Opinion: It’s time for action on regulating climbing and hiking in the Rockies

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The status quo in the Rockies is unsustainable. With visitation already approaching last year’s numbers and rescues skyrocketing, change during the pandemic is inevitable. 

Options for climbers and scramblers include enhanced public education, regulation requiring the hiring of guides for select climbs (as is the case with Mount Norquay’s via ferrata), issuing fines, pressing criminal charges and increasing our search and rescue capacity.

I used to think that Canada’s spirit of adventure was at risk of being eviscerated and that regulation would be the thin tip of the wedge representing just the beginning of a process that will gut risk from adventure. 

I’m not afraid anymore. Between the increased number of deaths in the mountains, the maxing out of rescue teams and crowds congregating on trails, it’s time for a serious rethink about how climbing and hiking should be regulated in the Rockies. 

We accept reasonable restrictions on our lives and liberty. Seatbelts must be worn in a car, lifejackets must be onboard for each person on a boat, and bicycle helmets are mandatory in Alberta for anyone under the age of 18. 

This is the wicked problem confronting managers and planners with Parks Canada and Kananaskis Country. The Harvard Business Review characterizes wicked problems as being tough to describe, having innumerable causes and possessing no “right” answer. Managers can ignore the problem, double-down and say there is no problem or roll up their sleeves and solve the problem.

We can find the fulcrum balancing personal risk with community responsibility. Canada’s climbing community and land managers can surely figure it out.

Jon Heshka is an associate professor in the adventure studies department and faculty of law at Thompson Rivers University.

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