Advocate Spotlight: Kelso Cook

Kelso is an all-star local climbing advocate who interns with Southeastern Climbers Coalition (SCC), focused on membership and outreach. While working toward his MBA in the outdoor industry at Western University, he still finds time to lead in SCC’s personal outreach by tabling at events, pint nights, gyms, and youth climbing comps, as well as fulfilling membership orders. Kelso has been a key player at signature SCC fundraising events, including the annual Float the Boat in Atlanta and Hospital Boulder’s Witness the Sickness. He also helped Access Fund and SCC throw the inaugural Wauhatchie BoulderFest to celebrate the opening of a new bouldering area in downtown Chattanooga.

5 Questions for Kelso

What’s your favorite cause in climbing advocacy right now?
One of my favorite causes in climbing right now is the Queer Climbing Collective based out of California. They are a local group of climbers created by Elli Jahangiri in 2019 that works to connect the LGBTQIA+ community through the love for climbing and the outdoors. I find them inspiring because they are breaking down the barriers and bringing on the frontline of inclusion for the climbing community.

What does it mean to you to be a climbing advocate?
In my opinion, being a climbing advocate means to take the love of climbing that you have to the next level. It means working to protect the spaces that we use now for the future generation to use. It also means to teach the next generation of climbers the joys of outdoor climbing and being that person who broke down the barriers for them. It is about creating a community and environment that is inclusive to all beliefs, identities, locations, and climbing experience. It means being the possible connection for new climbers and newcomers who aren't aware of ways to help out our climbing areas.

What’s your advice to new advocates?
My first advice would be to start with local groups within your community—this can be a climbing club, group, or coalition. This is a way to help the local climbing areas and get more connected to the community. For newer climbers, I would suggest taking the opportunities that come your way, whether it is becoming a member of your local climbing coalition or volunteering right away. It is okay to not be an expert in stewardship and conservation. Most people involved are happy to help and teach you new skills and information. My last bit of advice would be to have fun and know that any effort you put in makes a difference.

What surprised you the most about getting into the advocacy world?
I found my passion in my senior year of college when I started my internship with the Southeastern Climbers Coalition. The most surprising result of becoming a climbing advocate is that I never thought I could fall in love with climbing more than I already was. As I started to learn more about conservation, stewardship, and community outreach, I found a family of climbing that I am grateful to be a part of. This might sound cliche, but the most challenging aspect of being a climbing advocate is that I cannot help out as much as I want to at the moment.

Who is another climbing advocate whose work is really inspiring you right now?
A climbing advocate that inspires me is Andrea Hassler, the executive director of the Southeastern Climbers Coalition. I have had the pleasure of knowing her for close to a year, and she has become more than just my boss. She inspires me every day with her work ethic and focus by teaching me how to be more efficient. She has taught me that by working hard and putting in your all that great things will come. She has taught me how to be a great leader to those around me. More importantly, she has shown that the climbing community is a family that once you are in, you never want to leave.

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