A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon



May 16, 2017

Top American Climbers Lobby Congress to Preserve National Monuments

The battle over public lands rages on.


Michael Levy

A recent Executive Order from President Trump calls for the review of 27 National Monuments and puts their future in jeopardy. But American climbers are speaking up. Last week, a handful of the bestfrom Tommy Caldwell to Alex Honnold, from Libby Sauter to Sasha DiGiulianwent to Washington, D.C. to take a stand.

After moves early in 2017 by the GOP-controlled Utah legislature and rhetoric from the Trump Administration foreshadowed a coming showdown over Bears Ears National Monument, a new Executive Order signed on April 26 further escalated the federal government’s efforts to dismantle protections of public land.  The outdoor recreation industry has taken decisive steps over the past several months intended to put pressure on lawmakers to reverse course. Its actions in response to this most recent development continue these efforts: On May 11, under the auspices of an initiative dubbed “Climb the Hill,” sponsored by the Access Fund and the American Alpine Club, a cohort of top American climbersincluding Tommy Caldwell, Libby Sauter, Alex Honnold and Caroline Gleichtraveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Congressmen and women and voice their concerns about the new Executive Order.

The Executive Order puts millions of acres previously designated as public land in 27 different National Monuments at risk of losing that distinction and the protections afforded them by it. Pursuant to the order, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will make recommendations to President Trump about whether to preserve each National Monument as is, remove its designation entirely, or adjust its borders as he sees fit.

American climbers Tommy Caldwell, Libby Sauter, Alex Honnold, Caroline Gleich, Sasha DiGiulian, Kai Lightner, Mikhail Martin, Quinn Brett and Shelma Jun joined around 40 other industry professionals and met with congresspeople from both parties at the Nation’s capital on May 11. The Outdoor Journal caught up with Caroline Gleich by phone and Libby Sauter by email, and also had a phone conversation with the Access Fund’s Executive Director, Brady Robinson. 

Alex Kosseff from the AMGA, jason Keith from the Access fund and Caroline Gleich preparing for a meeting at the U.S. Department of the Interior . Photo: Caroline Gleich.

Robinson said the goals of the event were two-fold: “One, to convey that climbing is important; that we’re not just a bunch of wackos and that we have views on some of the bigger issues of the day, including public lands issues. And two, to come away with better advocates speaking with the issues with more understanding than they would have otherwise. When you put people in a room, give them a briefing and send them out to advocate, they’ll learn and own those issues in a way they wouldn’t otherwise. After the event, we have articulate, passionate advocates to galvanize the community.”

In her email, Sauter, a prolific Yosemite climber and pediatric cardiac nurse, wrote that talking points varied depending on the previously articulated stances of the congressperson each Climb the Hill sub-delegation was meeting with, but general messaging focused around encouraging lawmakers to vote “in a pro-public land stance,” and expressing “support of the Antiquities Act as it currently stands as well as the existing borders of all National Monuments.”

Sauter said that reactions from lawmakers were mixed. “We heard it all. Some folks were very, very supportive and asking what more they could do to help the cause. Other offices would say ‘Yes, we agree public lands are a treasure. We just disagree on how they should be governed.’”

John Tanner, legislative director for Senator Orrin Hatch, Caroline Gleich and Jason Keith of the Access Fund. Photo: Caroline Gleich.

Ski-mountaineer Caroline Gleich, said she was heartened by inroads she had made since prior lobbying trips on behalf of the climate change movement. “Overall it was really positive,” she said. “One of my favorite moments from the trip was when we met with staffers from [Utah] Senator Orinn Hatch’s office. He’s incredibly right wing. I’d met with his same staffers before on an earlier trip and I thought that meeting was an absolute disaster. But one of the staffers started following me on Instagram after that trip, and so saw and followed all of my posts about fighting climate change.

“Change happens really slowly,” Gleich continued. “But I think it’s definitely happening, and events like these are a big part of the catalyst for that change.”

One of the first National Monuments to be reviewed by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is Bears Ears, in Utah. President Obama declared the area a National Monument on December 28, 2016, just before the end of his second term, thereby protecting roughly 1.3 million acres. As noted by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Obama’s action marked “the first time that a president has responded to a formal request from sovereign Native American Tribes to use the Antiquities Act to protect public lands and cultural resources.”

Approximately 100,000 archaeological sites lie within the 1.3 million protected acres, in addition to popular climbing and recreational areas like Indian Creek. Sauter said, “I’ve heard Indian Creek referred to as the single-pitch crack climbing Mecca, Mecca being the most important religious site to all Muslims. That’s how inspiring and important this place is to us as climbers.” Gleich echoed Sauter’s sentiments: “Bears Ears is like nowhere else on the planet. It’s just a mind-blowing landscape. When you combine that with the cultural resourcesthe petroglyphs on the walls, the remote wildernessit’s a transformative experience to spend time there.”

Sunset in Indian Creek. Photo: Libby Sauter.

While Climb the Hill was a one-weekend event, its objectives are ongoing. Sauter spelled out all the various avenues open for constituents to put pressure on their elected representatives. “Currently we are in the 15 day comment period for Bears Ears,” Sauter explained. “We were told that originally composed, anecdotal stories are the most effective. As well, handwritten letters and Twitter are great and underused means to convey your support. To increase our power, we need individuals to call, write, email and tweet at Secretary Zinke. Then they should call the D.C. and local offices of their senators and representatives and urge them to voice their support of public lands to Secretary Zinke in the form of public letters or statements. Local groups should compose letters explaining why national monuments matter to their organizations. Local businesses should do the same. We must send group and individual correspondence. And then we must share with our friends and family and ask them to do the same!”

“It’s going to take a lot of continued follow-up,” Gleich said. “We’ll have to continue coming to the table, speaking up and presenting our viewpoints. There is still a lot of work to do.” 

Robinson was quite happy with how Climb the Hill turned out. “I think this event was really valuable as a one-off, but I also think it will be more valuable over time as we continue to do things like this year after year into the future,” he said. “We’re not a flash in the pan. Climbers are here to stay and our opinions matter.” (Robinson was also excited about the welcome the climbers received: “How cool is it that Tim Kaine came out? Frankly, he was somewhat starstruck by Sasha.”)

Access Fund Executive Director Brady Robinson, Libby Sauter, Quinn Brett, Sasha DiGiulian, Kai Lightner and Alex Honnold with Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) (second from left). Photo: Courtesy of Libby Sauter.

To comment on the federal review of Bears Ears and other National Monuments, visit https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=DOI-2017-0002-0001 and leave a comment at the bottom.  Any comments pertaining to the review of Bears Ears must be submitted prior to May 26, while the deadline for comments relating to all other National Monuments is July 10.

Feature Image: (From left to right) Sasha DiGiulian, Caroline Gleich, Libby Sauter, Quinn Brett and Katie Boué after a Congressional hearing. Photo: Courtesy of Caroline Gleich.


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Adventure Travel

Jul 04, 2018

Become the Bear! Tackling Middle Aged Life the Bear Grylls Way.

This story originally featured in a print issue of the Outdoor Journal.



Jamie East

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Bear Grylls is probably one of the most famous adventure celebrities in the world. Aside from all his adventures, Bear also shares his survival skills with anyone ready to pay for it. One such chap was our middle-aged writer Jamie East, who usually preferred watching other people take risks from the safe distance of his television. Until he decided to go out there himself and get dirty.

Well, there’s something liberating about jumping into a freezing, fast-flowing river with all your clothes on. It’s the kind of thing that, as a child, you told yourself you’d do all the time once you were big enough and your parents couldn’t tell you off. Yet staying on the precipice at age 39, all I can think of is, “Is this jumper dry-clean only?”

This is what life does to you. It sucks the adventure from you quicker than a Dyson in a bag of sawdust. Before you know it, you’d rather sleep than live, drive than hike, sink into the sofa than swim.

I suppose this could be classified as bare survival. You exist but don’t live, and I’ve decided enough is enough. What would the 12-year-old Jamie, who got sent home from school for falling down a ravine he thought he could clear in one leap, say to me if he could see the 39-year-old me? “Man up!” probably. “Your clothes are stupid?” most definitely.

Bear Grylls is the man we all aspire to be. Hard as nails on a mountain ledge, soft as grease at home with his kids. The fire in his heart burns brighter than Krypton being destroyed, and he’s harder than a 60-foot working model of optimus Prime made from diamonds. He also embraces the outlook on life we all wish we had time for had those damned IsAs, smart phones and creamy pasta sauces not gotten in the way. Thankfully for those of us with a terminal case of lazy-itis, we can see how the other half live over at the Bear Grylls survival Academy from the bleak Scottish Highlands or the luscious surrey forests in England. Run by Grylls and his team of ex-paratroopers, the survival Academy is an ideal introduction into a world of skills and endurance we think we’ll never need. Be honest; how many of us truly believe that there will come a time when we will be skewering a rat for dinner or navigating a 23,000-acre highland with only the stars to help? But these are skills that used to be second nature to us humans. If there weren’t people like Grylls to show us the way, there are a lot of people around the world who wouldn’t have lived to tell the tale of the time their car broke down in the Australian outback, or when they had to make a snow cave that provided those few vital hours of warmth on a mountaintop. Whether we like it or not, the knowledge could prove life-saving.

A tent set up for participants during the 5-day Survival in the Highlands course in Scotland.
A tent set up for participants during the 5-day Survival in the Highlands course in Scotland.

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The Academy offers several options tailored to your needs. You can opt for a 24-hour experience in Surrey either alone or with a family member older than 10. Although only 10 minutes from the motorway, such is the Surrey countryside that you could be in Montana for all you’d know. The dense forest makes for a real wilderness experience. The deep rivers you’ll be crossing, the rabbits you’ll be gutting, the trees you’ll be stripping to make shelter, and the ravines you’ll be shimmying across really do give you a feeling of being alive. A 20-minute run is considered a “big thing” in my house, so spending days in the real outdoors felt invigorating. I felt alive!

I’m not an all-rounder though. I found some of the requisite skills completely beyond me, navigating by starlight was one. My brain is just not wired to untangle that kind of data.

I used to think I could point out the north star in a heartbeat. Nope. The north star isn’t the brightest one. Nuts.

“The North Star is, in fact, the one perpendicular to blah de blah de blah babble babble wibble waffle.” That’s how that sentence sounded coming from the instructor’s mouth: just a stream of nonsense about ploughs and bears. It doesn’t look like a plough. If it looked like a plough, I’m pretty sure even I could find it. But it doesn’t. It looks like a slightly wavy line of stars that is buried among 200 billion other stars. It makes finding a needle in a haystack look like finding an elephant in an eggcup, so if I’m stuck anywhere in the world (and I mean anywhere: La Rinconanda, the Kerguelen Islands or just past the BP garage near my house) without Google maps or a TomTom, you may as well kiss this writer’s sorry ass goodbye, because I’ll wither away in a puddle of my own dehydrated tears.

Jamie had to eat maggots (crunchy and nutty), drink from a muddy river and set traps and eat rabbit he skinned with his own bare hands.
Jamie had to eat maggots (crunchy and nutty), drink from a muddy river and set traps and eat rabbit he skinned with his own bare hands.

But there are things that must have been festering in my subconscious all these years, like a coiled snake ready to unleash, on an unsuspecting world. For instance, I could light a fire that is neither at the end of a cigarette nor underneath a pile of half-frozen burgers. I mean a real fire created by nothing but flint and dried bark. It’s a panic-inducing task, and I’m not ashamed to say it took me nearly 40 minutes. As my instructor, Scott, told me, it’s all in the timing. Put on too much too soon and you’re buggered. Too little too late and, yup, you’re buggered.

Instructions for making a fire without matches or anything a sane human would have within arm’s reach
You need the slightest feathers of bark piled up like Candyfoss. You need your spark. Mine was from the flint on my Rambo knife. The very second that spark takes hold of one of your bark feathers, blow very gently. If all goes well, that will turn into a largish smoldering lump of smoke. If it doesn’t, go back to the beginning. You now need to start throwing on more feathers of bark, a fraction larger than the one before, before moving onto dried-out twigs no thicker than a hair on a baby’s ear. Eight hours later, you have a fire that could singe your eyebrows from 183 m. Well done!
Soon to be survivalists learning how to free rope traverse - a basic zip-line technique that can be used for water crossings and emergency evacuations.
Soon to be survivalists learning how to free rope traverse – a basic zip-line technique that can be used for water crossings and emergency evacuations.

So, if ever I do go missing near the BP garage by my house, just look for the massive fire right next to the petrol station. Well, I may need to think that through a bit more.

The Scottish Highlands course that is offered is similar to this, apart from a few key points. It goes on for five days and takes place in one of the most remote places in Britain. It’ll probably pour down with ice-cold rain for the entire trip, and you’ll have to eat rat and cross a river in your underpants. Apart from that, exactly the same.

Spending time with this team baked common sense into my brain. The lessons easily transform into mundane, everyday life. The buzz phrase of the trip is “Proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance.” out in the highlands, this means, “If you don’t prepare well, you will likely starve and die.” At home, this translates to, “Use a tape measure, or your shelf won’t be even.” The sentiment is still the same. Don’t judge me.

You should know what you’re getting into, of course. This is a Bear Grylls branded experience, after all (and all the equipment says as much). You won’t be expected to drink your own body fluids, squeeze drops of moisture out of elephant dung, or decapitate a rattlesnake with the sole of your boot, but you will feel as though you could if you were the last man on Earth. I did eat maggots (crunchy and nutty), drink from a muddy river, set traps and eat rabbit I skinned with my own bare hands. And do you know what?

I’ve never felt more alive or more connected with the world I selfishly pillage on a daily basis. I’m not alone, either.

People the world over have sought out the Grylls way of life. Upon his return to the US, my fellow survivor Caleb said “my hands are shredded, my nose is stuffed, my throat is raspy and my body is tanked, but I am alive now more than ever. It was everything I hoped for: an empowering learning experience.

Crossing a freezing river in Surrey during the 24 hour family course.
Crossing a freezing river in Surrey during the 24 hour family course.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. After the aching had subsided, and the clothes were washed, the niggling feeling that I was approximately 3 percent more of a man than I was before I began, just wouldn’t leave me. It still hasn’t.

I didn’t imagine that sleeping rough, eating worms and swimming in rivers could possibly have this much of an effect on my psyche, but it really has. I’m not saying I could rescue someone hanging off a cliff, or survive in the jungle for more than a couple of hours. But if you get the chance, breathe in the air, sharpen that stick and venture out into the big, wide world. Just remember to take a compass with you. I swear those stars are out to get you.

Photos by Discovery Channel, Jamie East & The Bear Grylls Survival Academy.

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