A guest post from Joe Sambataro, Access Fund.
A grin crosses my face as I feed out rope a couple hundred feet above a stand of old growth fir trees. From this vantage point on the Index Town Walls, I can see Mount Index, Baring Mountain, and the towers of Gunn and Merchant Peak ahead and the mountain town of Index lines the Skykomish River below. The occasional train makes its presence known as it passes through town on its way to Stevens Pass.
Technically, it’s still winter in the Cascades, but the dry rock and snowless mountainsides could convince you its midsummer. While my skis haven’t left the gear room for some time, my rack and rope have been living in the backseat of my car for quick trips to the Index Town Walls this month. I let out a quick whoop as my climbing partner pulls through a steep section of the climb.
My passion for the outdoors started at a young age, fishing the rivers and coastline of Washington with my father. This sparked a love for wild places that took me into the mountains where streams turn vertical and mossy outcrops give way to clean granite ridgelines. 12 years ago, learning the skill of technical climbing on rock, ice, and mountains changed my paradigm. In just one season, an expansive world opened up where I could choose the path less travelled and seek out new challenges in remote, beautiful corners of the globe. I was hooked for life.
This passion for our waters, foothills, and mountains directed my career into land preservation. My ambitions for conservation and climbing grew side by side and, eventually, came together with the Access Fund. I have been living my dream 5 days a week by supporting local climbing communities around the nation in their efforts to protect the places they love. Their dreams become mine, whether I have climbed at their home crag or not. In 2010, I walked to the base of Jailhouse Rock with the landowner shortly before securing a permanent conservation easement for climbing access, but didn’t clip my first bolt until the following year. I don’t have to be there to know how important a small crag and finite recreational resource are in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. A successful conservation project and the psyche of a local community are the ultimate reward and goal.
For me, climbing fuels my passion. It’s the hot tea on a Monday morning that invigorates you to tackle the string of emails; the only difference is that a day of climbing has a longer-lasting effect compared to caffeine. Mountains and rock faces provide the canvas for bringing out my strengths and tackling my mind and weaknesses.
Whatever lures you outside to hike, climb, bike, ski or paddle is often the driving force behind why you care about these landscapes. For me, conservation and climbing are separate, yet connected.