November 18, 2013

Conservation Team Helps Pinnacles Climbers at Inaugural Appreciation Days

When we’re packing up to leave a project, folks always ask where we’re headed next. Pinnacles National Park didn’t register with most folks, although a few would smile knowingly and say, “Ahhh, The Pinns”.We were excited to hit the road and discover the central California gem that earns almost as much pride from veteran climbers as the neighboring granite domes of Yosemite.

When we arrived at The Pinns, Larry Arthur of Mountain Tools—the mastermind behind Pinnacles’ inaugural Climber Appreciation Days—oriented us with the Park. As his stories flowed, we came to understand the Park’s place in history—and in climber’s hearts.

Sign

Pinnacles National Park (previously a Monument) boasts a climbing history longer than our combined ages. In 1933, the first prominent pinnacles were summited at Condor Crags, beginning a trend of ascents that starred climbing legends like Roper, Bridwell, Bates, and others. A mild winter climate and proximity to bigger climbing destinations makes Pinnacles the perfect place for ambitious climbers to hone skills and train for loftier goals. And as the popularity of climbing skyrocketed in subsequent decades, The Pinns became a favorite backyard playground for Bay Area climbers and the communities lining the Central Coast and San Joaquin Valley.

There are now nearly 900 identified routes in the Park. These span spectacular remnant monoliths, talus caves, spires, and sheer-walled canyons of an ancient volcanic field. Most routes are easily accessible and moderate in grade—many are bolted, but most are trad, and some others mixed. Less than bomber rock quality lends to adventurous climbing and uneven landings.

It is precisely this rock type, area history, route variety, and proximity to urban areas that prompted the need for an Appreciation weekend and ambitious Adopt a Crag event. Over 65 volunteers turned out for 3 days of work. With a sponsored BBQ by Paradox Sports, loads of swag, and committed folks from the National Park Service, Bay Area Mountain Rescue, Sanctuary Rock Gym, the American Alpine Club, and other local organizations, it was an epic first year event! If it weren’t for the advanced planning of Jamie Bouknight—the Park’s passionate trails manager—and Larry Arthur, we might have had more work capacity than we knew what to do with. Instead we accomplished more than anyone had hoped.

LogsFriday morning began with a modest crew hiking loads of wooden fence railing and tools from the eastside parking area up to popular Discovery Wall. After this ample warm up, the real work started: closing eroded short-cut trails, installing fence posts for restoration areas, and brushing and buffing trails. We instructed volunteers in the art of post-holing, vegetation removal, and hiding restoration areas with natural visual barriers. We worked well into the afternoon, leaving just enough time for the most energetic to get a few routes in!

The next day saw an impressive number of new volunteers. Jamie, Ty, and I broke into several groups over two areas—Ty and Jamie protected degraded areas with fabric fencing and trail realignment at Teaching Rock, while I employed volunteer leaders to help complete wooden fence installation, trail closures, and protect eroding hill slopes at Discovery Wall. Everyone was amped and super productive, ticking off each project in record time. With plenty of climber-power and hours to spare, Ty was even able put in a much-needed retaining wall where groups gather to belay and chill in the shade. It was a long, dusty day and we left satisfied with our efforts. Reconvening at camp, volunteers were treated to a feast of burgers and beer, raffle prizes, storytelling and camaraderie.

  _85A0637

A rare third day of work on Sunday resulted in more trail alignment and retaining features at another popular crag —Tourist Trap. The amount of work completed over the weekend was phenomenal! Volunteers demonstrated once again how many [strong] hands make light hard work. We left feeling inspired by a community united in their shared passion for Pinnacles, and thrilled to be a part of the first of many Pinnacles Climber Appreciation Days. Join us next year for Round 2!

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September 20, 2013

Park Like a Champ

Parking

August 26, 2013

Land & Water Conservation Fund Helps Conserve Climbing Opportunities

“On belay!” A climber shouts and pulls the rope tight as his partner starts climbing below. Five hundred feet below on the valley floor, the town of Index, Washington bustles with weekend activity as paddlers, hikers, climbers, and tourists explore the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

Signs welcome tourists to the National Forest, yet what the average visitor does not see is a matrix of private and public lands. Thanks to forward thinking conservationists, much of the land and water we hike, climb, and paddle on is protected. Forest Service roads, once built for the sole purpose of timber harvest, now serve as the main arteries into these wild places.

Skykomish N Fk Index aerial NE 02-26-05
As climbers top out on the Upper Town Wall of Index, the Wild Sky Wilderness drapes the backdrop of forested slopes and mountains. When this Wilderness was first proposed, over 2,000 acres of private land were within its boundaries. In the last decade, groups such as the Wilderness Land Trust and Forterra have purchased approximately a third of these private lands and prioritized them for conservation. These transactions have relied on the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a federal funding program that allocates fees from oil and gas towards the acquisition of critical lands for open space and recreation purposes. Without the LWCF, new logging roads could be cut through old growth, recreational access closed off, and viewscapes important to the tourism economy compromised. 

When the Republican budget recently zeroed out funding for Land & Water Conservation Fund, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell stood up to defend the economic and public benefits of this important program. Jewell, former CEO of Seattle-based REI, understands the value of recreation and conservation and how they go hand in hand.

In Northern California, Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Wilderness Land Trust are partnering with recreationalists and Access Fund to obtain LWCF funding. This acquisition project will protect a critical inholding, adjacent to one of the first-ever federally designated Wilderness areas, from potential development. The inholding also provides ample opportunities for multi-pitch traditional rock climbing, ice climbing, backcountry skiing, and hiking. Acquisitions like this are a win-win for climbing access and Wilderness protection. Without the support for LWCF, these opportunities would likely slip by.

Budget cuts and alternative priorities threaten the LWCF every fiscal year. The federal land agencies that protect and maintain nearly a third of our public lands continue to face cuts that impact conservation and recreation. Common sense projects such as trail work to reduce erosion and provide sustainable climbing access compete for scarce funding. Roads that access our trailheads, crags, and peaks fall into disrepair with little to no funding for improvements.

Despite these challenges, Access Fund and its partners continue to push for solutions, provide expert trail crews, support critical acquisitions, and advocate for access.  Without Interior Secretary Jewell’s strong defense of the LWCF, climbers and conservationists alike would lose opportunities to protect the outdoor places we love with future generations.

Climbers scaling the Index Town Walls, escarpments of Castle Crags, or quartzite walls of Harper’s Ferry can thank these conservation-recreation partnerships and leaders like Sally Jewell.

Get tied in to share your voice and join the Access Fund in protecting the places we climb.

July 29, 2013

What the New NPS Wilderness Climbing Policy Means for Climbers & Bolting

For decades, the future legality of fixed anchor use in Wilderness areas remained uncertain. Some national parks and forests banned new bolt placements, and a few land managers even removed commonly used rappel anchors and proposed the wide-scale removal of existing climbs. The threat of a national ban on bolts in Wilderness areas has always lingered, with the potential for significant climbing restrictions at places like Yosemite, Black Canyon, Canyonlands, and Red Rocks.

Would parks decide to ban all new bolts? Do they have the authority to remove anchors they consider an unacceptable impact to Wilderness character? And what about the thousands of existing anchors out there that need maintenance? Because land management agencies had no national guidance to assist local planners and managers, each local park and national forest was left to interpret the Wilderness Act—as it pertains to fixed anchors—on its own, and with wildly varying results.

  Canyonlands

Last month the National Park Service issued Director’s Order #41, finally clarified the agency’s policy for the management of Wilderness climbing, including the placement (and replacement/removal) of fixed anchors. Keep reading for an overview of what this policy will mean for climbers.

New Rules Require Prior Authorization
The good news: gone is the longstanding threat that NPS officials could ban all bolts and fixed pitons as illegal “installations” under the Wilderness Act. However, it is important to understand that climbers must now have prior authorization to install new bolts in NPS managed Wilderness (the use of existing bolts is not affected), and it is your responsibility to know whether you are in a Wilderness area. Parks may grant prior authorization on a case-by-case basis or “programmatically” approve (for example, by zone) fixed anchor placements through a park plan. Always check with your park first to be certain of the rules in place. If a park does not have a plan that includes fixed anchor authorizations, DO #41 directs that climbers may approach park officials for case-by-case “interim” authorizations via permit or other specific approval.

Nailing Routes and Leave No Trace Ethics
Direct aid “nailing” routes, such as on El Capitan, that require removable pitons are not governed by this policy, which defines “fixed anchor” as a bolt or permanent piton. However, DO #41 addresses all Wilderness climbing impacts, not just fixed anchors. And if frequent removable piton use results in cumulative impacts that are considered unacceptable” (an impact standard that applies to all Wilderness users, not only climbers), parks may restrict or otherwise manage the use of removable pitons. Thus, clean climbing should be the norm in Wilderness, and climbers should use Leave No Trace ethics.

  Yosemite

Bolt Replacements
The new DO #41 policy states that the replacement of fixed anchors in NPS Wilderness “may” require prior authorization, so climbers currently do not need an authorization to replace anchors requiring maintenance (unless existing local rules apply; check with your park). If authorization is required to replace fixed anchors, the onus is on the NPS to publicize the requirement through a park plan or by issuing notification of a site specific restriction.

Bolt-Intensive Routes
The NPS policy states that bolt-intensive “sport climbs” are incompatible with Wilderness and in every case using power drills is prohibited. The new NPS policy also states that maintaining Wilderness character requires that climbers accept a higher level of risk in Wilderness areas and exhibit a respect for the resource and a “willingness to accept self-restraint in demanding access to it.” This means that bolting for convenience or to develop bolt-intensive face climbs is not an acceptable Wilderness activity.

The Bottom Line
This new policy ensures that climbers will not face a nationwide ban on fixed anchors in NPS managed Wilderness. This is good news for climbers! The vast majority of climbers are not likely to experience a significant change under this policy because it will not lead to the rampant removal of existing routes and anchors or a proliferation of bolted climbs in Wilderness, as some have suggested. Most climbers are not in the habit of placing fixed anchors at all, and this segment of the community can rest assured that they will have plenty of Wilderness climbing routes to enjoy for many years to come.

For those who place new fixed anchors, DO #41 does dictate a new management approach in that the placement of new fixed anchors in NPS Wilderness requires prior authorization in all cases. In some parks, authorization may require less red tape than in others—especially if parks have Wilderness climbing policies outlined in a plan already. But other parks may need to develop management plans that provide for new fixed anchor authorizations. Either way, if you need to place new rappel anchors or a few bolts to connect naturally protected terrain on a new route, contact your local park first to ask how this new Director’s Order affects the local management policies and procedures. Remember, this policy applies only to new fixed anchor placements in National Park Service Wilderness areas. You can use existing bolts everywhere that climbing is allowed.

More Information
The Access Fund will continue working with the NPS and the land management agencies to ensure that this new policy is workable for both climbers and land managers. For more information, read the full version of this article in the Summer 13 Vertical Times, read the entire Director’s Order #41 on the Access Fund website, or email jason@accessfund.org

June 13, 2013

Wrestling with Liability: Encouraging Climbing on Private Land

Original article by Laura Snider in Winter 09 Vertical Times; summarized and updated by Joe Sambataro

Rick Weber likes to cruise around his 400-acre verdant Kentucky spread, walking the seven-plus miles of sandstone cliffs in Muir Valley to see what the climbers are up toor maybe to catch a belay himself.

Rick and his wife Liz are retired now, and Muir Valley is their nest egg. To lose it in a legal battle over liability, sued over a climbing accident, for example, would be devastating. When the pair bought the property in 2003, they knew they wanted to open it up to fellow climbers, but they needed to make sure they were protected as well. After doing some homework, chatting with the Access Fund, and reading up on state law, Rick was convinced that they could open up their private land under the protection of Kentucky’s recreational use statute. Muir valley climber

“Yes, we’re concerned,” Rick said. “But we’re told that we have a reasonably safe legal position.… We could batten down the hatches and not stick our neck out, but then you don’t get the benefit of sticking your neck out.”

The Webers––being climbers themselves and having bought Muir Valley specifically for its tempting ribbon of sandstone cliffs––are rare in the arena of private landowners who wrestle with whether, and how, to allow climbing on their properties. But the type of land-use statutes that enable the Webers to host 40,000 climber visits a year (and still sleep at night) are not rare. All 50 states have recreational use statues, which are meant to encourage recreation on private lands by shielding the property owners from liability. But these laws vary both in their level of protection and the types of recreation they cover, and the ways that landowners, or their lawyers, interpret these statutes is even more varied.

A diversified approach to managing risks is important. Insurance, management agreements, and leases are just a few additional tools where the Access Fund can lend a hand to landowners and local climbing organizations.  But recreational use statutes are the main building block of liability protection.

Recreational use statutes
In the 1950s, states began to pass laws designed to encourage private landowners to open their properties to hunters, anglers, and other recreationalists by limiting the landowner’s liability. Now, all 50 states have these laws, called recreational use statutes. Not all of the statutes are the same, and they don’t all offer the same level of protection, but they do have general commonalities:

  • Recreational users: Many states list a few types of recreationalists as examples, but the list is usually not inclusive. Some states specifically name rock climbing, but in most states, rock climbing would fit under the general definition of recreation.
  • Fees: In most states, landowners are only protected if they do not charge a fee, although in some cases, fees to cover maintenance or property taxes are allowed.
  • Duty to keep safe: None of the states specifically requires landowners to keep their properties safe for anyone who might use the land to recreate, but in some cases, a “duty to keep safe” isn’t mentioned at all, leaving it more open to interpretation.
  • Duty to warn: Again, none of the states specifically requires landowners to warn people about hazardous conditions, natural features, or activities on their properties.
  • Assurance of safety: In most states, the law says that opening your lands to others does not mean that you’re vouching for the safety of the land or the activity.

Make sure that you check out your own state’s statutes. This is a good starting point. Seek qualified legal counsel in your local jurisdiction.

The ebb and flow of liability protection
Prior to 2005, Illinois’ recreational use statute defined recreation as “any activity undertaken for conservation, resource management, exercise, education, relaxation, or pleasure on land owned by another.” The state legislature changed the law to define recreation as the “entry onto the land of another to conduct hunting or recreational shooting.” In this change to the law, hunting and recreational shootings are not examples; they summed up the entire legal definition of recreation in the state of Illinois for the purpose of the statute.

Eric and Kathy Ulner, who own the Draper’s Bluff climbing area in southern Illinois, discovered this change in 2009 and issued an open letter to the climbing community, expressing that they would need to close their property to climbing access due in part to loss of liability protection.

Draper's Bluff
The Access Fund collaborated with the Illinois Climbers Association to advocate for returning the statute to its original level of protection. After seven years of work by a broad coalition of partners, the bill recently passed both the state House and Senate. Landowners in Illinois can breathe a little easier now that this bill sits before the Governor for signing.

In 2012, local climbers and Access Fund lobbied to add climbing to New Hampshire’s recreational use statute. With the help of a supportive state senator, the bill passed and New Hampshire joined the list of states that specifically name rock climbing in their statute, along with Alabama, Colorado, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin.  “This is an important piece of legislation for climbers,” says Erik Eisele, Access Fund NH regional coordinator. “It makes it much more likely that a landowner would consider public access to climbing.” 

New tools to boost liability protection
Recreational use statutes and related state laws are only one kind of risk management that landowners can employ. There are other strategies, including waivers, signage, and agreements that can help to mitigate risk. The Access Fund recently gained new capabilities to partner with landowners and local climbing organizations by entering into written agreements that outline stewardship roles and liability protection. Through Access Fund’s liability insurance policy, jointly held agreements can provide additional insured status to both the landowner and local climbing organization involved. Such an agreement may take the form of a recreational lease, access easement, or management agreement that outlines how all the parties will work together to support and manage public use.

Working with local partners, this additional layer of liability protection played a key role in securing access at two crags in 2012—Auburn Quarry in Northern California and Bubba City in the New River Gorge of West Virginia.

The Access Fund works with partners on both a local and national level to advocate for these forms of liability protections across the nation, and to strengthen them where possible. Learn more about the wide array of risk management tools at www.accessfund.org/landownersupport and contact us to explore how a partnership can help open climbing access in your local area. 

May 28, 2013

Castle under Siege

The area that most of us know as ‘Castle Rocks’ in southern Idaho is a jigsaw puzzle of land management jurisdictions, known collectively as the Castle Rocks Interagency Recreation Area. The bulk of the land in the Castle Rocks Interagency Recreation Area is managed by the State of Idaho as Castle Rocks State Park, and another chunk is managed by the US Forest Service. The climbing in both of these jurisdictions is open.

Map
However, last month the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced plans to permanently ban rock climbing on its 400 acre portion (about 17% of the 2,300 total acres) of Castle Rocks. While the land in question is only a relatively small portion of greater Castle Rocks, the proposed closure is still of great concern to the climbing community. It is estimated that about 40 existing routes, hundreds of potential lines, and countless boulder problems find themselves on the chopping block now that the BLM climbing ban has come to fruition.

The BLM climbing access saga started in early 2003, when the Idaho Parks and Recreation Department, the BLM, USFS, Access Fund, and leading climbing representatives in the area convened to draft a comprehensive climbing management plan that would govern climbing activity throughout all of Castle Rocks Interagency Recreation Area, with a primary intent to protect cultural resources. Shortly after the plan was written, it was adopted by the State of Idaho for use in Castle Rocks State Park, the chunk of land that contains the majority of climbing resources.

The BLM, however, did not approve the management plan (even though they played a large role in the planning and deliberation processes), but instead implemented a “temporary” closure in May 2003, which prohibited climbing, placement of fixed anchors, and camping.

The BLM claimed that the closure was needed to evaluate the potential adverse impacts to known historic and cultural resources in Castle Rocks, which are of importance to local Native American tribes. (It should be noted that this “temporary” closure has been extended every year through 2012). In May 2009, six years after the “temporary” closure was implemented, the BLM finally opened the issue up to public comment, proposing three management alternatives ranging from adoption of the climbing management plan (which would allow climbing as long as it didn’t disturb cultural resources) to a full climbing ban. The BLM stated its preferred alternative was to adopt the climbing management plan.

During the planning process, BLM archaeologists surveyed the cultural resources in their 400 acre tract, concluding that most were in excellent condition and even going so far as to say that “many of the archaeological resources have been undisturbed by contemporary human activities”. As a requirement of the planning process, the BLM also needed to obtain an official finding that climbing would have “no significant impact” on these cultural resources from the Idaho State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO). However, when the SHPO issued a letter requesting more information from the BLM to be able to complete the assessment, the BLM never responded, citing a lack of manpower.  

In March 2010, the BLM chose to permanently ban climbing, citing SHPO’s inability to provide a finding of no significant impact as the basis for the ban—a finding that SHPO could not issue because the BLM never responded to their request for additional information.

Along with its decision to ban climbing, the BLM published a map showing the location of the cultural resources in relation to the climbing resources. Ironically, this map demonstrated that the majority of climbing locations are well-removed from the cultural resource sites, making it hard to cite the potential adverse effects to these cultural resources as a reason for the climbing ban, given the geographic separation. (This map has since been removed from the BLM’s website to keep the specific locations of sensitive cultural resources confidential. The BLM asked Access Fund to keep the map confidential, and we have honored their request.) This map, coupled with the fact that the BLM’s own archaeologists had already stated that these cultural resources were undisturbed by human impacts (climbing had been happening here since at least the 1960’s) makes this climbing ban difficult to justify.

Fast forward to April 17, 2013—the BLM notified the public of its intent to officially implement its March 2010 decision to: (1) close the BLM managed lands in the Castle Rocks area to staging, traditional climbing, sport climbing, and bouldering; (2) prohibit overnight camping and the construction of new trails; and (3) remove bolts from existing bolted climbing routes from BLM-managed lands. The Access Fund, Boise Climbers Alliance, Eastern Idaho Climbers Coalition, and American Alpine Club have formally protested the decision and are awaiting the BLM’s response.

The Access Fund supports reasonable and legitimate closures that protect natural and cultural resources, but this particular ban is unjustified and unnecessary. The Castle Rocks climbing management plan (that the BLM itself helped to develop in 2003) has already proven to be successful for managing climbing and cultural resources at Castle Rocks State Park. Similar climbing management plans have proven successful for several other BLM offices across the country (Shelf Road in CO, Red Rocks in NV, and Indian Creek, Moab/Castle Valley and San Rafael Swell in UT), demonstrating that climbing and cultural resources can co-exist when properly managed. There should be no reason why Castle Rocks cannot be managed in much the same way.

The Access Fund hopes to be able to work with the BLM’s Burley Field Office and the local Native American tribes to establish climbing management policies that protect the historic cultural resources, while still allowing for legitimate recreational uses of this public land.


April 15, 2013

Style vs. Ethics

Brady~ Brady Robinson, Access Fund Executive Director

Last fall at the Future of Fixed Anchors conference the Access Fund hosted in Las Vegas, a climber from the Black Hills in South Dakota gave me a little feedback on my opening talk. He noted that I used the words “style” and “ethics” synonymously when, in fact, they have different meanings.

Apparently, I’m not alone—in his experience, when climbers talk about ethics they’re often referring to matters of style. In the Black Hills, traditional areas like the Needles coexist in close proximity to the sport crags near Rushmore and Spearfish Canyon. In his view, the differences between ground-up trad climbing and sport climbing are stylistic and don’t rise to the ethical plane of right and wrong. By reminding people that they’re really talking about stylistic differences, he finds he can facilitate more productive discussions among climbers who might not see eye to eye.

QuoteThis really got me thinking. In climbing, which issues are stylistic vs. ethical?  Ethics deals with concepts of right and wrong, which have a certain timeless quality. Style has more to do with personal preference and the prevailing trends.

Is placing a bolt on rappel wrong? Well, that depends. It’s perfectly fine in some climbing areas, but what about a place like the Needles of South Dakota where bolts have always been placed by hand from natural stances? Of course, many of the rules governing an area may be defined not by climbers but by a third party, such as a land manager, who has clearly defined what is or is not allowed on the property.

Is a stylistic deviation sometimes an ethical violation when there is consensus on what is an acceptable style in a given area? Again, that depends. Style changes over time. Not too many years ago, just hanging on a rope to work out the moves on a climb was a serious faux pas. Nobody cares about that anymore. On the other hand, some alpinists are willing to risk their lives to climb fast and light, and may even reject other styles of ascent as invalid. So where do we draw the line? These are the sorts of questions that keep philosophers in business and make many climbers want to throw their hands up and just go climbing. But we shouldn’t give up so fast.

One way to evaluate a particular action or behavior is to imagine what would happen if every climber followed suit. What if all climbers violated Wilderness regulations, stashed equipment on public land, cut trail switchbacks, treated the outdoors as their personal rock gym, and left big, chalky tick marks on their routes and problems? Well, that would be bad. So these issues are probably ethical issues rather than matters of style.

Think about the questions and perhaps the controversies surrounding your local climbing or bouldering area. What are people talking about? Are they talking about style or matters of right and wrong, and are they sometimes mistaking one for the other?

If we climbers don’t stand up for what is right, we put our climbing areas and access at risk. But standing like a rock on matters of style is sometimes a mistake—it could mean you’re being a jerk.

April 01, 2013

Conservation Team Continues Legacy of Stewardship at Quartz Mountain

~ Eddie Wooldridge & Claire Wagstaff, Conservation Team Crew 

It had been five years since the trail leading around Baldy Point (or "Quartz" as is it referred to by the local climbing community) had any repairs made to it. This huge slab of granite lies within the Quartz Mountain Nature Park near Lone Wolf, Oklahoma. Quartz is the crown jewel of granite domes found in the Wichita Mountain chain in southwest Oklahoma, hosting nearly a hundred one and two pitch climbs on its three hundred foot high, half-mile long south face. Renowned California climber Doug Robinson once referred to Quartz as the "Tuolumne of the Midwest", a testimony to the quality of the climbing opportunities found there.

Quartz Jeep
Many changes have occurred at Quartz since legendary Access Fund trail builder Jim Angell worked on these trails nearly 12 years ago. But it wasn’t difficult to feel his presence. Whether it was an old friend telling stories of him on the trail or seeing what his own two hands had built, it was clear the local climbers cherished him and this rock.

Jim Angell
Trailboss Jim Angell leads his bridge-carrying platoon of volunteers down the Baldy Point Trail in 2001. (Photo courtesy of WMCC)

But the trail was showing signs of wear with graffiti, a dilapidated bridge, briar covering the boulders, trash, and erosion problems throughout. After walking and assessing the trail with Park Manager Glen Kirk and Access Fund’s former Oklahoma Regional Coordinator Marion Hutchison, Claire and I could tell the weekend ahead would be hard work. Luckily, we knew the volunteer turnout would be great since we worked with many of the same volunteers at the Adopt a Crag in the Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge the week before. Volunteers from the Texas Mountaineers and the Wichita Mountain Climbers Coalition (WMCC) regularly drive from as far as five hours away to climb at Baldy Point, once again proving how important this area is to climbers in the region.

The energy during the Adopt a Crag was contagious. The local climbers here share a passion for improving their local crag, and their eagerness to learn from us was evident from the start. As we walked, Claire and I highlighted the briar and graffiti to be removed, the bridge that would be replaced, and the erosion in need of repair. Working our way back, we taught the volunteers how to properly trim branches away from the trail and how to dig dip drains to divert water off the trail. Based upon individual experience, comfort, and curiosity, each volunteer chose the section of the trail they wanted to work on.

Quartz Briar
As the day progressed, boulders slowly became exposed, water was diverted, and trash picked up. And we even managed to squeeze in a few climbs before the sun went down! The day ended with a group dinner at Luigi’s, the local pizzeria, where climbing stories are exchanged, local problems are addressed, and connections are made.

The next day everyone was quick to get back to work. As the dip drains were finished and landscaping resumed near the boulders, volunteers put some elbow grease into the graffiti removal. All of the graffiti was successfully removed from caves, rock faces, and signs—by no means an easy endeavor.

Quartz Grafitti
Our final task was to replace the bridge, which had previously been constructed out of the old Quartz Mountain State Park sign that had seen better days. We're grateful to the folks at Wichita Mountains Climbers Coalition and the staff at Access Fund headquarters for providing funding for the graffiti removal supplies and new planks for the bridge.

Quartz bridge

Although Jim wasn’t there to give us a hand, his legacy lives on in the community. It was a pleasure working alongside such open and welcoming climbers. This place is a perfect example of why conservation awareness needs to continue from generation to generation. Leaving Baldy Point was a little bittersweet, but we hope that we left behind some knowledge to help the volunteers continue to maintain their trails long after we are gone—something Jim would be proud of.

Quartz 1

March 19, 2013

Yosemite Climbers Help Preserve the Protected Peregrine Falcon

Yosemite’s granite walls are home to some of the most iconic climbing routes in the world. The same cliffs where climbers push human boundaries are also where the Peregrine Falcon, a special status raptor, nests and raises young. Peregrine

This once endangered species has begun to flourish in the Sierra, partially because of the cooperation between climbers and the National Park Service. Over the last 35 years, climbers have been front row witnesses as falcons have repopulated the Yosemite region. To see a raptor capture its prey in mid-air while on route is truly one of the special qualities of the Yosemite climbing experience. Check out this video of a peregrine falcon hanging out with climbers on Ahwahnee Ledge on the Leaning Tower.

This extraordinary example of a peregrine’s success, however, is not assured. Nests can be easily disturbed by humans and young chicks have died because people have ignored closures. Those who have ignored closures have been cited and fined—but that’s not the solution. The peregrine’s continued success is only possible when everyone does their part to provide a safe and respectable distance for this beautiful raptor.

As we move into spring and the park service initiates temporary closures to protect peregrine nests, we remind all climbers to do their part to ensure that peregrines have their place preserved on the iconic walls of Yosemite. Become familiar with closures, observe them, and pass the word.

For more information about peregrines and how climbers helped in their recovery at Yosemite, check out page 8 of this Vertical Times story by Park Biologist, Sarah Stock. And next time you’re in Yosemite, keep your eyes peeled for a peregrine and enjoy one of the truly unique and memorable experiences of climbing.

March 07, 2013

Trouble in Paradise: Inside the Fight for Hawaii’s Climbing Access

~Mike Bishop

Last summer, a young girl was critically injured by a falling rock while on a guided trip to Hawaii's finest crag near Mokuleia (MOE-COO-LAY-EE-AH for you mainlanders) on the fabled North Shore of Oahu. Coming on the heels of a $15 million settlement against the State for the wrongful deaths of two hikers, the State shut down climbing access at Mokuleia due to fears of another massive lawsuit. The closure was enacted overnight, with no community input. The climber's trail accessing the wall was closed to all users, and a sign at the trailhead announced a $2,000 fine for trespassing. This was more than a little alarming to the island of Oahu's 500+ climbers.

Almost immediately, a group of respected/dirtbag climbers (including Mike “Bugman” Richardson, Deborah Halbert, Sayar Kuchenski, and me - Mike Bishop) began to pursue every avenue we could think of to negotiate the reopening of our beloved crag. Initially, this consisted of calling, emailing, and setting up camp at the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) offices to attempt negotiations with them. Sadly, these attempts were rebuffed due to their “ongoing investigation” of the incident.

HI_1
Lobbying Hawaii style: Mike Bishop, Sayar Kuchenski, Robert Anderson

Changing gears, we began to gather support via petitions, supplying over 1,700 signatures to DLNR leadership, urging them to rescind the closures across Oahu. We also began a dialogue with the Access Fund in search of advice. Meanwhile, another North Shore climber, Steve Poor, had endeavored to get our case heard before the North Shore Neighborhood Board—a town hall-type monthly meeting in Haleiwa (HA-LAY-EE-VAH). 

The long and the short of it was that nothing helped, and 6 months went by with no progress.  Two other climbing areas were eventually shut down, and climbing was banned within an entire State Park, leaving Oahu without a single developed crag that could legally be climbed. As a result of DLNR's accident investigation, it was determined that they couldn't reopen any of our climbing areas without first passing legislation to limit their liability. They urged us to start contacting our Senators and Representatives.

Rallying again, we began  making last-minute appeals to legislators and succeeded in getting half a dozen bills introduced on each side of the legislature. Four months of endless lobbying ensued, causing stomach-churning anxiety and uncertainty as we challenged a lobbyist for Hawaii's consumer lawyers who'd been the puppet master of the Hawaii legislature for 20 years. We had reached the point where we were officially in over our heads, and none of us really had any idea what we had gotten ourselves into. While we’d managed to do pretty well for ourselves during the first round of hearings, we knew that once they made it to judiciary committees full of lawyers, we'd be hopelessly outgunned in the legalese department. 

I made a panicked last-minute call to the Access Fund’s policy director/climbing lawyer, R.D. Pascoe, who boarded a plane to Hawaii for the showdown.

R.D. showed up with a badly sprained wrist and a thirst for justice and waves. We quickly gathered up our team of respected/dirtbag climbers to strategize with our newly arrived ally. After a couple days of making the rounds at the Capitol and the Attorney General's office with “our lawyer who flew all the way here from Colorado,” we were ready for our big Senate hearing. Our opposition (the Consumer Lawyers of Hawaii) had grown tired of our irksome progress and the support we had generated around the Capitol, and they came out swinging. They attacked the climbing community with a cornucopia of misinformation, attempting to panic the committee into stopping our bill. R.D. was called up next to testify, and he easily laid to rest the outlandish rumors propagated by our opposition. The bill was well-received and we picked up a handful of valuable Senate allies—a decisive victory for climbers, but the battle is still far from over.

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Access Fund’s RD Pascoe testifying before Senate committee.

After all that hard work, we rewarded R.D. with surfing! Despite his sprained wrist, he challenged the waves in front of the iconic Diamond Head crater, followed up by ono grindz (delicious food): Hawaiian-style poke, fish taco plates, and Japanese home cookin'. We were all sad to see R.D. go, but we were thrilled with the progress our campaign made while he was here. Having a lawyer and landowner liability expert testify on our behalf lent a great deal of credence to our cause.

Two of our bills are still going strong. The legislative process is painfully protracted, but the monumental effort we've all been putting in cannot be ignored. We will either pass a bill to eliminate landowner liability stemming from rock climbing, or we will succeed at negotiating some other arrangement to reopen our crags. Throughout the process, Access Fund has been prodigiously helpful and I daresay we couldn't have made it this far without their council. So, from all the climbers across the Hawaiian Islands, here's a giant 'Mahalo' (thank you) to all the folks at Access Fund and all of the climbers across the country whose membership makes their work possible!

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RD and the Climb Aloha crew.

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