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 stewardship@accessfund.org.


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.



March 26, 2015

The Inside Scoop: Bishop

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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 the Inside Scoop series, we 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: BISHOP, CA

What is the biggest challenge facing the Bishop climbing community now?
Our biggest challenge is the increasing number of climbers visiting each year. Bishop is a very
fragile high desert environment, and increased traffic (compounded by an ongoing drought) makes it hard for the desert to recover from the impacts of recreation.

How are you addressing this overcrowding issue?
We are working to educate climbers about best practices and ways they can help. We are rolling this out through climbing gyms and other places where people new to climbing can learn what it means to tread lightly and keep things sustainable and open.

How is the relationship between climbers and the land managers?
They are good and getting better. The vast majority of the Bishop’s climbing is on public land, so it’s important that the climbing community stays engaged and works with land managers and the broader community to create positive relationships and care for our climbing areas. Local climbers, the BACC, and other community members have been really engaged with land managers (many of whom are also climbers), and we have a great ongoing dialogue.

Are there currently any threats to climbing access?
There are no imminent access threats, but the impacts caused by increased visitation could have future repercussions. More climbers means more cars, more dogs, more need for campsites, more human waste, and more cumulative impacts.

What is the best way to dispose of human waste at Bishop?
Use the available toilets or pack it out. The three largest areas—the Buttermilks, the Happies, and Owens River Gorge—all have toilet facilities. If you have to go and you are in any of those areas, please use the toilets, even if you have to walk a ways to do it. Human waste and toilet paper do not break down adequately in fragile desert soil, so if you have to go in the wild, pack it out.

Isn’t Bishop home to archeological resources?
Yes. The Eastern Sierra and the Owens Valley have been home to humans for thousands of years. Native peoples and later settlers left their legacy in the form of artifacts, petroglyphs, pictographs, and other archeological resources. Federal law protects all of these things. As climbers, we need to recognize that some boulders shouldn’t be climbed, artifacts need to stay where they are, and we should look but not touch when we find petroglyphs or pictographs. It would be a drag to lose access to an area because of the actions of a few.

So what’s the ethic that visiting climbers should follow?
Respect others and remember that if it looks or feels wrong, it probably is.

  • Stay on the roads and trails.
  • Park and camp in designated spots.
  • Respect land managers, other users, and regulations.
  • Keep control of and pick up after your dog.
  • Don’t crush the brush.
  • Be mindful of archeological resources.
  • Pick up trash even if it isn't yours.

Most important, if you have a question, call one of the local land management agencies, or ask in one of the local shops, at the Black Sheep, or the Mountain Rambler—someone will be able to direct you to an answer. Any final words of wisdom? Climbing in Bishop is a privilege. Respect it and leave it better than you found it. The climbing community is small, and we need to look after each other and our climbing areas as the sport continues to grow in popularity.

Learn more about BACC
Facebook: facebook.com/BishopAreaClimbersCoalition

Photo: © R. Tyler Gross

March 11, 2015

An Auspicious Infancy: The Early Years of the Access Fund

~ An interview by Jay Young, 2009

I spoke at length with Armando Menocal, who, along with Jim Angel, founded the Access Committee of the American Alpine Club (AAC) in 1985. He had much to say about the often humble beginnings of this auspicious organization.

Jay: Tell me about the birth of the idea of the Access Fund. What was the impetus to actually get this thing rolling?

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 4.02.47 PM Armando: Well…in the mid-1980s, we were starting to have access problems across the country. In large part it was the beginning of the sport climbing movement. But as we learned from the National Park Service, there was an increase at trad areas as well. Many land managers suddenly felt overwhelmed by climbing. The combined effect of more climbers and more new climbing areas caused a lot of land managers to attempt to put the brakes on climbing. They didn’t know what climbing was, and they’d never regulated it. As a result, there started being closures. I’d been active in some of these issues in California, so the American Alpine Club asked me to start an Access and Conservation Committee to confront these issues. So I agreed…

Jay: Who were some of the folks on that early committee?

Armando: The earliest were me and a guy named Jim Angel, just two of us. The first thing he did was plan an act of civil disobedience up at Mt. St. Helens. Jim had been playing it by the book, and they refused to reopen Mt. St. Helens to climbing even after the big crater explosion was long past.

Jay: What was the act of civil disobedience?

Armando: Jim wrote a letter to the Forest Service telling them that on a mid-summer day—he gave them the date, which was like six to eight months out—he was going to climb Mt. St. Helens. They had been involved in a planning process for two or three years, and it’d been all finished, but they would not open the mountain to climbing. They were just being bureaucrats dragging their heels. And so to provoke them into either finally arresting him or getting them to issue the decision, he just told them, “I am going to climb that mountain.” And he sent copies to all the local newspapers. And it worked! By summer, they issued the plan.

This scared the American Alpine Club, so we stopped for nearly two years. Then Jim McCarthy became president of the AAC, and he said, “You do whatever you need to, and we’ll back you 100%.” And that’s really when the Access Committee started. Jim Angel and I added people: Randy Vogel; a fella by the name of Mike Jimmerson down in Arizona, who was a real workhorse; Rick Accomazzo in Colorado; and a few people back East as well. We were basically about a dozen folks who met like once or twice a year. At first it was a very slow process. Mostly it was just all of us talking about the problems we had. We got to the point where we actually needed to have our own staff, so every year we’d do something that was “The Call.” And The Call was a call to Yvon Chouinard. And Yvon would always say, “How much?” And I’d say something like $10 thousand dollars. And he’d send it.

Jay: That’s amazing!

Armando: In the early years, we were funded 100% by Yvon Chouinard. So anyway, that’s how we got started; we were the Access Committee of the American Alpine Club. After Jim McCarthy was no longer president, the [access] problems were getting so big and there was so much stuff and I was spending so much of my time as the chair of the committee that we decided the better thing to do was form a separate organization. And that’s what we did in 1990.

Jay: Was that separation done with the good graces of the AAC? I mean, were they on board for this?

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 4.02.32 PMArmando: For the people involved it was painful and hard. Because you had people in the AAC who really supported us and they wanted us to stay, and they didn’t like us leaving. And, there were people who, frankly, didn’t like us, ’cause we were activists and they didn’t like some of the strong positions.

Jay, in the 1980s, because of sport climbing, there was a huge amount of debates in the climbing community, dealing with everything from rap bolting, hang dogging, etc. And one of the key decisions that the Access Committee made, which continued with the Access Fund, was that we would not get involved with ethics. We would not say, “Okay, we’ll defend people who put up routes ground up, but we won’t defend people who do it rap bolting.” There were many people who were lining up on either side of those issues. There were people who were lobbying government agencies to get them involved, so rap bolting would be prohibited in one place. And the Access Committee said, “No, we will not do that. We will defend climbing in all its forms.”

If the climbing community, within itself wanted to say, as a matter of ethics, people shouldn’t rap bolt in a certain area, that’s fine. But land managers and the government should not get involved in ethical debates. And that is one of the things that made us very controversial. That was one of the early decisions we made. I’ve always credited Randy [Vogel] with helping us make that decision. He was very important in that. And it’s still the Access Fund policy to this day. We don’t take sides in ethical debates. We defend climbing in all its forms.

Jay: If I’m on the board of the AAC around that time, when you guys in the Access Committee are thinking of splitting off, and I’m against it, what are some of my protests?

Armando: I would say there were probably two major disagreements within the AAC. One was over the ethical question because there were people there that didn’t think we should fight government agencies if they were going to prohibit rap bolting, or if they were going to prohibit power drills being used to place routes. Some people even went so far to say we shouldn’t defend the placement of bolts at all.

And then the second thing was that we were activists. We were arguing with and taking on the government. And there was a large body within the AAC that thought that was not their role. Their job was to support, but not argue with government agencies. But a lot of us were out of the 60s and 70s, and that wasn’t our way at all!

Very clearly, the Access Fund started as an advocacy organization. That was the main thing we did. One of the reasons we formed the Access Fund [from the committee] was because we were fighting efforts to prohibit bolting, whether it was power drill or hand drill, all over the country, and we needed a national organization. I mean you were just getting killed by a thousand cuts, to be fighting an anti-bolting thing. It was just one Forest Service place after another, and then the Park Service… We needed to start dealing with the source—the people who made the rules back in Washington, DC. We knew we needed to have a nationwide organization to deal with the advocacy issues. And to this day, the primary focus of the advocacy part of the Access Fund, which I still think is the major thing we do, is nationwide, because most of the problems are nationwide.

Jay: Today, is the state of access in America where you thought it would be in almost two decades after the Access Fund split off? How are things different now from what you thought it would be like?

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 4.02.19 PMArmando: Well, I thought some of these issues would be put to rest. But otherwise I would say it’s about where I would have wanted it to be. I think if you look on the positive side of the ledger, no major climbing area in America is closed. There are some local areas that are closed, but I don’t even think you can say there are any regional destination areas that are closed.

You can still place a bolt anywhere in wilderness or non wilderness in America with very few exceptions. Some places they have committees you have to go through. There are a few places we haven’t been able to get in line, like the Superstitions and the Sawtooth, but those are pretty small in comparison. Big-wall climbing, which would have been shut down entirely with an anti-fixed anchor rule in wilderness is still alive and well. So, if you look at it that way, in the big picture, we’re where we would want to be.

On the downside, is that some of these issues have not been put to rest. Bolting…it has been really hard to get the federal agencies to finally put that issue to rest. And we have to keep putting energy into doing that. The number of times that I, and now Jason Keith, have gone back to Washington and talked to people in the federal government at all three major agencies—BLM, Forest Service, and Park Service—would take up a year or more of somebody’s time. And as long as you don’t put it to rest, you have to keep dealing with it, because some local ranger will decide that he’s going to ban bolts. It still happens.

Maybe with the new administration…

Jay: In the years-long development of the Access Fund to where it is right now, what are some of the pleasant surprises that have popped up?

Armando: Well, to me the biggest surprise, it shouldn’t be, but it still is to me, is to watch what was for some of us in the 80s and 90s our real passion to keep climbing areas open get taken up by one generation after another. The people that run the Access Fund now are one, two, or three generations removed from the first group that started it. And I guess I remain surprised every time I see an entirely new bunch of people—who had nothing to do with us historically—step up and start really taking on the challenge…and re-forming the organization and takingit to a new place. It just keeps happening again and again. It’s pretty exciting to see.

I’ve tended to divide the Access Fund’s work into three areas. One is the advocacy role—arguing to keep areas open, and some of that involves everything from litigation to letter-writing campaigns and all the tools that advocates use. And the second thing is building local organizations that then become the frontline forces dealing with closures. The third one is actually acquisitions. We’re trying to build that.

Some people think of the Access Fund and they’ll think acquisitions. Some people think of AF and they think of our work building and supporting local climbing organizations. And they sometimes try to pigeonhole us. Which are we? Sometimes the right answer is to create a local climbing organization to deal with an issue. Sometimes you need an advocacy approach. And sometimes you need to go in there with acquisitions and other sorts of development. But they’re just tools. They’re not what define us.

The ongoing fight for climbing access in America is on the brink of profound change, all while some of the same old struggles of 20 years ago remain prominent and, in many respects, unresolved.

By J. Young, 2009, www.rockclimbing.com


March 04, 2015

The Ecology of Climbing

Ecology of climbing

Climbing offers both challenge and adventure, but it’s also a special opportunity to be in a wild, natural environment. From boulder fields to alpine peaks to roadside crags, we climb in places with significant, sometimes rare, natural value. And the ecology of climbing—how climbers relate and interact with plant life, animals, and water—has direct bearing on climbing access. This is especially true given the growth in popularity of climbing across the country. As more and more people climb, it becomes imperative to find solutions to mitigate our impact to conserve these precious resources now and into the future.   In sensitive desert environments like Indian Creek, Utah, for example, climbers’ trail work has helped reduce impact to fragile cryptobiotic soil. In the Obed, Tennessee, top anchors have eliminated impact to extremely biodiverse and sensitive cliff-edge environments. And in Rumney, New Hampshire, targeted cliff-area closures have maintained access to climbing routes while protecting rare ferns. As climbers, the more cognizant we are of these unique and rare natural resources, and the more collaborative we are in working with land managers and biologists to preserve them, the more successful we’ll be in creating solutions that preserve access. Here are some easy tips. 

Raise awareness within the local climbing community. Work with area experts (resource biologists, cliff ecologists) to educate yourself and your local climbing community on any rare species that occur at your crag. Organize an Adopt a Crag—an invasive species removal, for example—to bring climbers and biologists together. Develop routes and boulders responsibly. Think about long-term impact and use. Establish bolted anchors (where allowed) to reduce impact on trees. Keep brushing to the minimum necessary. And remember, not everything needs to be climbed.

Put the ROCK Project Pact into practice each time you go climbing. Minimize your impact at the crag by keeping a low profile, packing out all of your trash and gear, respecting closures and staying on trails. Commit to the Pact and view its other tenants at www.accessfund.org/thepact.

Proactively build partnerships with land managers and biologists.The foundation for addressing climbing access issues related to sensitive natural resource concerns is a collaborative, trusting relationship with your land manager.

Participate in and assist with resource and impact monitoring. By participating in or assisting with monitoring activities, you legitimize your status as a stakeholder and gain an opportunity to lend your climber’s perspective.

Generate hard data. Help initiate new studies or surveys on climbing and natural resources. Climbing management decisions should be made based on sound data and appropriate environmental impact studies.

Be open to creative climbing management solutions that preserve access. Trail rerouting, partial closures, seasonal restrictions, permitted access, top anchor installation—these are all examples of creative, balanced solutions that yield surprisingly positive results. 

February 10, 2015

Urban rock v2

When you daydream about your next climbing adventure, you may conjure images of high mountain peaks, extreme conditions, and natural settings far from the cities and towns where most of us live. And that’s often the point: to escape to a more pristine, natural environment and get away from the burdens of our busy lives.

But a growing number of us are escaping much closer to home. There are vital climbing environments popping up near the cities and towns where many of us live, work, and play. For many climbers, urban rock is a valuable resource for training and local adventure.

Urban climbing has been going on in small pockets for decades. Early American mountaineers and the stonemasters of Yosemite honed their craft at Indian Rock in Berkeley and Stony Point in Los Angeles. DC climbers have been finding refuge at Great Falls and Carderock outside our nation’s capital for years. And phenom Ashima Shiraishi learned to climb at Rat Rock in New York City’s Central Park, which remains a training ground for the Gunks and an urban climbing area in its own right.

Over the last decade, a growing number of towns and cities have welcomed climbing in their parks and greenways as a use of community open space. Local climbing organizations and the Access Fund regularly work with city and town officials to encourage climbing access and support stewardship and management.

While a new norm seems to be emerging, many municipal land managers or authorities still don’t accept climbing as a welcome recreational activity. More often than not, their concerns fall into one of three categories: 1) potential liability in the event of an accident, 2) unacceptable impacts to natural resources or other park users, or 3) lack of resources to manage another recreational use. These are legitimate concerns, but they can be overcome with some smart advocacy efforts and a bit of help from your local climbing organization and the Access Fund.

OVERCOMING LIABILITY CONCERNS. Climbing is perceived as an extremely high risk sport, and land owners are often concerned with exposing themselves to liability in the event of an accident. But there are various layers of liability protection, including state recreational use statutes, case law, waiver systems, access agreements, and other basic strategies that could easily alleviate liability concerns.

ADDRESSING IMPACTS. Any time people (climbers or otherwise) interact with the natural world, there are impacts. But a smart climbing management plan and ongoing stewardship efforts from committed local climbers can mitigate these impacts.

LENDING RESOURCES. Many city and town governments are plagued by budget cuts and a lack of resources. This is where a trusted local climbing organization can step up to help. There are numerous examples of urban crags across the country that are managed, at least in part, by local climbing organizations who volunteer their time or resources to staff entrance gates, manage trash services, or oversee waiver systems.

BOOSTING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. Towns with climbing nearby almost always see a positive flow of dollars to their community. Whether filling up their gas tanks, grabbing dinner at a nearby restaurant, crashing at a local hotel, or grabbing last-minute necessities from local outdoor gear shops, climbing visitors are spending.

INCREASING PUBLIC HEALTH. And there’s no arguing the public health benefits of getting people outside and engaged in an active pursuit. 

Photo courtesy of © Merrick Ales

January 30, 2015

Ticked Off

Ticked Off


Ever arrive at a boulder problem to find the (very obvious) finishing jug ticked in thick, white chalk? Or climbed a route that is caked with gooey chalk on each and every hold?

Despite the obvious benefit of chalk for climbing—its drying effect on sweaty hands—climbers can often get carried away with it. Over the years, chalk gets caked onto holds, forming layers, which affects the texture of the rock and the friction of that very poor sloper. Too many ticks can also cause confusion on a route, botch on-sight attempts, and ruin the self-discovery and problem-solving aspect of climbing.

Too much chalk can also have a negative visual impact that can be a deal breaker for landowners and other recreationalists. This visual impact of chalk and tick marks can lead to chalk restrictions (take Garden of the Gods or Arches National Park, for example).

It’s in every climber’s best interest to minimize tick marks and overly chalked holds. Here are a few things to keep in mind next time you’re out at the crag:

  • Keep ticks to a minimum. This might seem obvious, but to many it’s not. If you are going to tick (and we’ve all done it), take a few minutes to brush off the tick marks before you leave.
  • Choose the right kind of brush for your rock type. Certain bristles can negatively affect certain types of rock. For example, nylon brushes can damage sensitive rock like sandstone. The best go-to brush is a Lapis Boar’s Hair Brush, which doesn’t polish or erode the rock.
  • Use chalk lightly in areas where it won’t be cleaned off naturally by rain, like overhangs, caves, and desert environments.
  • Consider using Eco Chalk by Metolius, an alternative that can lessen the visual impact.
  • Get involved with your local climbing organization. Help initiate a chalk cleanup day at your local climbing area.

Photo courtesy of © Andrew Kornylak

Special thanks to guest contributor Whitney Boland


January 13, 2015

Mixed Emotions: The Impacts and Implications of Dry-Tooling


By Dougald McDonald

Two stunning vertical ice climbs, the Rigid Designator and the Fang, split a limestone bowl above East Vail, Colorado. Behind these classic pillars is an overhanging cliff that helped launch the modern mixed-climbing revolution, starting with Jeff Lowe’s visionary Octopussy back in 1994. Over the following two decades, this soft rock bore the brunt of hundreds if not thousands of dry-tooling ascents, leaving divots drilled by monopoints and rows of scratches carved by frontpoints and tool picks. As one climber put it, the most popular routes look like they’ve been attacked by Freddy Krueger.

Such is the price of dry-tooling on soft stone. And in places like Vail where the rock is much too chossy for rock climbing, and only ice and mixed climbers ever see the cliff up close, the scars don’t bother many people.

But what happens when dedicated dry-toolers venture onto established rock climbs in search of new places to ply their craft? Dry-tooling is still a tiny subset of our sport, but the numbers have grown steadily in recent years with improvements in gear and the widespread development of bolt-protected “M climbing.” Dry-tooling may seem weird to many climbers, but it’s challenging, strenuous, and plenty fun.

“As mixed climbers get stronger, more and more people are able to do hard dry-tooling, and they’re looking for new terrain,” says Joe Sambataro, access director at the Access Fund.

So far, conflicts between dry-toolers and rock climbers have been relatively rare, and dry-tooling has not raised the hackles of land managers. “Most dry-tooling areas are separate from rock climbing areas, so they coexist,” Sambataro says. “However, mixed climbers need to tread lightly to prevent future access issues.”

Dry-Tooling: Best Practices

  1. To avoid conflict, avoid existing rock routes. Most areas have chossy or mossy cliffs, road cuts, quarries, masonry walls, or other areas suitable for dry-tooling where rock climbers never tread.
  2. When in doubt, ask first. Local tradition may accept dry-tooling on certain routes, but don’t assume a splitter tips crack is ripe for torqueing just because there’s snow on the ground. At the risk of sparking a flame war, you can quickly get a sense of what’s generally accepted by posting a query at sites like Mountain Project, Cascade Climbers, and NE Ice.
  3. Avoid soft rock. Dry-tooling causes much less damage—and generates less controversy—on harder stone like granite or gneiss than soft limestone or sandstone. And if you do dry-tool on existing rock climbs, choose steep routes with big holds. “It’s really bad style to destroy a good rock route just because you want to hone your thin mixed skills,” says Minnesota climber James Loveridge.
  4. Wear rock shoes for warm-season dry-tooling. Crampons generally cause more damage than ice tools. Plus, as Loveridge points out, dry-tooling in rock shoes can improve your footwork for summertime rock routes. “I’ve learned all sorts of subtle ways to make my feet stay on the rock,” he says.
  5. Train on an artificial wall. To learn the subtleties of technique, you need to climb outside. But to get stronger, a wall or home woody works great. Gyms such as CityRock in Colorado Springs or the Minnesota Climbing Co-Op allow dry-tooling in designated areas or off-hours. There also are special indoor-climbing tools designed to hook over plastic holds (alpkit.com/drytooling; schmoolz.com).
  6. Be careful when rappelling. At many areas, crampons scratch the rock more during lower-offs and rappels than during actual ascents. Stay on the ice when rappelling or lowering, and remove your crampons before descents—but only if it’s safe to do so.

This is an excerpt from Mixed Emotions: The Impacts and Implications of Dry-Tooling, published in the Winter 2012 issue of the Vertical Times. See the full article here.