Sunday, April 5, 2020

Which bouldering and rock climbing destinations are most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic?

I am a bit reluctant to write about the coronavirus pandemic. There is on the one hand already a lot of information out there. On the other hand, we still miss crucial aspects of this novel virus (such as the number of unknown cases). And, I cannot really contribute anything important to this topic. It is however consuming a lot of attention and interferes for many of us with our favorite sport (due to widespread lockdowns and social distancing regulations). This is why it is after all very relevant for the bouldering and rock climbing community, and why I decided to take this topic up here. 

First and foremost, please, adhere to the local regulations considering climbing and movement. You not only jeopardize future free access to local crags but also actual lives if you still continue as usual (e.g. by spreading the virus to remote communities or stressing already strained emergency resources)!

As the title says, I want to take here a look which bouldering and rock climbing destinations are most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic? Where could climbing (hopefully soon) be safe again? 

You can find below a simple visualization which shows the most important bouldering and rock climbing destinations, on the x-axis ranked by number of ascents in the database (until 2017). On the y-axis, you can find the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100.00 inhabitants according to Johns-Hopkins University Center for Systems Scienceand Engineering. This gives a rough picture about which climbing destinations are most impacted by the coronavirus.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is only a very crude proxy for the severity of the local conditions. There are, for example, large differences in tests performed between countries, and more testing means one will detect more cases. My home country, Germany, performes alot of tests and has a high rate of infections but a comparable low death rate. This is likely because there many mild cases detected through widespread testing. Other countries are suspected to artificially keep down the number of confirmed cases, by various means. Notwithstanding all these flaws, there will be on average a close relationship between the actual conditions and the number of confirmed cases. To consider the large differences in population numbers, I here look at confirmed cases by 100.000 inhabitants.

As you can see, a large part of the countries famous for their climbing spots in Europe are severely affected. Italy and Spain have established near complete lockdowns. The situation is also tense in Central Europe and the USA. It (yet) seems to be better Eastern Europe, in Greece, Mexiko, Australia and New Zealand, and other countries in Asia or South America. This is might be due to limited testing. It is not meant as a travel recommendation (some of these health systems have been already strained prior to the pandemic). But it might show where climbing might sooner be possible again.   


Research article looking at climber ability and route difficulties by Dean Scarff

Dean Scarff made me kindly aware about his extremely interesting arXiv article Estimation of Climbing Route Difficulty usingWhole-History Ra...