Friday, May 9, 2014

Western Montana Climbers Coalition Launches

Start of "Tick Traverse" and approach to Tiger Stripe Wall, Mill Creek

Climbers throughout western Montana have a new voice – the Western Montana Climbers Coalition.

WMCC, which is poised to clear the final hurdle for federal nonprofit status, is a joint venture, born of two independent efforts. The first, led by Susan Rhoderick, Vicki Balfour, Molly Rennie and Cindy Guthrie, started as an effort to support and fund the kids’ climbing team at Freestone. That group came together under the name of Defying Gravity and began the long process of setting up a nonprofit.

"Ankle Biter" - Shredder Wall area, Rattler

Separately, Dane Scott and Michael Moore spent much of a year working with Bitterroot National Forest officials Dan Ritter and Deb Gale regarding damage to the climbers’ trail and belay areas at the North Rim of Mill Creek. Dane and Michael sought support from the Access Fund as the conversation continued, and based on an AF suggestion, started envisioning a climbers coalition that could speak with some authority as a voice for climbers in western Montana.

Both nationally and locally, the climbing population has exploded, in part due to excellent gyms like Freestone. As those climbers eventually make their way to the crags, issues that affect both climbers and land managers arise.

With those issues in mind, Michael and Dane considered the possibilities of starting a nonprofit from scratch, then started a discussion with Vicki about the possibility of joining forces with Defying Gravity. That discussion led to a merger proposal that the Defying Gravity board of directors graciously accepted.

This new alliance allows Defying Gravity to continue its efforts, but also to draw support from the larger organization, which has pledged 10% of its revenues to DF.

Although WMCC has come together over a couple of issues – youth climbing and trail damage – we plan to be about much, much more. Access issues are of paramount concerns to climbers everywhere, and they’ll likely escalate as climber numbers grow. It’s incumbent on the climbing community to be effective stewards of the land; if we’re not, we’ll have trouble with land managers who are already grappling with additional pressures on public lands.

"Green Eggs and Ham" - Random Events Wall, Lolo

By engaging the Forest Service regarding Mill Creek, we’ve already established a relationship that will serve us well as current crags get more use and new areas are developed. The Forest Service has been excellent to work with, and plans are underway to undo the damage done by the vandal responsible for the trouble in Mill Creek.

WMCC holds as core values:

  • Environmental stewardship and minimizing damage to the environment
  • Maintaining access to public lands
  • Commitment to youth climbing
  • Safe and appropriate route development
  • A focus on safe climbing, with an eye toward helping new climbers transition from the gym to the crag
  • A positive, inclusive experience for climbers of all abilities

"Ball & Chain" upper crux - 2nd Buttress, Kootenai

We’re currently in the process of assembling a full board, and we look forward to supporting events at Freestone and outside in the coming year. We have plans to bring a climbing festival/competition back to western Montana later this year, and can’t wait for other opportunities to work on behalf of climbers from the Canadian border in the north to the border with Idaho in the south.

"Digit's Last Dance" - Maiden

Please join us on Facebook at Western Montana Climbers Coalition, where you’ll always find what’s coming up next for the WMCC. We’ll get started with a membership drive once the board is finalized, and look forward to welcoming all climbers as members. We’re committed to being an effective advocate for climbers in western Montana.

If you have questions, feel free to post them to the WMCC Facebook page, and we’ll get back to you quickly. 

--The Western Montana Climbers Coalition 

More information is available at the coalition's Facebook page here

Before the Lorax - approach trail, Mill Creek North Rim