanAm is an independent organization, with a steering committee of climbers from all the Western Hemisphere. It has a part-time Executive Director in Brazil, Kika Bradford (the founder of Brazil’s first access organization, Acceso A Montaña), and an acting president in the US, Armando Menocal (founder of the Access Fund). At this time, it has not decided in which country it will incorporate and apply for non-profit status. Until that time the Access Fund is acting as its fiscal agent, and anyone donating to Access PanAm through the Access Fund can claim a full tax deduction.

The new organization’s structure is be flexible and open-ended, a steering committee, including its organizers, a network of individuals, clubs, federations, and sponsors across all the Western Hemisphere. You can participate as activists, a charter member, or as a donor-supporter. Please click here to become a Charter Member or make a donation of any amount to support the work of Access PanAm.

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