Cleaning & Climbing in Arizona

3363825_origSixty rock climbers and outdoor junkies filled the parking lot of The BLOC bouldering gym as the summery April sun reached over the Rincon Mountains to illuminate the desert city of Tucson. Buckets, trash bags and gloves in hand, the volunteers splintered off into smaller clusters following a safety briefing, each charged with cleaning up a different section of the 27-mile Catalina Highway thanks to the organizational efforts of the Climbing Association of Southern Arizona (CASA). The day would be warm and the work messy, but the reward—a cleaner mountain liberated of hundreds of pounds of trash—would be enjoyed by the mountain’s visitors for years to come.

We began selling our beer in Arizona last year, seeing our neighbor as a great market for a brand inspired by the active lifestyles we enjoy so much. With just about every type of outdoor recreation available in Arizona, from mountain biking and cycling to rock climbing, hiking, and snow sports, we knew there would be no shortage of outdoorsy types thirsty for our lightweight, canned brews. Like them, we love drinking good beer while doing the things we love, and we aim to do it as responsibly as we can!

It’s no secret that our home state of Colorado is big on protecting the environment, and so are we. Between running green events at our two breweries in Boulder, partnering with conservation groups like Trout Unlimited to protect our local watersheds (after all, beer is over 90% water!) and above all, practicing environmentally-friendly brewing practices, we’re exploring all avenues for reducing our impact on the planet. So when we caught wind of a climber-run mountain cleanup happening in the mountains north of Tucson, we wanted to show our support for anyone willing to volunteer their Saturday to a cause as pure as picking up trash in the great outdoors.

As it turns out, a lot of these conscious climbers also like craft beer. Who knew?

Stretching through five of North America’s seven life zones, from lowland desert to alpine forests, the Catalina Mountains serve as one of the most diverse natural environments in the country. Thousands of trad., sport, and mixed climbing routes established through decades of rock climbing line the highway leading from Tucson to the summit of Mt. Lemmon in a steep 6,000-foot climb that bridges the desert and forest, earning the mountain rage the title of “sky island.” Regarded as one of the best cycling roads in the country and dotted with endless scenic vistas, picnic areas and campgrounds, the mountain range attracts over a million visitors each year in their pursuit of all things athletic, aesthetic and leisurely.

Unfortunately, an unsightly side effect of human activity is waste. Though vastly reduced in recent years thanks in part to grassroots efforts like CASA’s “clean and climb” event, trash hides in the shadows along the sides of the otherwise-stunning highway. From the base to the summit, chunks of blown tires, rusty exhaust components, shattered fragments of plastic Wal-Mart snow sleds and above-all, shattered beer bottles (see why we’re into this whole canned beer thing?) lurk in ditches and beneath rocks. One need only step a few paces off the beaten path to find the evidence of some visitors’ regrettable disregard for the same scenery they venture up the mountain to enjoy.

One bag a person. That’s all it takes to make a difference. In just two hours, sixty volunteers rid the mountain of sixty bags of trash, forty feet of rebar, sixty feet of steel pipe and one spare truck tire. Their reward? Satisfaction, a cleaner and safer climbing haven, lots of free Access Fund and Upslope schwag and last but not least, an Upslope/The BLOC co-sponsored social scheduled at sundown for volunteers who opted to climb on the mountain following the cleanup.

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As one might imagine, there was plenty of Upslope beer and numerous stories of odd trash finds to be shared!

“But where does beer fit into the equation?” one might ask. Like most products, beer taxes the environment in ways often unseen, from water usage and heating expenses to transportation costs and last but not lease, packaging waste.

A majority of the trash collected at the cleanup was glass beer bottles. Recycling and production costs aside, glass bottles pose one threat to the environment that cannot be solved: It breaks. When it breaks, one piece of trash instantly becomes one hundred pieces of trash, littering campsites with hazardous fragments for a lifetime and making cleanup exponentially more laborious. Glass bottles also weight more and can’t be compressed like aluminum cans, making transportation of both full and empty bottles a costlier and more burdensome endeavor. See where we’re going with this?

As a brewery that crafts with conscience at every step, we don’t want to see our product in one of these ditches. While we can only do so much to reduce our brewery’s impact on the environment, we recognize that the people you sell to play just as large a role in the propagation of your product as you do. By advocating for sustainable brewing practices and supporting grassroots movements like CASA’s clean-and-climb, we hope to spread an attitude of considerate consumption and environmental sensitivity.

Canned beer isn’t the end-all cure to beer-related waste. In fact, draft beer addresses that issue more directly since kegs can be reused indefinitely. But since the dawn of modern outdoor adventure, men and women have burdened their packs with the weight of beer, seeing it as a critical comfort in their trudge to confront the wild head-on.

The next time you head outside, consider what you’ve read here as you fill your cooler or your pack with the so-called “people’s drink.” Even if it’s not Upslope beer, follow our lead and leave the glass at home. All it takes is one brash movement to break a bottle and litter a campsite, trail or crag for an eternity.

Besides, canned beer rules. Turns out there’s even a beer festival dedicated to it!