October 24, 2014

Access Fund Celebrates 20 Years of History at Golden Cliffs

North Table Mountain (aka Golden Cliffs) presides over the City of Golden Colorado, and is a staple for many climbers on the Front Range. It is a place where new climbers test their skills on basalt columns; where outdoor programs expose youth to the thrill of climbing and importance of environmental stewardship; and where seasoned climbers find a winter refuge in sunny southern slopes.

This afternoon, Friday October 24th, Access Fund staff and board directors, members of the Peery Family, Jefferson County officials, and members of the local climbing community will gather to celebrate the rich history of Golden Cliffs at North Table Mountain in Golden, Colorado. We will commemorate the legacy of longtime landowner Mayford Peery, celebrate Access Fund’s 20 years of ownership, and officially present Golden Cliff’s to Jefferson County Open Space.

GoldenclimberEarlier this summer Access Fund transferred Golden Cliffs to Jefferson County for long-term ownership and conservation. The property will become the southern gateway to North Table Mountain Park. Its hiking and climbing access trails already connect to the county park, and this 29-acre property is a snug fit in the greater open space area.

“It's clear that Jefferson County has demonstrated a real commitment to recreation and it’s obvious the County is the right home for this piece of property,” says Brady Robinson, Executive Director. 

Access Fund and the County have worked together to ensure climbing access for the thirty thousand climbers that visit the crag every year. The transfer guarantees that climbing access will not be affected unless natural disasters or wildlife protection issues temporarily restrict public access. If the County is unable to work within these agreements, the Access Fund will regain ownership of the cliffs.

“We’re excited that this is going forward in a way that preserves the legacy of Mayford Peery and his generous gift to the climbing community,” says Joe Sambataro, National Access Director. Peery, who passed away in 2009 at the age of 89, made considerable contributions to the Golden community through conservation, development, and business. 

Seasoned climbing advocates Becky Hall and Chris Archer have contributed significant time and energy to safeguard this transition. Chris Archer warmly remembers sitting down and meeting with Mayford in 1994 to complete the donation. And Access Fund ‘lifer’ Rico Thompson led efforts to establish the trailhead and tended Access Fund’s management of the crag for nearly 15 years.

The late Mark Hesse, founder of Rocky Mountain Field Institute and visionary leader in climbing access and trail work, organized significant trail improvements in 2005. In recent years, land stewards such as Colorado Mountain Club and Ben Schneider and Jason Haas of Fixed Pin Publishing helped maintain the area’s trails and trailhead while fighting off invasive plant species and social trails. 

 Adopt A Crag Group Photo 2 (1)

The conservation of Golden Cliffs is one of the Access Fund’s most historic accomplishments and a testament to the dedication and passion of a landowner and the local climbing community. As one of the Access Fund’s signature acquisition projects in the 90s, Golden Cliffs was a model project for initiating the Access Fund Land Conservation Campaign in 2009. Golden Cliffs wouldn’t be what it is today without the support of thousands of climbers, local residents, and stewards. The Access Fund extends our gratitude to everyone who helped protect this unique climbing resource over the decades, and we will continue this legacy by supporting the County with ongoing stewardship.  

 

 

 

 

October 06, 2014

Inside Scoop: Red River Gorge

Red river gorge logo tighter

If you're like most climbers, you pore over guidebooks for weeks or even months when planning a climbing trip. You educate yourself on routes, descents, gear, and camping. But what about the local ethics, issues, and challenges at your destination crag? Part of being a responsible climber is knowing how to tread lightly-both socially and environmentally. In this new Inside Scoop series, we'll connect you with local climbing access leaders at some of the country's top climbing destinations for valuable insight into local ethics and issues.

Destination: RED RIVER GORGE, KY

Local expert: BENTLEY BRACKETT, PRESIDENT OF RED RIVER GORGE CLIMBERS' COALITION

What challenges does the Red River Gorge climbing community face right now?

The Red River Gorge is unique in that there are so many different land owners that all have different rules and expectations. And the climbing at the Red is some of the best on the planet, so we see a tremendous amount of use-many areas are  “loved to death". We encourage everyone to work as a team to mitigate overuse and abuse of our precious climbing resources.

What are your most pressing access issues?

We face many of the same issues that other climbing communities face, but two that are super prominent in the Red are human waste and overcrowding.

What is the best option for human waste disposal in the Red?

With the Red's climate and soil, if human waste is buried properly (in an 8" deep cathole), nature can take its course in a reasonable amount of time. But nothing beats packing it out.

And how do you address the overcrowding issue?

We try to educate climbers-if a crag is crowded, consider going to another one. There are many to choose from!

How is the relationship between climbers and local land owners and community members?

We've put a significant amount of effort into being seen as a respectful user group, so the relationships are generally very good. The locals have realized that rock climbers are in the area to stay, and they see that we contribute a lot to the local economy. We encourage climbers-visitors and locals-to express their appreciation to landowners and to tread lightly.

What would you describe as the local ethics at the Red?

The ethic is to respect your elders and run it to the chains. No, seriously, it 's simple: treat it like it's your own. Take pride in our climbing areas, and treat them like your own property. If you need guidance, check the rules in our land use waiver at rrgcc.org.

Any recent victories in the Red?

We just acquired the Miller Fork Recreational Preserve (MFRP), with help from the Access Fund, which was a big milestone for us and an interesting model for other LCOs. There was very little route development and zero trail, parking, or other infrastructure-we essentially purchased a "future" climbing area. This gives us the opportunity to build things correctly from the beginning. We are also announcing joint membership with the Access Fund, which is an exciting opportunity for climbers to support both national access work and Red River Gorge access work with a single membership.

Any words of wisdom for folks visiting the Red for the first time?

Before you go climbing, do your research on where you are going, who owns it, and what their expectations are. And remember rock climbing is not free, so please consider donating to the Red River Gorge Climbers' Coalition as well as the private landowners that pour their blood, sweat, and tears into their property so that you can climb there.•

Photo courtesy of Peter McDermott ©

September 26, 2014

A Wilderness Trail Day

~Mike & Amanda (aka The Conservation Team)

The Pacific Northwest is an adventurous climber’s dream. Long hikes into remote peaks and crags challenge climbers’ fitness and resolve, while towering granite peaks and spires inspire one to explore. So we were pretty psyched when we learned that we’d be heading to Darrington, Washington to work at a crag known as 3 O’clock Rock in the Boulder River Wilderness.

Darrington
Long before we arrived in town, local volunteers had reached out to Access Fund to identify the issues that we could help address. These partners—including Washington Climbers Coalition, The Mountaineers, and the Darrington Ranger District—worked hard on the ground for months before we showed up to lay the groundwork for a successful Adopt a Crag project.

After arriving in town, it became clear that much of the trail work the team had planned was for sections of trail that lay inside a federally designated Wilderness area, which added an additional layer of planning to abide by Wilderness standards.

Darrington Wilderness Sign
Federally protected Wilderness areas have strict regulations to maintain their wild nature. Mechanized equipment is prohibited, and any trail work must be done with an eye to retaining the trails primitive character. That meant we were going to have to remove a large 3-foot diameter log (which had been blocking the trail for a few years) by hand with a crosscut saw. Most of our trail work is done using simple hand tools anyway, so the Wilderness designation didn’t have a huge impact on our work process.

The introduction of a crosscut saw to the mix did turn into a novel and fun experience for volunteers.

Darrington Cross cut saw
In the end, the project was a great success. With the help of 15 volunteers, we constructed a set of stone stairs, shored up a handful of drainage structures, cleared overgrowth from a half mile of trail, and removed the aforementioned tree.

Darrington group shot
We are grateful for the opportunity to work in and help maintain such an amazing Wilderness climbing area, and are thankful for Washington Climbers Coalition, The Mountaineers, and the Darrington Ranger District for making this such a successful project.

September 05, 2014

Inside Scoop: RED ROCKS

Inside scoop red rocks

If you’re like most climbers, you pore over guidebooks for weeks or even months when planning a climbing 
trip. You educate yourself on routes, descents, gear, and camping. But what about valuable insight into local ethics, issues, and challenges at your destination crag? Part of being a responsible climber is knowing how to tread lightly—both socially and environmentally. In this new Inside Scoop series, we'll connect you with local climbing access leaders at some of the country's top climbing destinations for valuable insight into local climbing ethics and issues.

Destination: RED ROCKS, NEVADA

Local expert: XAVIER WASIAK, PRESIDENT OF LAS VEGAS CLIMBERS LIAISON COUNCIL (LVCLC)

What’s happening on the Red Rocks access front right now?

We’re in the middle of working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on the Red Rocks Wilderness Management Plan—the plan will govern the placement and replacement of fixed anchors in Red Rocks wilderness, so it’s a pretty big deal. That effort has been ongoing for many years and has included the hard work of many LVCLC members, the Access Fund, and our climbing rangers with the BLM.

What are some challenges that climbers are facing at Red Rocks?

Our largest long-term issue is bolt replacement. Although many of the great classic routes, both sport and traditional, are safely equipped with modern hardware, there are a large number of really fun and popular routes that are unsafe and past the point of being merely adventurous
in their current condition. There are still many 20-plus-year-old, threaded, 3/8" non–stainless steel bolts on many routes at Red Rocks. The local climbing community is working on these replacements.

Parking is also a challenge. Visitor volume has topped one million annually, and that kind of traffic creates some difficulties for climbers at certain pullouts within the one-way loop currently used to access most
of the park. The BLM is considering how to expand current parking, but we are also working with them to reestablish a parking area just outside the gates where climbers can meet and carpool.

What’s the best option for human waste disposal at Red Rocks?

Human waste disposal is a real challenge in a sensitive desert environment—feces don’t break down in the same way that they do in other parts of the country. The best strategy is to pack it out. We’ve built and installed five waste bag dispensers at locations throughout Red Rocks and work hard to keep them supplied with bags.

How’s the relationship between climbers and rangers at Red Rocks?

We are very fortunate to have an extremely collaborative BLM climbing ranger to work with. Years of work have gone into building a positive relationship with the climbing rangers, who provide us with valuable information and insight about BLM policy and planning. It’s critical for locals and visitors alike to show these folks the same respect that they show us.

How would you describe the local ethics of Red Rocks?

Local climbing ethics and the opinions of those who call Red Rocks home are as varied as the type of climbing encountered here. But overall, I would say that we agree that maintaining the adventure character of canyon routes is important. That bouldering or climbing on soft sandstone after a good rain is a source of angst, and so is not respecting culturally sensitive areas and not cleaning up after yourself or your dog.

Any words of wisdom for folks visiting Red Rocks for the first time?

Remember that your actions reflect on all of us. Have fun and enjoy Red Rocks—there is something here for everyone!

Oh, and don’t feed the burros! Just kidding. But really, don’t.

 

August 21, 2014

Expert Team Assesses Fixed Anchors on Forbidden Peak

~ Joe Sambataro, Access Fund Northwest Regional Director

Forbidden Peak attracts thousands of climbers from all parts of the world. Its knife blade ridges tower over glaciers below and provide breathtaking views of the Stephen Mather Wilderness of North Cascades National Park (NOCA). The West Ridge, cited as one of America’s Fifty Classic Climbs, sees a significant amount of traffic from aspiring mountaineers and experienced alpinists alike, and has been the center of attention due to controversy over fixed anchors.

Forbidden Peak mist

In March, we published a blog post, North Cascades National Park Skirts DO#41 Guidelines, questioning the circumstances under which the park removed bolts from the descent of the popular Forbidden Peak. The removal of these bolts initiated a collaborative response by Access Fund and its partners to urge NOCA to establish protocol for fixed anchors that aligns with generally accepted practices and the National Park Service’s recent Director’s Order #41. (For an overview of what DO #41 means for climbing and bolts, see this blog post.) Access Fund and twelve climbing, environmental, and wilderness organizations agreed that an important step for considering a protocol was to complete an objective assessment of Forbidden Peak’s fixed anchors by a team of climbing and wilderness experts.

I joined this team of experts on August 18th and climbed the late-season approach to the West Ridge, helping the team document, analyze, and photograph the various fixed anchors used to rappel the route. The park sent two climbing rangers to accompany our assessment team.


Forbidden Peak assessment team

Assessment Team
Doug Walker, American Alpine Club and the Wilderness Society
Jeff Ward, American Mountain Guides Association and North Cascades Mountain Guides
Joe Sambataro, Access Fund Northwest Regional Director
Jonah Harrison, Washington Climbers Coalition

Katherine Hollis, The Mountaineers
Mark Butler, Independent Consultant and Former NPS Superintendent

With high rock fall hazard in the area, we carefully coordinated teams of two to ascend and descend. While the preferred method of reaching the West Ridge is a prominent snow gully, it melts out as early as July, forcing climbers to ascend and descend rock to the left of the main gully. This section of the mountain is notorious for loose rock, demanding we exercise extra caution.

During the climb, we assessed the climbing conditions, the need for fixed anchors (bolts specifically), and various options for climbing management at NOCA. Following our assessment, we replaced worn slings with new cord along the preferred line of alternate descent when the snow gully is melted out. We also removed poorly placed rappel stations in an effort to steer climbers in the best direction, improve the visitor experience, and mitigate the impact of extraneous rappel stations.

Forbidden Peak Tat

The two park climbing rangers, Interim Wilderness District Ranger Kevork Arackellian and Wilderness Ranger Erin McKay, climbed the East Ridge and joined our team for the descent, but did not formally participate in the evaluation. The assessment team shared positive dialogue with the rangers, who dedicate their time to stewarding these remote alpine areas, coordinating rescues, and managing wilderness recreation.

Now back on solid ground, we are working to compile our observations and share insights on NOCA fixed anchor management and how the fixed anchors on Forbidden Peak might impact Wilderness character, as listed in the Wilderness Act’s section 2(c): natural, untrammeled, solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation, undeveloped, and other features of value. While Forbidden Peak’s West Ridge is the focus of the assessment, we will also evaluate fixed anchors in the broader context of the Stephen Mather Wilderness Area. Access Fund Policy Director Erik Murdock will work to publish the assessment team’s findings into a final report.

Thanks to all the team members, the assessment climb was a success. This day in the field created a positive framework for working more collaboratively with NOCA as they develop their Wilderness Stewardship Plan. We thank both rangers who accompanied the assessment team, as well as Park Superintendent Karen Taylor-Goodrich for their time and efforts.

It is the sincere hope of Access Fund and our partners that this report will help inform North Cascades National Park in their effort to find a balanced approach to fixed anchors. As the first formal field assessment of fixed anchors since the issuance of NPS Director’s Order #41, this report will also serve as an example for other wilderness climbing areas around the country.

 

August 12, 2014

Don't Make Rescue an Access Issue

Consider this...you’re sport climbing at a popular crag in a very rural area. A few routes over, someone misses a clip, takes a fall, and decks. His legs are broken. You manage to get cell service and call 911. The dispatcher asks where you are and you tell her the name of the crag. She doesn’t know where that is, so she asks for nearby roads. But you’re from out of town and don’t know. Precious time is wasted as you and the 911 operator try to figure out where you are. When rescue does arrive, emotions run high and rescuers ask you to step aside, but you want to help. Later there’s criticism that climbers didn’t help the rescue go smoothly.

Yosemite Helicopter Rescue_David Pope
Members of the Yosemite Helicopter Rescue Team prepare in El Capitan Meadow for a short haul mission to rescue an injured climber that is stranded mid face. PHOTO David Pope

Search and rescue isn’t typically thought of as an access issue, but it can be. For those rare and unfortunate instances when climbers get in trouble, rescue is a critical part of overall climbing management. When climbers understand how rescue operations work and support their local rescue squad, rescues can go much more smoothly. But if climbers get in the way or don’t build a supportive relationship with their rescue squad, things can go sideways. This can cause negative attention from the land manager and have serious consequences for access.

Here are ways that you can support successful rescues:

  • Be proactive with your LCO and share information. LCOs should reach out to help local rescue authorities improve response times by providing maps and information on where climbers are—names of crags, routes, access trails, and nearby roads.
  • Follow instructions. When a rescue is called in, a legally regulated response is set in motion. Climbers should recognize that a rescue squad has authority and final say on all rescue actions. Follow instructions and respect their decisions.
  • Don’t create another rescue situation. We all want to help, but if you’re at the site of an accident and decide to intervene, you may create another unsafe situation for rescue personnel. Know your limitations and be conservative. It can be a tough decision, but standing by might be the safest choice and the best way for the rescue to proceed quickly and safely.
  • Ask first if you want to help. If you want to help, tell the rescue personnel what you can offer, including any relevant first aid, rescue, or guiding certifications you may have. They may welcome another helping hand, but you should ask first.
  • Be sensitive with helicopter rescues. Helicopter rescues are especially high risk. If strict protocol isn’t followed, the pilot may abandon the rescue, which places everyone at greater risk. Follow rescue squad instructions and do not interfere.
  • Join your local rescue squad. Many rescue teams may benefit from a climber’s experience and expertise. Some of the best mountain rescue teams in the world are composed of highly experienced climbers.
  • Support your local rescue squad. Many rescue teams are under-funded or run entirely by volunteers. Make a donation or hold a fundraising event with your LCO that benefits the local squad.

It’s critical to respect the rules and protocol for rescue operations and to build partnerships with rescue teams so they can benefit from climbers’ experience and knowledge of climbing areas. Working together, we can save lives and keep our climbing areas open.

June 12, 2014

Conservation Team Swings through Mid-Atlantic

After a successful project with the Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition at Miller Fork Recreational Preserve in Kentucky, we headed east to the DC area where we planned to do some trail work with the Mid Atlantic Climbers. We decided to break up our drive and spend a couple of days enjoying The New River Gorge.

CT_NRG

As soon as we arrived, we sought out the American Alpine Club’s new campground (you can camp for $6/night as an Access Fund member) located a short walk from the Junkyard Wall. The new campground is still under construction, but we appreciated the amenities already in place, and we received a warm welcome from the staff. The weather forecast was less than optimistic, but we were able to squeeze in some fine crack and face climbs on the amazing Nuttal Sandstone. With climbing needs met, we packed up the Jeep and headed east.

We arrived at Earth Treks Climbing Center in Rockville, Maryland on Thursday, and chatted with local climbers about the Access Fund, conservation, and the upcoming Adopt a Crag event we were in town to support. We also had an opportunity to chat with the gym’s youth climbing team about what it means to be a responsible climber. The team members were super enthusiastic and left us feeling positive about the next generation of climbers. Following similar gym visits at two Sport Rock Climbing Centers in Virginia and another Earth Treks location, Amanda and I were ready to tackle the upcoming trail project at Sugarloaf Mountain.

CT_gym visit

Volunteers from the Mid Atlantic Climbers and Potomac Appalachian Trail Club had met with the preserve staff to make plans for the upcoming Adopt a Crag prior to our arrival, and we were excited to see the work site so we headed out for an afternoon recon mission a few days before the project.

The trail we would be working on not only served climbers looking to access crags on the flanks of Sugarloaf Mountain, but also provided hikers with access to the mountain’s summit. Over time the trail had become severely eroded to the point that many sections had turned into gullies. Our job was to tackle one eroded section, with the goal of improving drainage and armoring the trail to prevent further soil loss. We planned to do this by installing a large water bar, utilizing a large fallen tree, and installing several steps using rock quarried from the area.

CT log move 2

On the morning of the Adopt a Crag we were greeted by cool temps and a group of eager volunteers, ready to work. We moved the large fallen tree from its resting place to it’s new home across the trail, as a crew toiled in the rocky and root-filled soil to prepare a trench that would hold the log in place. Moving the log required the majority of volunteers on hand, but once it was staged near the trail, a group broke off with rock bars and slings in search of rock for the stair project. In total, crews hauled enough rock to build a six-step stair set, which included large “gargoyle” rocks to keep people on trail, a large check dam, and a significant amount of rip rap to help close and fill in a braided section of trail.

CT group shot

We wrapped up the day as rain began to fall and thunder boomed in the distance. The highly successful Adopt a Crag was a great way to conclude our stay in the mid-Atlantic. We’re grateful to the local climbers for their hospitality and their psych to steward climbing areas in the region. Thank you to everyone that showed up at the trail day, as well as all the great folks that took the time to chat with us at our gym visits while we were in the DC area!

March 31, 2014

Conservation Team Reports from the Ozarks

~Mike & Amanda (aka The Conservation Team)
 
One week after leaving Oklahoma and making our way to Mount Magazine State Park near Paris, Arkansas we park the Jeep and find ourselves sitting in the middle of the Ozarks resting tired limbs and reflecting on yet another successful project working with volunteers from the local climbing community.
 
Arriving in Arkansas the week of the project, we set up camp at Brown Springs Campground/Picnic Area. The Arkansas Climbers Coalition, whom we would be working with on this project, had gone out of their way to get us set up with camping accommodations for the week, for which we were extremely grateful. Not only were we minutes away from the work site, but we were also extremely close to the fantastic Savanna Sandstone cliffs that play host to a wide variety of trad and sport climbs at the park. Warm and sunny weather greeted us daily, as we explored the park and began laying plans for the upcoming weekend’s project.
 
The completed project, which would entail building two stone staircases of significant size and establishing a short section of trail tread, would eliminate a wet and slippery climbing access point that utilized a creek bed. The crag at Mount Magazine faces south and is most frequently used during winter months, exacerbating issues in the creek since it is typically icy during those months. When we first surveyed the site, we realized very quickly that we were looking at a substantial project that would require a tremendous amount of physical effort, and a significant volunteer turnout to achieve the results the park was hoping for. To say that we were initially daunted would be an understatement, but as we explored the site and discussed our options, the pieces began to come together.
 
Magazine GymOn Wednesday we ventured down to Little Rock to visit the Little Rock Climbing Center. It was great to meet so many enthusiastic climbers interested in what we were up to. Many that we spoke with were excited about the upcoming project on Saturday and planned to make the two-hour drive to help out. We really appreciated the psych and welcome we received from everyone at the gym as well as the enthusiasm for stewardship work.
 
Magazine LNTThe next morning we awoke to the company of Dani and Roland, the Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer team that would be joining us at the Saturday event. Dani and Roland are employed vagabonds like ourselves, traveling the country educating people about responsible ways to enjoy the outdoors that reduce impacts to the land. Having these experts on hand for the weekend would add yet another voice for the importance of conserving the areas where we play; they are also avid climbers and we were excited to have some friends to hang with at the crag for a couple of days before the project.
 
The morning of the project we awoke to cool temperatures and partly sunny skies. The forecast earlier in the week had called for rain, but for the moment it appeared that any rain showers that had been predicted would hold off for the morning. We ate a brief breakfast and headed to the trailhead to begin our day. Volunteers arrived at 9 AM and once everyone was registered and had gone through the morning safety briefing we headed for the work site.
 
Magazine rock moveBuilding stone stairs is a task that requires a strong back and an eye suited for the game of Tetris. It’s also a task that can become cumbersome with too many people due to the fact that you can only work from the bottom up, and the terrain tends to be steep with loose footing. As we began working it became apparent that, with the enthusiastic turnout of volunteers, we had reached critical mass for our trail work site and could disperse to give attention to multiple projects. With this divide-and-conquer strategy, we were able to collect a large garbage bag full of trash, construct a short section of trail, begin work on a second set of stairs, and clear vegetation from the trail corridor along the base of the cliffs. When all was said and done we had established a much more enjoyable access point to the climbing at Mount Magazine, while also improving safety and the sustainability of the trail.
 
Following the trail building, volunteers were treated to buffet dinner and beverages courtesy of the Arkansas Climbers Coalition, and we gave a slideshow presentation alongside the Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers.
 
In total, our week in Arkansas was a huge success thanks to the dedication of the Arkansas Climber’s Coalition, volunteers, and staff at Mount Magazine State Park. Without the amazing turnout by volunteers and the cooperation between the park and local climbing community, access to the cliffs at Mount Magazine would still be a slippery ordeal. Thanks to everyone that contributed to this great event!
 

March 13, 2014

North Cascades National Park Skirts DO#41 Guidelines

In August of 2012, a local climber hand drilled a new two-bolt rappel anchor to improve the hazardous descent off Forbidden Peak in North Cascades National Park (NOCA) in Washington State. Six days later, NOCA staff removed the newly installed bolts, along with a long-established bolted rappel station, leaving the descent route a surprise for unsuspecting climbers.


Forbidden Peak rappels2

Climbers have been enjoying incredible backcountry alpine experiences in the park since the early 1900s, using bolts sparingly since the 1960s, and complying with the established guidelines of the federally designated Wilderness area. The climber who placed the new anchor on the descent of Forbidden Peak was not aware that NOCA prohibited new bolts, because the internal policy was not documented. Therefore, NOCA’s decision to remove the anchors without notifying the public was both confusing and alarming.

However at that time, the National Park Service (NPS) had yet to issue any national guidance on the use of fixed anchors in designated Wilderness, leaving it up to individual parks to interpret the Wilderness Act and other federal regulations on their own. But in May 2013, the NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis signed Director’s Order #41 (DO#41), clarifying the agency’s policy for the placement of fixed anchors in designated Wilderness. Climbers around the country breathed a collective sigh of relief that the new NPS policy eliminated the threat of a national ban on anchors in Wilderness, stating that a fixed anchor “does not necessarily impair the future enjoyment of wilderness or violate the Wilderness Act,” and that fixed anchors “should be rare” and that “authorization will be required.” (See our earlier blog post outlining the implications of DO#41 for climbers.)

2 Bolt Anchor

This new national guidance from the NPS made NOCA’s next decision even more alarming—three months after DO#41 was issued, NOCA staff placed a moratorium on bolts in designated Wilderness—with no public input or process. According to NOCA staff, the bolt moratorium institutionalized the longstanding, undocumented policy to ban bolts, despite bolts having been responsibly placed and used in NOCA wilderness for over 50 years. NOCA justifies the bolt moratorium through an unconventional interpretation of a federal regulation that prohibits damaging mineral resources. However, that interpretation contradicts DO#41 (which interprets that regulation to prohibit chipping, gluing, and gardening—not bolts), is not shared by other national parks, and has not stood up in court. But perhaps most disturbing to the climbing community and wilderness advocates is that these decisions have been made in a vacuum, without public input or well-substantiated analysis.

In January 2014, as part of a broad-based collaboration of 12 climbing and wilderness organizations, we asked NOCA to provide justification and notice to the public before future administrative actions regarding fixed anchors are taken. We also asked to collaborate on a strategy to establish a fixed anchor authorization process, as well as to assess the current state of the Forbidden Peak descent route. However, NOCA has indicated that they don’t plan to address fixed anchor management until they update their 1989 Wilderness Management Plan, which will take an estimated three to five years to finalize.

North Cascades

North Cascades National Park’s fixed anchor policy creates harmful precedent and identifies them as an anomaly within the National Park System. The Access Fund hopes that NOCA will become open to public input and work with the Access Fund and local climbers to establish a strategy to fairly manage fixed anchors in accordance with national-level policy standards. The Access Fund is actively working one this precedent-setting issue at various levels within the National Park Service and Congress.

February 20, 2014

Remembering Mark Hesse

Mark-Hesse-PresentationThis week we have been reflecting on our friend Mark Hesse, longtime climber, conservationist, volunteer, and wilderness educator, who died from unknown causes in a climbing gym in Boulder last month. And we wanted to take a moment to honor him.

Mark dedicated his life to outdoor education and land stewardship. If you’ve ever walked up a trail or a set of stone steps at a climbing area in Utah or Colorado, chances are you have witnessed Mark’s legacy firsthand. Mark had been working on a climbing area stewardship manual for the Access Fund and was actively involved in launching a Front Range trail crew with the Boulder Climbing Community at the time of his passing.

After a long and successful career with Outward Bound, Mark created the American Mountain Foundation and ran it from 1989 to 1998. That organization morphed into the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, which he ran until 2009. Both nonprofits were leaders in the stewardship of climbing areas, building extensive trail networks in Indian Creek and Castle Valley, Utah; Shelf Road, Colorado; and on Colorado 14ers and other high peaks. In 2012, Mark founded Wildscapes Planning and Design, a company focused on trail building and restoration. Mark was the recipient of many awards, including the American Alpine Club’s David Brower Conservation Award in 1995. In 2005 and 2007, he received the Bob Marshall Award for Individual Champion of Wilderness Stewardship presented by the US Forest Service. He climbed and traveled all over the world and made many first ascents on several continents. In 1976, Mark made the first ascent of the southeast face of Mt. Asgard on Baffin Island. In 1982, he soloed the south face of Denali via the Scott-Haston Route. In 1986, he did the alpinestyle first ascent of the northeast buttress of Kangtega (22,241 feet) in Nepal. As recently as 2006, Mark completed a new route on a 20,000-foot peak in Peru.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Mark was still an active climber and trail builder. Even after decades of rugged trail labor, he still had a youthful enthusiasm for the work, and was somewhat notorious for quickly picking all the choice rocks at a worksite for himself. He was incredibly generous with his time and expertise, and truly devoted himself to making the places he loved better for everyone to enjoy.

Mark was a devoted husband and father and is survived by his wife and two grown daughters. All of us here at the Access Fund feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Mark. He will be dearly missed.

~ Steve Matous Executive Director, Outward Bound USA & Former Executive Director, Access Fund
~ Brady Robinson Executive Director, Access Fund