Nov 6, 2020 | ACTIVE LIFE | By Lorea Zabaleta | Photo by Bibi Powers

Disclaimer: This conversation represents Sky Yardeni’s own opinions, and not necessarily those of the Climbing Grief Fund.

The mountains give and they take. This is a given in the world of climbers and alpinists. The other variables — precautions and responses, to name a few — are up to us.

Sky Yardeni, Therapeutic Director for the Climbing Grief Fund, is helping with the latter. On Oct. 20, Yardeni virtually spoke to a group of Colorado College students through an Outdoor Education event. Organized by Scarlett Reavey ’23, this event gave students a brief overview of the fund and offered information about the fund’s resources.

The Climbing Grief Fund (CGF) is a program within the American Alpine Club founded by professional climber and American Mountains Guides Association guide Madaleine Sorkin in 2018 after the climbing community was rocked by several tragic accidents. CGF addresses the various mental health needs of the climbing, alpinism, and ski mountaineering communities by acting as a resource hub providing grants to individuals who need financial assistance in receiving professional help, a story archive where individuals can both view and submit relevant stories, a mental health directory, psychoeducation, and workshops, as well as monthly online webinars led by Yardeni.

The mission of this fund, Yardeni explained, is not only to support individuals and communities within the climbing community during grieving processes, but also to promote conversations about grief, trauma, and mental health in general. Yardeni hopes the fund’s work in advocating for mental health issues will help destigmatize these conversations and create systemic changes in how the outdoor industry views and approaches them.

Beyond facilitating workshops and lectures around the themes of the fund, Yardeni also works as a first responder, providing immediate support and psychological first aid over email or phone calls to those in need when tragedies occur.

Though a relatively new organization, Yardeni said a measure of success for them is in community engagement.

“We were really surprised reading the whole two years in our fundraising attempts and seeing how many people are really wanting to support and be a part of both on the company, industry organization side of things, and also the individual community side of things,” Yardeni told The Catalyst. “There’s just been a lot of desire … to show up and support … in different ways.”

He said CGF was able to quickly find recipients for the $600 grants given to individuals seeking support after being directly impacted by grief, loss, and/or trauma related to climbing, ski mountaineering, or alpinism.

As of July 2020, CGF has released five more grants due to fundraising, bringing their 2020 total to 20 grants provided. In 2021, 20 more grants will be available, with 20 yearly grants being the projected minimum available in the coming years.

“The need is there,” Yardeni said. “It’s just never been met before.”

As to why this need had not been met before within the community, Yardeni hypothesized it may have had to do with the history of predominantly male leadership in the climbing and mountaineering world. However, with the emergence of more feminine leadership, such as founder Madaleine Sorkin, and the evolution of the community overall, things may be changing.

He states that when Sorkin, an already well-respected member of the climbing community and professional athlete, proposed the idea for the fund, people were on board.

While CGF works to destigmatize mental health conversations as a whole, it largely remains focused on issues relating to grief and trauma. Yardeni explained they are hoping that the momentum they have generated, and will continue to generate, around issues of mental health in the community will inspire other groups or organizations to address more niche issues surrounding mental health.

While he does not think it falls within the mission of the fund to act as a hub for all mental health concerns within the climbing, alpinism, and ski mountaineering communities, Yardeni sees room for the fund’s work to expand, namely in what grief and trauma may look like in relation to racial and social justice issues.

“What are the intersections between decolonization and grief? What are the intersections between racial injustice and trauma in the context of climbing, in the context of the outdoor industry?” he asked; later, he added, “Those are the ways that right now we’re expanding to, which I’m very passionate about, I’m very, very psyched about. I feel like it’s really aligned … in the scope of our practice and the scope of our mission.”

Within that scope already, however, is the understanding that grief comes from many different causes and manifests in many different ways. As such, Yardeni emphasizes the importance of resilience and capacity building.

“That’s all in the name of capacity building,” he said. “How do we build capacity as individuals and as a community to be able to gauge with grief, engage with these different processes? And that’s why I talk about resilience a lot. I think that they’re … inherently connected.”

Those looking for more resources or information can visit the CGF’s webpage or tune into one of the monthly webinars. These webinars occur on the first Wednesday of the month with the latest one occurring on Nov. 4 and accessible now in recorded form on the website.

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