March 24, 2016

Let's Talk About Poop

Everybody does it. Whether you’re cragging, hanging off the side of a big wall, or making your way across a glacier, poop happens. But did you know that the improper disposal of human waste is becoming a growing problem at our climbing areas...and it can threaten access. Land managers don’t look kindly on human feces coming in contact (direct or indirect) with drinking water, other recreationalists, or wildlife. Not to mention the transmission of disease-causing pathogens from human waste. Gross, right? Here are some tips to help you take care of business responsibly.


March 14, 2016

What National Monuments Mean for Climbing

It is difficult to imagine the American climbing scene minus National Monuments. Teddy Roosevelt established Devils Tower in 1906, and since then, several iconic climbing areas such as Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Pinnacles, Joshua Tree, and Gates of the Arctic have been protected as presidential National Monuments. (Some of these areas have since been re-designated as National Parks by Congress.) President Barack Obama has created or expanded 22 National Monuments during his term—the most of any president, with over 2 million acres of public land protected.

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However, presidential National Monuments can be controversial and somewhat tricky for recreational access. The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the President of the United States the executive authority to proclaim a National Monument, a tool that is often used when Congressional gridlock prevents federal lands from being protected and conserved. In the late 1800s, early conservationists recognized that America’s historic and cultural treasures were being stolen by looters and needed to be protected. The Antiquities Act was easily passed by Congress and signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 in order to protect "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest" as National Monuments.

Over the past century, many legislators (both state and federal) have criticized a President who chooses to proclaim a National Monument, on the basis that the designation may lack local support, prohibit mining and grazing, and weaken local economies. Despite criticisms, the Antiquities Act has been used by 16 presidents (both Democrat and Republican) to proclaim nearly 150 National Monuments, some of which have since changed designation or been abolished.

The Access Fund believes that climbing, and other forms of low-impact recreation, are appropriate ways for the public to experience National Monuments. But, it is important for climbers to understand what this designation means for climbing access. As President Obama wraps up his second term, we have seen, and expect to see more, new National Monument designations that could impact climbing. While Access Fund often supports the conservation goals of National Monument designations, we must acknowledge that National Monuments are created to protect antiquities, not climbing. In general, we prefer that Congress protect these areas through legislation, instead of the President using the Antiquities Act. Legislation is not bound by the confines of the Antiquities Act and can more easily protect recreation values. And since a law is passed after a majority of legislators agree, there is typically more support for legislated protection than for an executive order.

However, the Antiquities Act is an important conservation tool that we support. National Monument designations can be executed in a way that protect both antiquities and climbing, and the Access Fund policy team is working hard to ensure that the President understands the locations and values of climbing resources before making decisions. We have a much better chance of protecting climbing access if these recreational opportunities are acknowledged in the President’s National Monument proclamations. Having this acknowledgment is essential to ensuring that land management agencies develop plans that appropriately protect climbing opportunities, and it paves the way for our seat at the table when these plans are being developed.

December 08, 2015

Top 10 Climbing Access Victories of 2015

We often get asked "what do I get for my annual membership?" It's a great question and one that we love answering. While there are a few fun perks of membership (like discounts), the true benefit of membership is open and conserved climbing areas. 

The Access Fund is proud to put over 80 cents of every membership dollar directly toward keeping climbing areas open and conserved through six core programs: climbing policy & advocacy, land acquisition & protection, stewardship & conservation, risk management & landowner support, local support & mobilization, and education

Here are just a handful of victories that we're proud to announce this year, in partnership with local climbing organizations and partners across the nation.  

2015 Top 10 Climbing Access Victories (1)

Your support makes this work possible! Please consider joining, renewing, or making an additional gift today. Thanks to our partners at Sea to Summit we are happy to offer a FREE Ultra-Sil Day Pack to the first 100 people to join, renew, or make a gift over $35 this week! Enter Promo Code SEA100 at checkout.

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Dive Deeper

  1. Access preserved at 229 climbing areas across the nation. See the full list!
  2. $10,000 awarded for bolt replacement through our new Anchor Replacement Fund, in collaboration with the American Alpine Club.
  3. 765 Acres of climbing acquired for long-term protection.
  4. Donner Summit Saved!
  5. ROCK Project leads climber education movement, engaging thousands of climbers in multi-day events in San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Denver, New York City, Seattle, and Atlanta. 
  6. Access to The Homestead secured.
  7. Conservation Team stewards 33 climbing areas across 24 states, engaging 1,050 volunteers along the way.
  8. 32,535 volunteer hours caring for climbing areas through the Adopt a Crag program.
  9. 163 hours advocating for climbers’ interests in Washington, DC.
  10. Access Fund named first-ever accredited land trust for climbing areas


December 02, 2015


20150511-CVB-26Indian Creek. Hueco Tanks. Joshua Tree. Red Rocks. Joe’s Valley. The desert environment is home to iconic climbing destinations. Characterized by little precipitation and sparse populations, the stark landscape of the desert is uniquely fragile and full of life. As such, the desert environment demands some specific minimum- impact practices to protect its sensitive and historically significant terrain.

As you are planning your next desert adventure to climb splitter cracks and towers or wrestle beautifully shaped and colored boulders, keep these six things in mind.

  1. Cryptobiotic soil, or living biological crust, can be destroyed with a single step. This dark, crumbly looking soil is a living crust that plays an important ecological role in many desert environments by drawing nutrients into the soil while protecting it from erosion by wind and rain. Stay on established trails and durable, low-impact corridors to avoid crushing this delicate crust, which can take decades to regenerate.
  2. Desert soil lacks the microorganisms to biodegrade human waste. Use facilities where available or pack out your poop. We recommend the RESTOP bag, which is easy to use and seals the stink.
  3. The desert is home to sites of cultural and historical significance. Look, but don’t touch. Not only does the Archaeological Resources Protection Act make it a federal crime to steal or destroy artifacts, but the oils on our fingers, the chalk on our hands, and the rubber on our shoes can ruin these resources. Access Fund works with land management agencies to ensure a balanced approach to protecting culturally significant resources, such as petroglyphs and Native American sacred sites, and maintaining climbing access. Respect all closures.
  4. Climbing on wet sandstone can forever alter the rock and cause gear placements to fail. Always wait 24–48 hours after a rain to climb on sandstone to avoid damaging the rock and risking weak gear placements.
  5. Plant communities are highly sensitive and stressed. Searing heat, low water, and high winds regularly abuse desert plants. Pay careful attention to gear sprawl, pad placement, and off-trail travel to avoid additional challenges for these special plants.
  6. Horsehair brushes are best for cleaning chalk and debris from sandstone. Use one to avoid damaging the porous rock surface. 

Photo courtesy of ©Whit Richardson


November 23, 2015



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

Destination: INDIAN CREEK, UT

What does the access situation look like in Indian Creek?

Access remains great at Indian Creek, and for that we are incredibly fortunate. But that can always change. Climbers need to respect and adhere to the policies. I have seen entire crags closed (notably, Donnelly and Supercrack!) and reopened, so we must always be vigilant! Access is earned, not given!

Are there currently any threats to climbing access?

No, but there have been many administrative turnovers at BLM and in the Canyonlands district—any time this happens, there may be shifts in field office policy. One of the greatest challenges in advocacy is maintaining relationships with stakeholders, especially when personnel revolve. It is imperative that climbers understand this and do their best to exceed expectations in any given area, as the next land manager may not be as keen to give us liberties.

Does the Creek experience overcrowding? If so, how do you address it?

That’s a tough question. Indian Creek is vast and can accommodate large numbers of visitors, particularly if folks disperse. But the infrastructure only goes so far. Waste management (human and other), camping, and parking are the biggest concerns. Carpooling and dispersing from the most popular areas on busy days always helps. Climbers should never park along the side of the road or in front of a gate if a parking lot is full.

What’s the deal with new camping fees? Why are they necessary?

Visitation to Indian Creek has skyrocketed over the past decade, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) can no longer bear the entire expense to maintain the campgrounds. Waste removal alone is a huge financial burden. If visitors don’t step up to help cover this expense, the resulting impacts will damage this delicate desert environment. The BLM has proposed a fee structure for campsites in the corridor—the effective date is still to be determined.

What’s the best way to dispose of human waste in the Creek?

Plan as best as you can to use the loos. If you have to go and there isn’t a toilet around, pack it out. Desert soil can’t biodegrade human waste. We recommend that all climbers carry a human waste disposal bag, like a RESTOP bag.

How is the relationship between climbers and the land managers?

In recent years, our relationship has been solid. We strive to keep it that way.

What are the local ethics at Indian Creek?

As I mentioned earlier, most of the policies revolve around camping, parking, and waste management. When climbers respect all of these policies, as well as any closures, and follow The Pact, all is well.

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

Be a self-contained unit and pack it all out! Also, don’t co-opt a route for hours. If the crag is crowded and there’s a queue, keep your party moving. If you’ve fallen or hung three times and others are waiting, be respectful and come down.

How can people support Friends of Indian Creek?

You can become a joint member of the Friends of Indian Creek and Access Fund with a single membership! Just visit If you’re signed up for Access Fund emails, keep an eye on your inbox for volunteer opportunities. 

Photo courtesy of Ty Tyler






November 09, 2015

6 Tips to Get Kids Involved in Your Stewardship Projects

By Amanda Peterson, Access Fund Conservation Team

Kid_grip hoist_croppedFor nearly two years, Mike and I have looped around the US, working with passionate and dedicated volunteers on climbing area stewardship projects. The volunteers we get to work with are as diverse as the landscapes we experience each week. But we often find that one rapidly growing segment of our climbing community is underrepresented at Adopt a Crag events—kids. There are definitely some challenges (both real and perceived) to engaging kids in stewardship work. But the value of getting young people involved in caring for outdoor places far outweighs the challenges. They are, after all, the future of climbing area stewardship.

Here are 6 tips for getting more kids involved in your local stewardship efforts.

  1. Consider kids in your marketing strategy. Work with the land manager to identify a minimum age limit, and then be sure that your marketing mentions that kids above the age limit are welcome. Market broadly to reach younger audiences through gyms and social media. Better yet, engage kids to help with the planning process and spreading the word out about your event.
  2. Engage Youth Climbing Teams. Talk to coaches at your local climbing gym and try to get their youth teams involved in your stewardship projects. These kids are the future of climbing, and the earlier they are exposed to stewardship efforts, the more appreciation they will have for protecting their climbing areas.
  3. Make it a family affair. Encourage your regular volunteers to bring their kids, stressing how incredibly important it is to introduce the next generation of climbers to volunteerism. Advise parents to bring plenty of snacks and water. Start with easy jobs and encourage volunteers to work with their kids. Express pride in their work and encourage them to brag about it to their friends.
  4. Identify kid-friendly work projects. Don’t just relegate young volunteers to litter pick-up. While litter removal is important, with good leadership and the appropriate tools, young volunteers are capable of contributing in many rewarding ways, including: graffiti removal, slashing in social trails, restoring and replanting native plants, removing invasive plants, brushing off tick marks, finding crush rock, and clearing the trail corridors.
  5. Make it a learning experience. Focus on doing the work well, not on getting a lot done, and be sure to emphasize why the project is being done. To become lifetime stewards, it’s important that young volunteers understand the positive impact of their efforts and the long-term benefit to their climbing area.
  6. Recognize and reward participation. Be sure to include kids in your event recognition plans. If you plan to offer refreshment, be sure the beer has a non-alcoholic counterpart. For raffles and swag giveaways, include items that appeal to volunteers of all ages, like chalk, brushes, water bottles, hats, youth-sized shirts, and chalk bags. Being recognized will help kids feel psyched, appreciated, and wanting to volunteer again.

Kids_roughing trail

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 Calling Wolfgang, 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.

PaulJungWestwardHaFisheye small

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.