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South Salt Lake Journal

Climbing community reaches up to improve SLC skies

Feb 27, 2019 04:41PM ● By Justin Adams

Breathe Utah’s Executive Director Deborah Burney-Sigman, Ph.D (right) and teacher Molly Lewis (left) show a visual demo that mimics SLC’s dire air situation. (Amy Green/City Journals)

By Amy Green  |  [email protected]

A passionate group of individuals, all wanting better air quality in the Salt Lake valley, gathered on Feb. 10 at The Front Climbing Club (1470 S 400 West) with a purpose —to climb for clean air and raise funds for Breathe Utah. It has become an annual gathering for this cause. 

Breathe Utah is an organization with the mission to improve air quality through education and action. They work to propose better environmental policies and rely on good partnerships to make changes happen. 

The brains behind the climbing event are Executive Director at Breathe Utah, Deborah Burney-Sigman, Ph.D. and Jared Campbell, a Salt Lake City local and world-class athlete, who started this series of clean air events.

Everyone who purchased a ticket got to climb until they “peeled” (that means to climb until one peels off the wall). Some climbed hundreds of routes over eight hours straight. Climbers know that even just a few hours at the bouldering gym is a committed workout. 

One person who came to watch the climbers and support the cause was Joey Cauceglia. He has been going to the University of Utah for the last five years and wears a mask commuting to campus on his bike. It’s a way to minimize the irritated cough he gets for a few hours after cycling. Cauceglia works at the University’s biology department and takes the train on yellow and red air days. 

“If you want to talk about human impact, there’s so much more to talk about than just seas warming and rising. We can talk about landfills, human impact, the smog in SLC —you can see it. We don’t need to argue about whether climate change happens. We can just agree that humans are making an impact on our environment. It seems like it’s become a distraction for the public, whether or not the earth is warming because of the human use of fossil fuels,” Cauceglia said. 

The climbers and those in attendance hold Utah’s environment dear and are concerned about the valley’s winter inversions and air pollution. Breathe Utah volunteer and school teacher Molly Lewis was there with a visual demo. “Density is a huge concept in winter air quality. The cold air near the ground compacts and becomes more dense. That air gets polluted and doesn’t want to go anywhere. The pollution gets trapped in that dense layer. There’s no natural mixing of the warm air above and the cold air below,” Lewis explained. In short, we pollute the cold air that stays nearest to us. 

Lewis added, “The particulate matter that is most concerning, is teeny tiny like 1/30th the width of a human hair. When you breathe it in, it goes deep into your lungs, across the barrier into your circulatory system. It causes inflammation. It’s toxic.”

Those who climbed to fight toxicity got tokens for a free dinner and a beer on the house, provided by Red Rock Brewing Co. and Lucky Slice Pizza. 

The event had a finale of awards for participants who completed the most routes and for the previous day’s runners who took laps up and down Grandeur Peak at RUFA (Running Up For Air), a connected event. 

A raffle was held featuring items from vendors including Black Diamond, Evolv, Petzl, Patagonia, Lululemon and more. All of these companies are eager to help with air quality consciousness.

To watch for this event follow 

To donate and get clean air ideas for action visit