Your Local Crag Might be Holding COVID-19

words :: Ben Osborne cover photo :: courtesy of Arc’teryx

While most outdoor activities have generally been thought of as ‘acceptable’ in the practice of social distancing, rock climbing might be the exception—unless you replace your chalk bag with a bottle of Purell.

While scientists don’t know exactly how long the virus can stay on the surface for outside, at room temperature the virus can survive on a surface for up to nine days. Unfortunately, a few hours between turns on a popular route doesn’t seem like quite enough to clear that hurdle.

How to decide if you should go climbing according to Nicholas Martino.

For climbers trading off turns on a route, if one person is infected or carrying the virus, the germs are sure to be traded along with the next climber up the route, and so on. Along with trading off turns touching the rock, the shared gear could be a serious concern as well.

article continues below

In Squamish, the access society is asking climbers who might visit the region to reconsider their trip, citing the current situation in Bishop where climbers are still gathering in large groups. To add insult to injury, towns like Bishop have a large elderly population—who are clearly more at risk than others to serious illness as a result of the virus.

Heather Lightfoot, a local Squamish climber (who diligently prefaced her thoughts with the fact that she is “not a scientist”), is disappointed with the way climbers have been acting at her local crag.

“At this point, I’m not sure what is more of a bad idea: standing outside the hospital giving out free hugs or doing a quick lap on the Easy Chair Boulder,” said Lightfoot.  “I’ve been amazed at hearing stories of climbing parties of up to 30 projecting together. Yes, I know the sending temps are phenomenal, but the ‘sick vibes’ are for real this time, you don’t know who you could be in contact with on any rock surface.”

Climbing in Squamish can be a year-round activity—but it might be best to put it on hold for now. Photo :: Jimmy Martinello

According to the Squamish Access Society, the best practice is to use extreme caution.

“It is currently unclear how long rock remains contaminated by the virus, so please assume the worst.”, the group said in a special announcement on March 17. “Wash or sanitize your hands before, after and during your time at the crag.”

As mentioned in a previous article, it is perhaps best to change the way you look at risk—but if you must go, avoid crowds, be mindful of your distance with others, and always wash and sanitize. Nobody is up on the rocks with soap and a sponge (that we know of), leaving it up to climbers to protect themselves

As always, we’re in the business of encouraging people to get out and enjoy the outdoors, especially in trying times like these—but it’s our responsibility to shape our actions to the current situation, and this is just one example of how we can be more thoughtful in a time of crisis. —ML