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May 16, 2017

Top American Climbers Lobby Congress to Preserve National Monuments

The battle over public lands rages on.

WRITTEN BY

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 31, 2018

Kayaking’s Elite Return to India at the Malabar River Festival

During the week of July 18th to 22nd, the Malabar River Festival returned to Kerala, India with one of the biggest cash prizes in whitewater kayaking in the world.

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WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

A $20,000 purse attracted some of the world’s best kayakers to the region for an epic week battling it out on some of India’s best whitewater.

The kayaking events at Malabar River Festival were held on the Kuttiyadi River, Chalippuzha River, and the Iruvajippuzha River, in South India on the Malabar Coast. The festival was founded and organized by Manik Taneja and Jacopo Nordera of GoodWave Adventures, the first whitewater kayaking school in South India.

Photo: Akash Sharma

“Look out for these guys in the future because there are some future stars there”

One of the goals of the festival is to promote whitewater kayaking in the state of Kerala and encourage locals to get into the sport. One of the event organizers, Vaijayanthi Bhat, feels that the festival plays a large part in promoting the sport within the community.  “The kayak community is building up through the Malabar Festival. Quite a few people are picking up kayaking… It starts with people watching the event and getting curious.  GoodWave Adventures are teaching the locals.”

Photo: Akash Sharma

Vaijayanthi is not lying when she says the kayak community is starting to build up.  In addition to the pro category, this year’s Malabar Festival hosted an intermediate competition specifically designed for local kayakers. The intermediate competition saw a huge turnout of 22 competitors in the men’s category and 9 competitors in the women’s category. Even the professional kayakers who traveled across the world to compete at the festival were impressed with the talent shown by the local kayakers. Mike Dawson of New Zealand, and the winner of the men’s pro competition had nothing but good things to say about the local kayakers. “I have so much respect for the local kayakers. I was stoked to see huge improvements from these guys since I met them in 2015. It was cool to see them ripping up the rivers and also just trying to hang out and ask as many questions about how to improve their paddling. It was awesome to watch them racing and making it through the rounds. Look out for these guys in the future because there are some future stars there.”

Photo: Akash Sharma

 

“It was awesome because you had such a great field of racers so you had to push it and be on your game without making a mistake”

Vaijayanthi says the festival has future goals of being named a world championship.  In order to do this, they have to attract world class kayakers to the event.  With names like Dane Jackson, Nouria Newman, Nicole Mansfield, Mike Dawson, and Gerd Serrasolses coming out for the pro competition, it already seems like they are doing a good job of working toward that goal! The pro competition was composed of four different kayaking events- boatercross, freestyle, slalom, and a superfinal race down a technical rapid. “The Finals of the extreme racing held on the Malabar Express was the favourite event for me. It was an epic rapid to race down. 90 seconds of continuous whitewater with a decent flow. It was awesome because you had such a great field of racers so you had to push it and be on your game without making a mistake.” says Dawson.

Photo: Akash Sharma

The impressive amount of prize money wasn’t the only thing that lured these big name kayakers to Kerala for the festival. Many of the kayakers have stayed in South India after the event ended to explore the rivers in the region. With numerous unexplored jungle rivers, the possibilities for exploratory kayaking are seemingly endless. Dawson knows the exploratory nature of the region well.  “I’ve been to the Malabar River Fest in 2015. I loved it then, and that’s why I’ve been so keen to come back. Kerala is an amazing region for kayaking. In the rainy season there is so much water, and because the state has tons of mountains close to the sea it means that there’s a lot of exploring and sections that are around. It’s a unique kind of paddling, with the rivers taking you through some really jungly inaccessible terrain. Looking forward to coming back to Kerala and also exploring the other regions of India in the future.”

 

For more information on the festival, visit: http://www.malabarfest.com/

Subscribe here: https://www.outdoorjournal.com/in/subscribe/

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