On March 16, CMRCA held an informal community discussion to address some of the questions and concerns about the closure of Crazy Horse Buttress. During the meeting we discussed a number of questions raised by the community, and updated the attendees on the progress we have made, as we work with Ban Sahakron and Mae On District communities and local government to reopen Crazy Horse Buttress. We apologize for being unable to stream this discussion to remote viewers, and we appreciate your patience in receiving this update, as we, like many others, have been focusing all of our efforts over the past few weeks on reducing the impact of the Covid-19 virus outbreak.
As you know, Crazy Horse was closed by the Ban Sahakorn Sub District Government office nearly two years ago. All efforts have been made to reopen the crag as the provincial, district and sub-district governments formally address the legality of rock climbing in the area. This closure has been a challenge to all stakeholders in the area, impacting local and traveling climbers, local villagers and businesses, as well as CMRCA and its employees, all of whom had grown accustomed to having a world-class climbing and caving area available for their recreational use. Below you will find a list of responses that address the various questions that came up in the discussion.
Our offices are closed until the end of April due to Covid-19, however we have a dedicated team continuing to work closely with the government, local officials, and Mae On community members to ensure the application process to access Crazy Horse continues to move forward. As was mentioned in the meeting on March 16, leaders from the Ban Sahakorn community and government offices are open and willing to meet with climbers at their offices in Mae On to discuss any questions that the climbing community may have.
To the local climbing community in Chiang Mai and beyond, we hear, and respect your request for more frequent updates as to the status of Crazy Horse. You are right, we can do better at providing more frequent and comprehensive updates. We hope that the update below clarifies our mission and commitment to advocating for climbing and caving for all. We will work to share more updates and with more frequency. We will aim to provide another update in May once we have returned to normal operations and have more information to share. Thank you for your understanding and continued support.
Climb and Cave On
Kat and Josh Morris
Questions and Answers
Has CMRCA applied for access to Crazy Horse and do they have the support of the local community?
One very positive outcome of the closure of Crazy Horse has been the unification of the Ban Sahakorn community as well as local and provincial government agencies in their recognition of the importance of the Crazy Horse climbing area, and its continued sustainable management, to the local economy. At this time all 8 Ban Sahakorn village communities, village leaders, and related government agencies are making an effort to reopen Crazy Horse Buttress to rock climbing, caving and outdoor recreation and are supporting CMRCA to proceed with a formal, legal application to regain access. We are honored and feel grateful that the local community and government in the Mae On District trust CMRCA to create a sustainable use plan for the crag that will ensure continued access for future generations.
What is the status of the application?
The process of submitting the application has taken a significant amount of time and energy. There are numerous steps to take and multiple government offices with whom to engage. All documents need to be submitted, reviewed, and approved in the correct sequence by the appropriate community groups and government agencies that are relevant to the decision making process. To say the process involves some fairly complex bureaucracy would be a gross understatement. Throughout the process, CMRCA, the Ban Sahakorn community, and the related government agencies have worked closely together. We are happy to report that all groups involved are committed to this process of gaining formal permission, granting access to the area, and ensuring that all national, provincial and local legal requirements are met. This process, if ultimately successful, will create a legal precedent and land management model that can be used by other climbing area developers throughout Thailand who are working in areas with similar land designations. As of today, access is still pending further review, and we are unable to give an exact date when Crazy Horse will reopen. However we are working hard, we are making significant progress, and we remain hopeful that Crazy Horse will reopen in the second half of 2020.
What type of land designation is assigned to Crazy Horse?
A question addressed in the meeting was regarding whether or not the Crazy Horse climbing area is on “public” land. While the direct translation from Thai translates as “public land,” in Thailand the more nuanced meaning of public land is significantly different from that in other countries. Keeping in mind the complexity of the Thai political structure is helpful in understanding this. While we are open to differing opinions, we would encourage a more localized consideration and effort to understand how public land is managed and controlled in Thailand. Land designated as “public” is managed by the Ministry of Interior through the Department of Provincial Administration as well as the Department of Local Administration and the Department of Lands. The laws associated with this type of land in Thailand are both vague and complex, however an understanding of these laws is important, as ultimately it is these laws that dictate what this type of land designation is typically used for and what types of activities are allowed on that land. We would suggest a more nuanced understanding of the legal construct and processes required to legally allow any activity, much less rock climbing (something which is not currently allowed under Thai law), on land governed by the Ministry. For those interested, the Ex-Minister of Sports and Tourism and current Member of the Thai Senate, Mr. Weerasak Kowsurat recently wrote an article addressing this very issue which can be found on Thai news site Matichon here.
Should CMRCA manage Crazy Horse Buttress?
It was noted that there are different opinions about how best to manage a crag, and whether a climbing area would be managed more sustainably by a business or a non-profit organization. This is an interesting conceptual discussion to have. We feel that with the current lack of government recognition and ongoing closures to climbing areas in Thailand, the implication that a business could not have the operational or ethical fortitude to sustainably manage a rock climbing area, is a shortsighted and perhaps biased view that fails to consider many of the larger issues we all face as rock climbers. We are all on the same team here, putting our best effort forward to ensure climbing is legally recognized and supported on a local, provincial and national government level. When it comes to how each unique climbing area is managed, we believe that there is not a single correct answer that should be applied to all climbing areas around the world. In our opinion the best solution to ensure sustainable, government supported legal access to climbing areas is to create management plans that consider the laws, policies, regulations, stakeholders and communities unique to each area. CMRCA remains as committed as ever to this effort. Our track record of management of Crazy Horse, engagement with the local community and cooperation with all levels of government over the past 18 years speaks for itself and addresses the question of whether or not we have the competency, skill and ethics to sustainably manage the area successfully into the future.
Will there be useR fees to climb at Crazy Horse when it reopens?
With regard to potential use fees for climbers at Crazy Horse. While we cannot ensure that the application will be approved by the government, if access is granted, there will likely be a reasonable day-use fee to cover some of the costs associated with the management of the area. The area surrounding Crazy Horse Buttress is not managed by a government land management agency like is found at many climbing areas in other countries. Imagine areas on BLM land or in national forest in the USA for example. While climbers may develop routes and “climbers trails” (sometimes with, and sometimes without, necessary permission), climbers in these areas do not typically bear the responsibility to develop and maintain roads, install and clean restrooms, or implement other infrastructure and public relations activities to facilitate easier access to the crags. These government managed areas often charge an entry, use or parking fee to ensure that general services are available and maintained. Similarly, National Parks in Thailand charge use fees to support infrastructure development. Therefore, in the context of securing continued access to rock climbing at Crazy Horse, we are confident in our decision that a fee to help support these costs is warranted.
What is the history of development at Crazy Horse?
Early route development at Crazy Horse began with Kraisak Boonthip (Pi Tom), a visionary who bolted the first 7 routes in 1998 (Pi Joy, of Nam Pha Pha Yai among others, was part of that team hence the name of the classic route Dangerous Joy). The next 7 routes were bolted by Francis Haden and Josh Morris under support of The Peak Rock Climbing Plaza in February of 2001. Between March of 2001 and October of 2002, a team of self-funded bolters including Francis, Josh, Kat Morris, Sorn Yodkhaman, Lance Waring, Will Hair and a few others, added approximately 30 routes. In December of 2002, CMRCA was officially established, and since then other than some important contributions from a few community members, and a few small community supported bolting fundraisers, CMRCA has absorbed the majority of the costs and administration associated with the development, upkeep, and provision of amenities and route development at Crazy Horse.
What will the fee structure be and what will it be used for?
The permission to manage and develop Crazy Horse will most certainly have stipulations from the government about management (for example, it is likely that a blanket insurance and evacuation policy will be required for all users of the area). The likely fees that will be collected will go towards these potential requirements of the government in addition to ensuring the continuation of the services that historically CMRCA has provided. Those services include, but are not limited to, bathrooms with water, removal of septic waste, road construction and maintenance, support for local village events in the Ban Sahakorn Sub-district, trail maintenance, route maintenance, bolts, glue and bolting to the highest standard. (A video of our 2018 clinic highlighting the standard of bolting at Crazy Horse can be found here).
As we are still unsure of the final agreements with government agencies, we have not made any final decisions regarding the fee structure. It is however likely that it will be a standard system of day use fees, with discounts for weekly, monthly, annual and student passes. We know this is an issue that is of interest to the community and as we get closer to a potential opening date, we will provide additional information and announcements.
Who governs the various climbing areas in Northern Thailand?
The Lampang climbing area is governed by the Thai Army and the Ministry of Defence. Crazy Horse is managed by the Ministry of the Interior. Climbing in Chiang Dao is managed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment which includes the Department of National Parks. Each area has a different set of laws and requirements for access and Chiang Dao and Crazy Horse are closed for different reasons as stipulated by the different departments and ministries that govern the areas. While these are the only three areas we mention here, it is prudent to learn about each area and determine the correct land owners/managers when considering development of a new or existing area.
How will the fees be the same or different from Lampang?
In September of 2016, CMRCA was invited to a meeting with multiple stakeholders that included the Thai Army, District and Sub District Government representatives, the National Park and village heads and community members from Ban Dong, Ban Jum Pui and Ban Tha Sri villages. The meeting was called to determine the feasibility of developing climbing, caving and outdoor recreation in the area as a sustainable economic development project with low environmental impact for the local community. CMRCA was invited because of our reputation and history working closely with the community in Mae On to develop Crazy Horse as a model for community development through sustainable tourism. After more than 2 years of discussions and collaboration, CMRCA was given access and asked to manage the development of the area as a project to bring economic stimulus to the rural community. The agreement includes stipulations that CMRCA provide a licensed guide with specialized skills and expertise in climbing and rescue on site any time climbing takes place in addition to advanced registration of anyone entering the army controlled area as well as daily, monthly and annual reporting of use of the area.
While this was not our choice, it was the only option available to secure legal access and to begin climbing development in the area. These stipulations combined with greater operational costs due to the significant distance from Chiang Mai (360km round trip), have necessitated a day-use fee for all climbers. This fee is higher than what we expect at Crazy Horse, as Crazy Horse due to the increased cost. The Lampang climbing area is a pilot project and we are working closely with the appropriate government agencies and local communities to lower the fees and ultimately create an accessible and popular climbing area that brings opportunity and benefit to the local community.
But wait, CMRCA is a business!
As has been noted, CMRCA is a business and we have never been shy about this. Our business activities are focused on guiding rock climbing and caving, facilitating experiential education programs, elevating standards in guiding, instruction and development and creating sustainable outdoor recreation opportunities for all to enjoy. As a business we provide a number of services. All of our services are designed to create a positive impact and adhere to our core values. Some of our activities generate income while others are directed at community development and engagement. We recognize that participation in community engagement activities can also benefit our business, much like other companies who enroll in programs such as B-Corp or 1% For The Planet recognize that those initiatives make a statement, help drive sales, create more conscious consumers, and create the provision to generate budgets for localized campaigns and activities that make an impact. Whether it be supporting the growth and development of other climbing communities in Thailand, engaging with local communities, or serving as political advocates for the climbing, caving and outdoor communities, we have been and we will continue to be, a business that dedicates all available resources to the furthering the sustainable development of outdoor recreation in Chiang Mai and throughout Thailand.
Looking ahead to the future
We recognize and respect that some individuals will not agree with CMRCA managing Crazy Horse Buttress (something we have been doing for 18 years), and for them this will likely remain a point of contention. Our perspective is that all businesses and even nonprofits must contend with a certain amount of dissatisfaction amongst the communities they serve. Our mission has always been:
To create opportunities for outdoor recreation that focus on raising consciousness about the environment, promote environmental sustainability and generate economic advancement through the sustainable development of natural resources in rural communities.
We are always willing to sit down in person and have a chat, have a boulder session (or we hope soon, a climbing session at Crazy Horse) with anyone who would like to discuss, share feedback or make suggestions about how we can better complete this mission. Please forgive us if we do not engage in discussion on Facebook or Social Media channels, it just doesn’t feel like the right place to engage in productive discussion about such important issues.