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June 10, 2016

5 Things to Know Before You Climb in the Alpine

As the weather heats up, many of us will be heading into the alpine to get our climbing fix in cooler temperatures. The alpine zone, typically occurring above consistent tree line, is characterized by rocky talus slopes, dwarfed trees, and highly sensitive vegetation. The alpine environment is one of the most fragile places we climb. Shorter growing seasons, limited soil, and fragile plant life make it especially important for us to tread lightly and reduce our impact. As an increasing number of climbers are heading into the alpine, land managers have growing concerns and are paying close attention.

Here are 5 things to keep in mind before you head into the alpine on your next climbing adventure.

  1. Stashing pads and gear is illegal in most places and hurts wildlife. We get it. Alpine approaches can be arduous. If you’re projecting, hauling all that gear is a drag. But stashing gear is not worth the price we’ll all pay for access if a land manager finds it (and trust us, they are looking). It’s also not worth the hit to your wallet or the health of wildlife if hungry marmots eat it. Mountain goats, marmots, and other wild critters crave salt, and they will munch on your sweaty pad, giving them an unhealthy mix of synthetic fibers and human salt.
  2. Thin alpine soil lacks the micro-organisms needed to biodegrade human waste properly. If you don’t know how to pack out your own poop in a bag, it is time you learned. Bag systems like RESTOP or Cleanwaste WAG Bags seal up tight with virtually no stink or nasty factor. Pack out that TP as well.
  3. Plant species in the alpine will take decades to restore if trampled. Don’t pile on a bunch of extra crash pads, and be extra careful where you place your pads and gear. Limit group size to minimize your impact. When traveling off trail, stick to durable surfaces like rock or talus slopes so you aren’t crushing sensitive plants.
  4. Many alpine areas require permits. Do your research ahead of time. Many remote, backcountry areas in alpine environments have a permit system to limit the number of visitors in a particular area due to its sensitivity.
  5. Marmots, pikas, and bears all want to steal your lunch. Unless you want your favorite boulder field patrolled by hungry bears, take care to store your food so that critters can’t get into it. Hang your food, pack out trash and food waste, and use a bear canister where recommended by land managers. Improperly stored food will attract wild critters, leading to food conditioning and increases in human-wildlife encounters.

The alpine environment can be one of the most spectacular places to climb. Thanks for doing your part to take care of this sensitive environment and ensure we don’t lose access.