September 30, 2015

8 Tips to Remove Graffiti at the Crag

With many of our most popular climbing areas within close proximity to major population centers, the work of taggers or graffiti “artists” seems more prevalent than ever. If you’re like most climbers, you’re fed up with these attacks on our cherished resources. Ready to fight back?


Climbers all across the country host successful graffiti removal Adopt a Crag events, showing land managers that even though the climbing community is not responsible for this vandalism, we are dedicated to protecting our climbing areas. 

Here are eight tips to help you successfully tackle graffiti at your crag:

  1. Connect with your land manager. They will be your biggest ally in the fight and will have the most current guidelines for how to tackle graffiti on their land. Any solvents used in the removal process will need to be approved by the land manager, especially in sensitive watershed areas.
  2. Choose the right solvent for the job. Elephant Snot and Taginator are two of the most popular and effective solvents. Both break down well in the environment. The US Forest Service has approved both in several locations and may already have a stash in their maintenance sheds.
  3. Wait for it. Each solvent is a little different, but generally the longer you leave it on the graffiti, the better the result. It can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Some of the higher quality paints used by vandals may require even more time.
  4. Choose the right brush for your rock type. On hard rock like granite, schist, gneiss, and quartzite, metal or steel bristled brushes work best. On softer rock like sandstone, use a nylon or other soft-bristled brush to avoid damaging the rock even further. Bring a few types of brushes and test a small area before you start scrubbing hard. 
  5. Protect yourself. Even though most graffiti removal solvents break down well in the environment, they do present a caustic reaction to skin. You will want to wear thick rubber gloves when scrubbing. If you’re using pressurized water to rinse, we recommend wearing eye protection or even a full tyvec suit to protect your skin and clothes. 
  6. Apply copious amounts of elbow grease. Solvents only weaken the bonds between rock and paint—the rest is on us. Depending on the rock type, using harder bristled brushes might be a good option to speed the process along. But on softer stone, like sandstone, be as careful as possible to not damage the rock.
  7. Bring a lot of water! You’ll need to rinse the area multiple times to ensure that the solvent and graffiti are washed away. We recommend using a powerful backpack sprayer (like the ones wildland firefighters use) with a solid back-up supply of water. Your land manager may have some great supplies already, so check with them.
  8. Be persistent. You’re doing what you can in a battle that may sadly take years to win. The graffiti problem isn’t an easy one to solve, nor is it a “one and done” event, but if you consistently remove graffiti as it appears, taggers will look elsewhere for more permanent canvases. Keep your eyes open for potential troublemakers and report them as soon as you see them. Work alongside your local land manager on potential monitoring and reporting strategies. 


August 19, 2015

Too Important to Fail: The Problem of Aging Bolts

In August 2009, Brad Carter climbed past the first bolt on Wolfgang Calling, a challenging, aesthetic line at Index in Washington State. At the second bolt, he hung, brushed off some holds and continued on. At the third, he hung again, intending to do the same. But as he weighted the hanger, it snapped. Carter plunged, falling an estimated 40 or 50 feet and breaking the hanger on the second bolt on his way down as well. Ultimately, the first bolt arrested his fall, and he avoided a grounder—but barely.

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One of the aluminum hangers that failed. Photo: Brad Carter

Since the first expansion bolt was placed on a rock climb—when four Bay-area climbers made the first ascent of New Mexico’s Shiprock over four days in 1939—climbers have largely breathed a sigh of relief after clipping a bolt on a route. Bolts mean safety, we tell ourselves. Bolts give us the courage to keep pushing higher. Bolts also let us travel up lines that we otherwise couldn’t protect and let us take falls we otherwise wouldn’t hazard.

But bolts can—and do—fail. The examples of bolt catastrophes are mercifully rare, but they happen: rusty bolts break, corroded hangers crack, bolts installed in incorrectly sized holes pull out and over-tightened bolts snap. As the huge number of bolts placed during ‘80s and ‘90s when sport climbing exploded onto the scene begin to reach their 20th or 30th birthdays, the stories of failure are sure to increase.

The two hangers that snapped in Carter’s fall, thought to have been placed by the first ascensionists around 1990, were eventually found to be so corroded that their insides had dissolved into flakey leaves of metal. This kind of “exfoliation corrosion” can attack aluminum hangers that are heavily worked, especially in a wet climate like Index. The situation was made worse because the hanger and the bolt were made of mismatched metals, a recipe for more corrosion and one of the biggest problems with bolts today.

Rusty chain_smallLearning to evaluate bolts instead of blindly trusting them is a critical skill for any climber and it could save your life. Learning how to replace a bolt correctly and with the least impact—or supporting others’ efforts to replace bolts—is also critical to sustaining crags and to maintaining access. Accidents caused by bolt failures could endanger access, just as replacing (and placing) bolts without regard for the best practices in a particular area can endanger it as well.

That is why the Access Fund is now unveiling a new set of best practices—developed in partnership with Jason Haas, Petzl Foundation, and ClimbTech—for maintaining route safety, removing old bolts, and placing new ones. Visit the new Fixed Anchor Resource Center—there is something there for every climber, including the basics that every climber should know in order to evaluate the safety of the bolts they encounter when climbing, as well as advanced lessons on removing and replacing aging hardware.

Fixed Anchor Resource Center

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Access Fund also launched the Anchor Replacement Fund (in partnership with the AAC) earlier this week, which will provide grants to local climbing organizations and anchor replacement groups seeking funding for fixed anchor replacement at climbing areas across the United States.

By Laura Snider

August 06, 2015

Inside Scoop: The Gunks

Dreaming about a trip to the Gunks this fall? If you’re like most climbers, you pore over guidebooks for weeks or even months when planning a climbing trip, educating 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 Inside Scoop series, we connect you with local climbing access experts at the country’s top climbing destinations for valuable insight into local ethics and issues.

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Destination: THE GUNKS, NEW YORK



What is the biggest challenge that you’re facing right now at the Gunks?
Because of our proximity to New York City and the fact that we’re a weekend destination for many East Coast climbers, overcrowding is a prominent concern. We have been working with local climbing gyms to implement a gym-to-crag transition program that helps transitioning climbers reduce their impacts when they head outside to climb.


What can climbers do to help address the overcrowding issue?

The best way for climbers to help is to follow Leave No Trace practices to reduce their impacts. But we should also think about how our actions affect the climbers on the next route over. Just be considerate of one another’s experiences.


What does the access situation look like in the Gunks?

The access situation is a mixed bag. Much of the climbing in the Gunks is within the Mohonk Preserve, and we have a good relationship with those folks. However a significant number of climbing opportunities are on state park land, and most of that is closed. There is still more climbing on private land—some open and some closed— and none that is 100 percent protected. We recently lost access to part of the privately owned Near Trapps area, which has shown us the importance of working with private landowners to keep things open and conserved.


Are you working on any major access projects at the moment?

With Access Fund’s help, we just finished a letter-writing campaign to encourage New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to end the climbing ban that has closed much of the Shawangunk Ridge to climbing.


How is the relationship between climbers and land managers?

Our relationship with the Mohonk Preserve is excellent. Climbing is very much a part of their culture, and we maintain a collaborative relationship with their officials. Our relationship with New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is much newer, and climbing is not yet a part of their culture. But we are looking forward to working with them in the years to come as we examine climbing opportunities at Minnewaska State Park Preserve.


What’s the best way to dispose of human waste at the Gunks?

There are bathrooms at all of the open climbing areas, and visitors should use them whenever possible—even if they have to walk a ways to get to them. In emergencies, you should use a wag bag to pack out solid waste and toilet paper. We encourage all climbers to carry at least one wag bag in their packs in case they aren’t able to reach a restroom in time.


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

Enjoy yourself! There are classic climbs here at every grade. Please remember to use existing trails and rappel anchors, and leave the cliffs the way you found them.


How can folks support Gunks Climbers’ Coalition?

Become a member or get involved in one of our Adopt a Crag events. Participating in these events not only helps mitigate impact, but also sends a strong message to land managers that we are committed to preserving the outdoor experience. Learn more at

Photo: Paul Jung on Westward Ha!, The Gunks, NY | © Tomás Donoso

July 30, 2015

NPS Wilderness Climbing Management: The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly

It has been over two years since the National Park Service (NPS) issued a national-level policy that provides guidelines to individual parks on managing climbing (and bolts specifically) in designated Wilderness areas. Director’s Order #41 removed the threat that the NPS would ban bolts in Wilderness, but also tightened the screws on how climbers can place these bolts. Two years ago, the Access Fund could only theorize on how individual parks would choose to interpret and implement the general guidelines outlined in DO #41.

Well, the wait is over, and we are now getting some answers to these questions. The Wilderness climbing policies that we’ve seen so far fall into the spectrum of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

Joshua tree thinFirst, the good. As a result of DO #41 Joshua Tree issued its first Wilderness bolting permit in November of 2013—ending a longstanding moratorium on new bolts in Wilderness. Then Superintendent Butler issued a policy that allows the authorization of new bolts to prevent damage to vegetation. As a result, the first J-Tree bolt permit was issued so that the tree above the classis crack Room to Shroom could be saved.

Now, the bad. Lake Mead National Recreation Area recently issued a Wilderness Management Plan that calls for the removal of “bolt-intensive” routes in Wilderness and outlines a process for evaluating the removal of bolted routes due to impacts to Wilderness character, natural resources, and cultural sites. This process will include folks form the NPS, native American tribes, and the climbing community. You may be thinking…how is this not The Ugly? Consider that an earlier draft version of this plan proposed a wholesale removal of bolted climbing routes with no input from the climbing community. This nuance is substantial because it recognizes the need for the NPS to include climbers in decisions about fixed anchor management instead of making unilateral decisions.

CharlotteDome_SEKIOne more bad. The recent Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks Wilderness Management Plan states that climbers can judiciously place non-permanent fixed anchors (e.g. slings and nuts) when necessary, without the need for permits. But climbers will need special-use permits to place and replace bolts in Wilderness. Again, how is this not The Ugly? The draft plan, which we strongly advocated against on the grounds that it was not realistic or safe, proposed that climbers apply for a special use permit ($20) and wait up to 3 months in order to acquire a permit for adding or replacing any fixed anchor—including webbing slings. We continue to work with the park to remind officials that bolt replacement is essential and the NPS should not obstruct climbers from replacing bolts due to safety and visitor experience concerns.

Finally, the ugly. North Cascades National Park has ignored the majority of the guidelines provided in DO #41 and issued an unsubstantiated Wilderness bolt moratorium. The park not only bans new bolts, but can also remove existing bolts without any public process or notice to the climbing community. DO #41 provides park superintendents with the authority to prohibit bolts after they have established that bolts result in unacceptable impacts and have conferred with NPS climbing specialists and the climbing community. The Access Fund invoked the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to investigate what type of analyses North Cascades actually conducted prior to issuing their bolt moratorium policy. The answer: none. The spirit of DO #41 was intended to result in balanced policy that considers natural resources, Wilderness character and recreation opportunities, but the North Cascades interpretation resulted in a policy based on philosophical conviction without any assessment, study, or public process. We continue to fight this ban.

North Cascades banner

The inconsistency in the implementation of the NPS Wilderness climbing management guidelines is a problem. Resolving this inconsistency is one of the Access Fund’s top policy and advocacy priorities. We are working this issue through three main strategies:

  • Developing an interest within NPS—both at the national and park level—to improve DO #41 implementation.

  • A documented Fixed Anchor Policy, which we created in collaboration with the American Alpine Club, to outline the fundamental principles associated with our position on fixed anchors and guide our work on DO #41 implementation with parks.

  • Convening a working group of both climbing and conservation organizations—including Access Fund, American Mountain Guide Association, American Alpine Club, Wilderness Society and National Parks Conservation Association—to develop and advance a strategy to improve NPS Wilderness climbing management policy.

July 21, 2015

Pay to Play?

You're heading to Indian Creek on a cool November weekend. The weather is splitter as you cruise through Moab to fill up your tank and head for your favorite spot at the Creek Pasture campground. The last couple of times you’ve been there, you’ve noticed the improvements in the area—a new shelter, a group site, vault toilets, picnic tables, and a new kiosk at the campground entrance. This time you pull in, and there’s a sign informing you that it’s time to pay.

A camp fee? In Indian Creek?!

This isn’t today’s reality, but could be one day soon. And it’s not just Indian Creek. Places like Joe’s Valley and Ten Sleep are faced with the same issues. And fees have also increased at Yosemite National Park and Joshua Tree National Park.

So what’s the deal? Why the increases in fees, and why are places that have always been free all of the sudden charging a fee?

Indian Creek

As the popularity of climbing continues to increase and more and more climbers flock to our crags and boulder fields, land management agencies like the BLM, US Forest Service, and National Park Service are compelled to manage the impacts that we bring with us. Human waste, plant degradation, cultural resource protections, and overall visitor experiences are major concerns that they are legally obligated to manage.

Climbing is no longer a fringe activity, and our swelling numbers require more facilities and infrastructure—like campgrounds and vault toilets. And these facilities come at a cost. A single vault toilet can cost up to $30,000 for installation, not including annual costs of maintenance, pumping, and stocking toilet paper. And campgrounds require regular cleanup and maintenance. As federal land management budgets continue to get squeezed, the only way to cover the majority of these costs is to ask the users to contribute.

Increased fees are never easy to swallow. But it’s a small price to pay to protect the integrity of our climbing areas so that they don’t become overrun with trash, human waste, erosion, and a multitude of other issues.

So over the coming years, as you roll in to your favorite climbing destinations and encounter fees, remember that the overwhelming majority of this money covers the restrooms, camping facilities, sustainable trails, information kiosks, and improved parking areas that are necessary to manage our impacts and protect our climbing resources into the future.

July 07, 2015

America’s Public Lands under Siege

A battle is currently looming in Congress over the transfer of a huge swath of America’s public lands in the west—putting millions of acres (and the climbing opportunities they offer) under siege.

Red Rocks
A group of politicians have written bills proposing that individual states “take back” America’s parks, Bureau of Land Management lands, national forests, wildlife refuges, and open spaces, arguing that these lands and the profits that they generate should belong to the states. In an economically choked state like Nevada, where greater than 80 percent of the state’s land is owned and operated by the federal BLM, this kind of thinking is gaining traction. Imagine how profitable it would be for Nevada to sell off federally protected lands for development? Sadly, that might mean never getting to climb at Red Rocks again.

And Nevada isn’t the only state attempting to seize public lands. Right now, there are bills in front of Congress that propose the transfer of public lands in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Over 5,000 individual cliffs, containing over 29,000 climbing routes are threatened by these bills. This includes gems like Red Rocks in Nevada, Cochise Stronghold in Arizona, South Platte and Shelf Road in Colorado, Indian Creek in Utah, Liberty Bell in Washington, and Wild Iris in Wyoming, as well as countless other climbing areas on National Park Service, US Forest Service, and BLM lands.

Some bills demand that the US turn over all public lands to state governments, including national parks and Wilderness areas. Others demand that states pay large sums of money to study whether seizing public lands would be profitable. The bills under consideration in Congress range from disturbing to downright unconstitutional—but there are some powerful and well-funded interest groups behind the legislation, including the American Legislative Exchange Council, American Lands Council, and Federal Land Action Group.

If this kind of legislation is successful, our prized public lands and climbing areas would be on the auction block. Even if an individual state didn’t choose to cash in on public lands, but instead attempted to manage them for continued public enjoyment, the reality is that most simply could not afford it. A single wildfire can cost $100 million to fight, which would bankrupt most state budgets, requiring them to sell or auction off the land. The federal government safeguards these lands for all Americans, and their collective management of public lands provides the funds and resources needed to protect those in dire need.

Even if the more extreme bills don't pass, the concept of selling off federal land could gain traction over time—unless we speak up now. Once our public lands are gone, they’re gone for good, and there is no replacing them or the countless climbing and recreation opportunities they offer.

The Access Fund is working closely with our partners at the Outdoor Alliance and other recreation and conservation groups to fight this legislation and ensure our public lands remain accessible to everyone. Hunting and angling groups—including Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership—are also rallying against these bills. Keep an eye out for Action Alerts that will rally our community.

Visit to learn more and sign up for regular updates on our campaign to safeguard public lands.

Curious which recreation areas are threatened in your state?













New Mexico

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June 08, 2015

Climbing Stewardship Training Series Hits Yosemite

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Yosemite Valley provided the perfect backdrop for the first in our series of Climbing Stewardship Trainings. Over four days, representatives from California local climbing organizations, land trusts, Park Service staff, and Yosemite Climbing Stewards and Rangers came out to learn and share best practice techniques and concepts for sustaining our climbing areas. 

“As climbing continues to grow in popularity, it’s critical that we take the time to prepare our climbing areas for the inevitable increase in traffic,” says Access Fund Stewardship Director, Ty Tyler. “This training series is designed to give local volunteers and land managers the stewardship skills needed to sustainably manage our climbing areas.”

The group spent the mornings discussing the most effective ways to work within Federal lands processes and how to leverage resources for large-scale stewardship initiatives. In the afternoons, they headed out to assess approach trails and staging areas and develop strategies for sustaining these access points. They also spent two days at the base of El Cap, improving the network of loose approach trails into a durable access to the east face. The group leveraged techniques and best practices for sustainable rock work in loose, granitic soils. The approach trails were built to NPS standards, requiring a great deal of patience and perfectionism.


The Yosemite Climbing Rangers and Climbing Stewards were key partners in this training, sharing their experience managing climbing activities in one of our nation’s busiest national parks.

“Meet-ups like the Access Fund Stewardship Training week are critical for building a core of climber stewards in our growing community,” says Eric Bissell, a Yosemite Climbing Ranger.  “It’s critical that we take the time to come together and continue building upon our history of land stewardship."

If you missed the Yosemite Climbing Stewardship Training, don’t fret. We still have two more trainings this year:

Salt Lake City: June 24-27 (Register here)
Red River Gorge: September 9-11 (Registration coming soon) 

We encourage all interested volunteers and land managers to get involved in this training series and help us continue to build momentum for climbing area stewardship and sustainability. As our sport continues to grow in popularity, we need folks like you to help us employ smart stewardship strategies that will help prepare our climbing areas for increased traffic.

For more information about contact


May 12, 2015

5 Tips for Climbing in Groups

Rolling six deep to the crag this weekend? Before you head out, know that climbing in large groups can have a much greater environmental and social impact than climbing in pairs. If you must climb in a large group, follow these 5 tips to minimize your impact:

  1. Carpool - Instead of meeting up at the crag where parking is limited, grab some extra time with your climbing partners by carpooling to minimize your impact.

  2. Get organized - Plan ahead to avoid bringing unnecessary gear and pads that will clutter up the base of the climb, causing erosion and crushed vegetation. Keep your gear organized and place it on durable surfaces, never on plants or roots.

  3. Share the love - Be respectful of other visitors and don’t bogart an entire area by hanging ropes and blocking travel lanes. Forcing people to walk around your group causes social trails and erosion. Once you’re done with a climb, pull your rope and move on.

  4. Keep it tight - We all love to watch someone in our crew send, but the landscape around most crags and boulders is sensitive and should be left untrampled. If you’re on the ground watching, stay in the staging area so that you’re not spreading your impact.

  5. Be an upstander, not a bystander - Social science proves that when people witness others practicing minimum impact behavior they are more likely to follow suit. This becomes especially important for large groups. Step up and lead by example--leave the least impact possible.


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April 14, 2015

The Fight for Hawaii's Climbing Access

On Sunday, January 25, 2015—957 days after Mokuleia on the North Shore of Oahu was closed— Hawaii climbers were finally able to return to their beloved crag. After being dealt a devastating blow to climbing access in the spring of 2012, the water-locked Oahu climbing community started a fight for access that would last well over two years. The timeline illustrates the victories and setbacks of that epic three-year battle. This was an important and hard-fought victory that highlights the tenacity of the local climbing community and the Access Fund and what good, old-fashioned perseverance can accomplish. A huge thanks to all the local climbers and advocates across the country who took action to protect Hawaii’s climbing access.


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April 07, 2015

The Indian Creek Slog, No More

Indian Creek, outside of Canyon Lands National Park, is best known to climbers for its amazing Wingate Sandstone cliffs and splitter cracks soaring hundreds of feet to the cliff tops. Climbers flock to this crack-climbing mecca, forming into cadres in an effort to piece together enough cams from their otherwise plentiful double racks to ascend these amazing lines. It’s paradise in many people’s eyes, and who could argue given the amazing vistas, world-class crags, and plentiful camping? 

If you’ve spent much time schlepping a pack full of cams and ropes to the bases of these cliffs, you’ve no doubt become familiar with “the Indian Creek slog,” where you follow a steep, loose, eroding path, up a drainage or slope, every step sending a layer of soil a few more feet down hill. At their best, these climber trails are arduous and unsafe; at their worst, they create erosion issues that have significant impacts on the fragile desert environment.

Working in ic

It was with this in mind, that 3+ years ago the Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI), led by Mark Hesse, endeavored to improve the nasty approach to the Pistol Whipped Wall in Beef Basin. The approach followed a drainage and was severely eroded, making it a less than ideal route. Hesse and others scoured the hillside for the best route, eventually outlining what would be a 1,900 foot long trail to the cliff base. The new trail would traverse the hillside in places, but would take the most direct line that was sustainably possible, utilizing technical trail building techniques like dry stack stone stairs and walls to harden steep grades and prevent erosion, requiring the mobilization of many tons of stone, all moved by hand. It would be a monumental effort requiring many hours of work over several seasons by both paid professional trail builders and a host of dedicated volunteers. To be a success, the local BLM field office would also need to be engaged to provide signage and construct a parking lot at the new trailhead, which was a quarter mile up the road.

It was a prospect that many would have found daunting, but RMFI forged ahead, tackling section after section of technical trail work. With every stone step placed, the trail moved a few inches upward. Crews of students from Montrose High School showed up frequently to help move more stone to the work site, and in the last two seasons the Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team and Front Range Climbing Stewards lent their sweat and blood to the effort (no tears for this crew). 

On March 21, 2015, in one final and monumental push, it was done.

It was a surreal moment with volunteers and professionals on hand that had been involved from the beginning, save one: Mark Hesse, who had passed a year earlier in a tragic climbing accident. A toast was raised at the top of the trail, the site of one of the more impressive stone stair sections, expertly crafted by the Front Range Climbing Stewards. Crews and volunteers had a moment to reflect before descending the new trail, with a feeling of deep satisfaction.

The new Pistol Whipped trail is a testament to what can be accomplished when climbers and land managers collaborate for the betterment of the areas we love. If you have the pleasure of using this new trail, take a moment to consider the beautiful stone work and thoughtful layout as you ascend the hillside. This trail is for you, the Indian Creek climber, and we hope you enjoy it.  

Thank you to everyone that gave hours and days to making this project whole, especially Rocky Mountain Field Institute, The Bureau of Land Management, Monticello Field Office, Front Range Climbing Stewards, the students of Montrose High School—and Mark Hesse, may you rest in peace.