Christyann Olson Executive Director Alberta Wilderness Association

What is the Alberta Wilderness Association?

Alberta Wilderness Association (AWA) is one of Alberta’s longest-standing conservation organizations started in 1965 by ranchers outfitters and backpackers very concerned about what they were seeing happening on the landscape. They realized and recognized the changes to wildlife patterns and were concerned that we needed to be working towards conservation of some specific areas in the province. Since that time AWA has worked towards developing a network of protected areas throughout the province and those protected areas that we try to achieve are representative of six different landscapes in Alberta. Our work today continues in that same original direction of seeing that we have healthy landscapes places for wildlife to roam free secure water and healthy clean air for ourselves and for many generations to come.

What is the Tower Climb for Wilderness?

The Climb for Wilderness is an initiative that we started 23 years ago as a partner with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Toronto. It was to create awareness about Earth Day and about Alberta’s special places. WWF has a climb at the CN Tower that runs within a week of ours so we always look to see the success we both enjoyed in that event. As we went through the years we began to focus more on Earth Day celebration to help people in Alberta — and from around the world now — to recognize what a wonderful province this is how healthy the environment is and what we can do as individuals and as people who work in various industries to ensure that we keep Alberta wild and free.

And why did the AWA choose the Calgary Tower?

Well when we started of course it was the tallest building in Calgary — it’s a little dwarfed now by some of the buildings but the tower and the people that own and manage the tower are very supportive of this event. This tower in particular allows the wonderful opportunity to climb all the stairs to get to the top and have a wonderful view out around to see the city and the vast landscapes that we can see 360 degrees really. We are so fortunate in Calgary. Within an hour and a half of Calgary in any direction you are just in amazingly different landscapes that are a part of healthy biodiversity. So the tower works really well for us and it gives the opportunity to be a real family event as well as a really highly geared athletic event as well so that we can have an all-inclusive event for the day that we’re at the tower.

And there is a poetry contest involved with the Tower Climb?

Yes four years ago in honour of a very lovely lady we named the Louise Guy Poetry Prize. This woman at 92 was still able to climb the tower and was an incredible role model to young and old alike. She was a wonderful woman — incredible energy able to express her appreciation for wildness and wildlife so well and enjoyed poetry. So we thought that this would be a worthy endeavour to give some of those other poets out there an opportunity to think about wildness and what it would mean to them. We’ve had some wonderful entries through the years and we’ve got a wall on the inside of the staircase [at the Calgary Tower] that we print and frame the winning poem for each year and put it on that landing wall. So we have a Louise Guy Poetry Prize wall. It just is another way to create better awareness of what having wild spaces cared for and protected means.

Is the theme different every year?

We’ve actually kept the theme the same every year.

And the theme is wildness?

Yeah. You know Henry David Thoreau wrote the original phrase that we all use so much that “wildness is the preservation of the world” and I think those of us who’ve had that opportunity to be out there to have to be self-sustaining and take care of yourself in the wild to see wildlife and how they manage and what the natural course of wild places is it’s a real privilege. In Alberta we can do that so easily.

And how can people register or get involved?

To get involved in the climb and to register we have the climbforwilderness.ca website. One of the things that’s really exciting for us this year that we’re trying to promote a little bit too is that this is the third stop in the Towerrunning World Cup. So the Calgary Tower is part of the World Federation of Great Towers and each year the World Cup happens at these great towers. So the winner of that part of our event on the 26th of April will be receiving tickets to Vienna to compete in the world cup final.

What is the Towerrunning World Cup?

It’s been around for quite a while. In the last couple of years we’ve been on the circuit. But this is the year that we’re really able to take advantage of it and be a real part of it. We have someone coming from San Diego and people come from quite a ways away… to compete in this and it’s limited. We’re only having 15 people in that particular part of the challenge this year and it’s an endurance challenge for them at our race. In five hours the person who climbs the most repetitive times will win the event.

So they have to go up and down the stairs for five hours?

They go up but they take the elevator down. Isn’t that amazing? We expect that they’ll do 30 or more climbs in that many hours.

What prizes are available for the run?

There’s just a wealth of prizes. MLA Dave Rodney is coming to make a presentation and he’s going to give the winners in that category [most climbs adult] provincial limited edition watches prizes from Mountain Equipment Co-op and in particular Gord’s Running Store is a huge supporter of our prizes. They’re all listed on the website to entice people to be either the best fundraisers or the best athletes. We have prizes for the oldest and the youngest climbers and people with spirit get prizes babies in backpacks on mom and dad’s backs get prizes. We try to make it a very inclusive and wonderful day for people.

Was Louise Guy one of the oldest or were there ever people who were older than her?

She was one of the oldest but her husband Richard is still climbing and if I’m not mistaken he’s 96. I just had an email from him today that said he’s looking forward to climbing and that he’s raised over $1000 already for the climb and he’s anxious to know who the winner of the prize will be this year.

What if anything is going to be different this year?

Certainly the real push for those elite climbers is one of the significant changes this year and the fact that we really have implemented this event as a zero-waste event. So we will not be providing any bottled water at all; it’s all large 10-gallon jugs of water provided by Culligan with pumps so people can refill their own water containers. That’s a fairly big change. People do expect to have water provided in cups or in bottles so we’re trying to reduce that waste.

And why would that be important for you this year?

It’s been important every year and we wanted to give it some recognition this year. This year with help from Green Calgary and the Alberta Recycling Council we’ve been able to make sure we know how to implement it even better. At the end of the day Green Calgary is going to be measuring our waste to see how we did and we haven’t done that before. One of the other really new things this year is we’re partnering with The Carbon Farmer.

What’s that?

The Carbon Farmer actually works out of the Peace River area and what that company does is that they plant trees to help with carbon offsetting in Alberta. This year everyone who climbs to the top will be able to have a tree named for them in the AWA forest with The Carbon Farmer.

Where is the AWA forest?

It is somewhere in Northern Alberta and I’m hoping that when they come they’ll have the map for me because I haven’t seen it yet. It’s going to be a new part of what they put together. We’re really pleased to have their support and be partnered with them. You know they’re of Dragons’ Den fame actually.

Oh really?

Yes they were well supported by Arlene Dickinson and the rest of the Dragons. So part of our prizes this year reflect that. They have a special tree-planting at the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area and one of the prize winners is going to go there and meet the Dragons and participate in that tree-planting.

What’s the deadline for registering for the climb?

We will take registrations right up until 10:30 a.m. on the day of the climb and the online deadline is about noon on the 25 th . The first event is at 7:30 a.m. when those elite climbers who are competing in the Towerrunning World Cup take off and at 8 a.m. is the race which is a bit of a road race and then a sprint up the 802 stairs. Then at 8:30 everyone else starts off and some people come after the big push and they can still start up until 10:30 in the morning.

And the road race is on foot I assume?

Yep just a one-kilometre race and a sprint up the stairs and it’s just amazing how quickly people can get up those stairs. Like last year [someone] did a one-kilometre and up the stairs in eight minutes and 20 seconds — I think that’s the fastest. It’s a fabulous time for the real intense athletes but our oldest racer was a woman last year who did the race in 25 minutes and 48 seconds and she was 81 years old. It’s an event that’s meant to cover the broad span of people from every walk of life.

To register for the Tower Climb for Wilderness go to climbforwilderness.ca .