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.  

January 06, 2015

Seven Surefire Ways to Lose Climbing Access

7 Surefire Ways to Lose Climbing Access

After 20-plus years of working to protect climbing access, the Access Fund has seen nearly every scenario for how to lose access to our precious crags and boulder fields. Some of those situations are beyond the control of the average climber. But the majority of access issues can be averted if climbers avoid some common pitfalls.

  1. Disrespecting the climbing environment. When you litter, trample vegetation, leave tick marks, cut trail, improperly dispose of human waste, or stash pads, you are damaging the climbing environment. Every climbing area has a threshold, and it’s only a matter of time before unmitigated impacts cause a landowner to shut it down.
  2. Overcrowding. An overcrowded climbing area has a huge impact on the environment (trampled vegetation, unacceptable noise levels, etc), but it’s also a red flag to a land manager that impacts may be teetering on the line of unacceptable. If you get to a climbing area and the parking lot is jam packed, consider finding another, less crowded place to climb.
  3. Accidents. Whenever a climber gets hurt, a landowner gets nervous. Every landowner, both public and private, is concerned about liability on some level. Unfortunately, accidents do happen. The best way to avoid them is to be prepared, don’t take unnecessary risks, and be safe. And if you’re a beginner, don’t go outside without a mentor to teach you properly.
  4. Disrespecting the landowner. It doesn’t matter if you’re climbing on private land or public land, when you see a ranger or a landowner, remember that you’re on THEIR turf, and you represent the climbing community at large. A bad impression goes a long way and puts climbers in a negative light. So smile, say “thank you,” and follow their rules.
  5. Not respecting closures. Many climbing areas have seasonal or permanent closure areas to protect nesting raptors, cultural resources like petroglyphs and sacred sites or sensitive plant life. Respect those closures and stay away from sensitive resources, or risk losing access to the rest of the climbs.
  6. Bolting inappropriately. Most public and private landowners have regulations about where and how you can install bolts. For instance, it’s illegal to use a power drill in a designated wilderness area. Know the rules and ethics at the area before you bolt.
  7. Failing to organize. When climbers come together, we keep more climbing areas open. Access Fund relies on local climbing organizations to be the first line of defense when access issues occur. When locals form an organized group, it’s easier to partner with landowners, have political clout with town and state governments, and get resources to care for your climbing areas.

December 05, 2014

The Inside Scoop: HUECO TANKS

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 3.28.25 PM

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. 



What challenges does the Hueco climbing community face right now?

One of our biggest challenges is education. Hueco is a sensitive desert environment with some spectacular cultural resources in the form of petroglyphs and sacred sites. We see many climbers from all reaches of the globe, and we work hard to make sure everyone understands how to climb here responsibly.

What does the access situation look like at Hueco?

A Public Use Plan was implemented in 1998, putting certain parameters around park access. Seventy-five percent of the park is accessible only through a guided tour, while the other 25 percent has a limited number of day-use slots. Climbers have to plan ahead to gain entry into the park.

Are there currently any threats to climbing access?

Some local residents have voiced concern that they cannot gain access to the park because it is monopolized by climbers. There are groups who would like to limit all climbing in the park.

How do you address overcrowding?

We help the park monitor impacts and manage traffic to certain areas. Climbing tours tend to bottleneck in certain areas and cause too much impact. We became concerned with the overcrowding and proposed that the park break popular areas into zones and force the guides to be specific about which zones they were visiting. This allowed the park to better manage the traffic, lessen impacts, and create a more pleasant experience for visitors.

How is the relationship between climbers and the land managers?

Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) manages the park. We have a lot of respect for them and keep the lines of communication open.

What are the local ethics at Hueco?

We have a pretty clear code of ethics that we ask all climbers to follow:

• The desert is a fragile environment that does not recover from heavy traffic quickly. Do not place pads on plants and do not drag your pad over dirt areas. This increases erosion. Please pick your pad up and replace it.

• Leave artifacts untouched. Respect closures and avoid climbing at pictograph sites, even if a closure sign is not present.

• Always respect the plant life and under no circumstances remove or prune plant life, even if it gets in the way of a boulder problem.

• No colored chalk, rosins, or pof.

• Leave no trace. Erase tick marks and pack out all trash, especially climbing tape.

• Stick to established trails.

• While on backcountry tours, listen to your guide. Their knowledge of the park and climbing problems is an important link in the climber and park relationship.

• Do not modify holds. Hueco is a huge park; a better problem is right around the corner.

• Respect park staff. Make sure you are outside the park gate or in the campground by closing. That means packing up to leave a half hour before the park closes. 

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

Set aside the “send and crush” mentality, and take a step back and look around. Hueco is anamazing place! Remember to appreciate your environment and treat it with respect.

Photo courtesy of Sam Davis ©

October 24, 2014

Access Fund Celebrates 20 Years of History at Golden Cliffs

North Table Mountain (aka Golden Cliffs) presides over the City of Golden Colorado, and is a staple for many climbers on the Front Range. It is a place where new climbers test their skills on basalt columns; where outdoor programs expose youth to the thrill of climbing and importance of environmental stewardship; and where seasoned climbers find a winter refuge in sunny southern slopes.

This afternoon, Friday October 24th, Access Fund staff and board directors, members of the Peery Family, Jefferson County officials, and members of the local climbing community will gather to celebrate the rich history of Golden Cliffs at North Table Mountain in Golden, Colorado. We will commemorate the legacy of longtime landowner Mayford Peery, celebrate Access Fund’s 20 years of ownership, and officially present Golden Cliff’s to Jefferson County Open Space.

GoldenclimberEarlier this summer Access Fund transferred Golden Cliffs to Jefferson County for long-term ownership and conservation. The property will become the southern gateway to North Table Mountain Park. Its hiking and climbing access trails already connect to the county park, and this 29-acre property is a snug fit in the greater open space area.

“It's clear that Jefferson County has demonstrated a real commitment to recreation and it’s obvious the County is the right home for this piece of property,” says Brady Robinson, Executive Director. 

Access Fund and the County have worked together to ensure climbing access for the thirty thousand climbers that visit the crag every year. The transfer guarantees that climbing access will not be affected unless natural disasters or wildlife protection issues temporarily restrict public access. If the County is unable to work within these agreements, the Access Fund will regain ownership of the cliffs.

“We’re excited that this is going forward in a way that preserves the legacy of Mayford Peery and his generous gift to the climbing community,” says Joe Sambataro, National Access Director. Peery, who passed away in 2009 at the age of 89, made considerable contributions to the Golden community through conservation, development, and business. 

Seasoned climbing advocates Becky Hall and Chris Archer have contributed significant time and energy to safeguard this transition. Chris Archer warmly remembers sitting down and meeting with Mayford in 1994 to complete the donation. And Access Fund ‘lifer’ Rico Thompson led efforts to establish the trailhead and tended Access Fund’s management of the crag for nearly 15 years.

The late Mark Hesse, founder of Rocky Mountain Field Institute and visionary leader in climbing access and trail work, organized significant trail improvements in 2005. In recent years, land stewards such as Colorado Mountain Club and Ben Schneider and Jason Haas of Fixed Pin Publishing helped maintain the area’s trails and trailhead while fighting off invasive plant species and social trails. 

 Adopt A Crag Group Photo 2 (1)

The conservation of Golden Cliffs is one of the Access Fund’s most historic accomplishments and a testament to the dedication and passion of a landowner and the local climbing community. As one of the Access Fund’s signature acquisition projects in the 90s, Golden Cliffs was a model project for initiating the Access Fund Land Conservation Campaign in 2009. Golden Cliffs wouldn’t be what it is today without the support of thousands of climbers, local residents, and stewards. The Access Fund extends our gratitude to everyone who helped protect this unique climbing resource over the decades, and we will continue this legacy by supporting the County with ongoing stewardship.  





October 06, 2014

Inside Scoop: Red River Gorge

Red river gorge logo tighter

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 new Inside Scoop series, we'll 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: RED RIVER GORGE, KY


What challenges does the Red River Gorge climbing community face right now?

The Red River Gorge is unique in that there are so many different land owners that all have different rules and expectations. And the climbing at the Red is some of the best on the planet, so we see a tremendous amount of use-many areas are  “loved to death". We encourage everyone to work as a team to mitigate overuse and abuse of our precious climbing resources.

What are your most pressing access issues?

We face many of the same issues that other climbing communities face, but two that are super prominent in the Red are human waste and overcrowding.

What is the best option for human waste disposal in the Red?

With the Red's climate and soil, if human waste is buried properly (in an 8" deep cathole), nature can take its course in a reasonable amount of time. But nothing beats packing it out.

And how do you address the overcrowding issue?

We try to educate climbers-if a crag is crowded, consider going to another one. There are many to choose from!

How is the relationship between climbers and local land owners and community members?

We've put a significant amount of effort into being seen as a respectful user group, so the relationships are generally very good. The locals have realized that rock climbers are in the area to stay, and they see that we contribute a lot to the local economy. We encourage climbers-visitors and locals-to express their appreciation to landowners and to tread lightly.

What would you describe as the local ethics at the Red?

The ethic is to respect your elders and run it to the chains. No, seriously, it 's simple: treat it like it's your own. Take pride in our climbing areas, and treat them like your own property. If you need guidance, check the rules in our land use waiver at rrgcc.org.

Any recent victories in the Red?

We just acquired the Miller Fork Recreational Preserve (MFRP), with help from the Access Fund, which was a big milestone for us and an interesting model for other LCOs. There was very little route development and zero trail, parking, or other infrastructure-we essentially purchased a "future" climbing area. This gives us the opportunity to build things correctly from the beginning. We are also announcing joint membership with the Access Fund, which is an exciting opportunity for climbers to support both national access work and Red River Gorge access work with a single membership.

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

Before you go climbing, do your research on where you are going, who owns it, and what their expectations are. And remember rock climbing is not free, so please consider donating to the Red River Gorge Climbers' Coalition as well as the private landowners that pour their blood, sweat, and tears into their property so that you can climb there.•

Photo courtesy of Peter McDermott ©

September 26, 2014

A Wilderness Trail Day

~Mike & Amanda (aka The Conservation Team)

The Pacific Northwest is an adventurous climber’s dream. Long hikes into remote peaks and crags challenge climbers’ fitness and resolve, while towering granite peaks and spires inspire one to explore. So we were pretty psyched when we learned that we’d be heading to Darrington, Washington to work at a crag known as 3 O’clock Rock in the Boulder River Wilderness.

Long before we arrived in town, local volunteers had reached out to Access Fund to identify the issues that we could help address. These partners—including Washington Climbers Coalition, The Mountaineers, and the Darrington Ranger District—worked hard on the ground for months before we showed up to lay the groundwork for a successful Adopt a Crag project.

After arriving in town, it became clear that much of the trail work the team had planned was for sections of trail that lay inside a federally designated Wilderness area, which added an additional layer of planning to abide by Wilderness standards.

Darrington Wilderness Sign
Federally protected Wilderness areas have strict regulations to maintain their wild nature. Mechanized equipment is prohibited, and any trail work must be done with an eye to retaining the trails primitive character. That meant we were going to have to remove a large 3-foot diameter log (which had been blocking the trail for a few years) by hand with a crosscut saw. Most of our trail work is done using simple hand tools anyway, so the Wilderness designation didn’t have a huge impact on our work process.

The introduction of a crosscut saw to the mix did turn into a novel and fun experience for volunteers.

Darrington Cross cut saw
In the end, the project was a great success. With the help of 15 volunteers, we constructed a set of stone stairs, shored up a handful of drainage structures, cleared overgrowth from a half mile of trail, and removed the aforementioned tree.

Darrington group shot
We are grateful for the opportunity to work in and help maintain such an amazing Wilderness climbing area, and are thankful for Washington Climbers Coalition, The Mountaineers, and the Darrington Ranger District for making this such a successful project.

September 05, 2014

Inside Scoop: RED ROCKS

Inside scoop red rocks

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 valuable insight into 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 new Inside Scoop series, we'll connect you with local climbing access leaders at some of the country's top climbing destinations for valuable insight into local climbing ethics and issues.

Destination: RED ROCKS, NEVADA


What’s happening on the Red Rocks access front right now?

We’re in the middle of working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on the Red Rocks Wilderness Management Plan—the plan will govern the placement and replacement of fixed anchors in Red Rocks wilderness, so it’s a pretty big deal. That effort has been ongoing for many years and has included the hard work of many LVCLC members, the Access Fund, and our climbing rangers with the BLM.

What are some challenges that climbers are facing at Red Rocks?

Our largest long-term issue is bolt replacement. Although many of the great classic routes, both sport and traditional, are safely equipped with modern hardware, there are a large number of really fun and popular routes that are unsafe and past the point of being merely adventurous
in their current condition. There are still many 20-plus-year-old, threaded, 3/8" non–stainless steel bolts on many routes at Red Rocks. The local climbing community is working on these replacements.

Parking is also a challenge. Visitor volume has topped one million annually, and that kind of traffic creates some difficulties for climbers at certain pullouts within the one-way loop currently used to access most
of the park. The BLM is considering how to expand current parking, but we are also working with them to reestablish a parking area just outside the gates where climbers can meet and carpool.

What’s the best option for human waste disposal at Red Rocks?

Human waste disposal is a real challenge in a sensitive desert environment—feces don’t break down in the same way that they do in other parts of the country. The best strategy is to pack it out. We’ve built and installed five waste bag dispensers at locations throughout Red Rocks and work hard to keep them supplied with bags.

How’s the relationship between climbers and rangers at Red Rocks?

We are very fortunate to have an extremely collaborative BLM climbing ranger to work with. Years of work have gone into building a positive relationship with the climbing rangers, who provide us with valuable information and insight about BLM policy and planning. It’s critical for locals and visitors alike to show these folks the same respect that they show us.

How would you describe the local ethics of Red Rocks?

Local climbing ethics and the opinions of those who call Red Rocks home are as varied as the type of climbing encountered here. But overall, I would say that we agree that maintaining the adventure character of canyon routes is important. That bouldering or climbing on soft sandstone after a good rain is a source of angst, and so is not respecting culturally sensitive areas and not cleaning up after yourself or your dog.

Any words of wisdom for folks visiting Red Rocks for the first time?

Remember that your actions reflect on all of us. Have fun and enjoy Red Rocks—there is something here for everyone!

Oh, and don’t feed the burros! Just kidding. But really, don’t.


August 21, 2014

Expert Team Assesses Fixed Anchors on Forbidden Peak

~ Joe Sambataro, Access Fund Northwest Regional Director

Forbidden Peak attracts thousands of climbers from all parts of the world. Its knife blade ridges tower over glaciers below and provide breathtaking views of the Stephen Mather Wilderness of North Cascades National Park (NOCA). The West Ridge, cited as one of America’s Fifty Classic Climbs, sees a significant amount of traffic from aspiring mountaineers and experienced alpinists alike, and has been the center of attention due to controversy over fixed anchors.

Forbidden Peak mist

In March, we published a blog post, North Cascades National Park Skirts DO#41 Guidelines, questioning the circumstances under which the park removed bolts from the descent of the popular Forbidden Peak. The removal of these bolts initiated a collaborative response by Access Fund and its partners to urge NOCA to establish protocol for fixed anchors that aligns with generally accepted practices and the National Park Service’s recent Director’s Order #41. (For an overview of what DO #41 means for climbing and bolts, see this blog post.) Access Fund and twelve climbing, environmental, and wilderness organizations agreed that an important step for considering a protocol was to complete an objective assessment of Forbidden Peak’s fixed anchors by a team of climbing and wilderness experts.

I joined this team of experts on August 18th and climbed the late-season approach to the West Ridge, helping the team document, analyze, and photograph the various fixed anchors used to rappel the route. The park sent two climbing rangers to accompany our assessment team.

Forbidden Peak assessment team

Assessment Team
Doug Walker, American Alpine Club and the Wilderness Society
Jeff Ward, American Mountain Guides Association and North Cascades Mountain Guides
Joe Sambataro, Access Fund Northwest Regional Director
Jonah Harrison, Washington Climbers Coalition

Katherine Hollis, The Mountaineers
Mark Butler, Independent Consultant and Former NPS Superintendent

With high rock fall hazard in the area, we carefully coordinated teams of two to ascend and descend. While the preferred method of reaching the West Ridge is a prominent snow gully, it melts out as early as July, forcing climbers to ascend and descend rock to the left of the main gully. This section of the mountain is notorious for loose rock, demanding we exercise extra caution.

During the climb, we assessed the climbing conditions, the need for fixed anchors (bolts specifically), and various options for climbing management at NOCA. Following our assessment, we replaced worn slings with new cord along the preferred line of alternate descent when the snow gully is melted out. We also removed poorly placed rappel stations in an effort to steer climbers in the best direction, improve the visitor experience, and mitigate the impact of extraneous rappel stations.

Forbidden Peak Tat

The two park climbing rangers, Interim Wilderness District Ranger Kevork Arackellian and Wilderness Ranger Erin McKay, climbed the East Ridge and joined our team for the descent, but did not formally participate in the evaluation. The assessment team shared positive dialogue with the rangers, who dedicate their time to stewarding these remote alpine areas, coordinating rescues, and managing wilderness recreation.

Now back on solid ground, we are working to compile our observations and share insights on NOCA fixed anchor management and how the fixed anchors on Forbidden Peak might impact Wilderness character, as listed in the Wilderness Act’s section 2(c): natural, untrammeled, solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation, undeveloped, and other features of value. While Forbidden Peak’s West Ridge is the focus of the assessment, we will also evaluate fixed anchors in the broader context of the Stephen Mather Wilderness Area. Access Fund Policy Director Erik Murdock will work to publish the assessment team’s findings into a final report.

Thanks to all the team members, the assessment climb was a success. This day in the field created a positive framework for working more collaboratively with NOCA as they develop their Wilderness Stewardship Plan. We thank both rangers who accompanied the assessment team, as well as Park Superintendent Karen Taylor-Goodrich for their time and efforts.

It is the sincere hope of Access Fund and our partners that this report will help inform North Cascades National Park in their effort to find a balanced approach to fixed anchors. As the first formal field assessment of fixed anchors since the issuance of NPS Director’s Order #41, this report will also serve as an example for other wilderness climbing areas around the country.


August 12, 2014

Don't Make Rescue an Access Issue

Consider this...you’re sport climbing at a popular crag in a very rural area. A few routes over, someone misses a clip, takes a fall, and decks. His legs are broken. You manage to get cell service and call 911. The dispatcher asks where you are and you tell her the name of the crag. She doesn’t know where that is, so she asks for nearby roads. But you’re from out of town and don’t know. Precious time is wasted as you and the 911 operator try to figure out where you are. When rescue does arrive, emotions run high and rescuers ask you to step aside, but you want to help. Later there’s criticism that climbers didn’t help the rescue go smoothly.

Yosemite Helicopter Rescue_David Pope
Members of the Yosemite Helicopter Rescue Team prepare in El Capitan Meadow for a short haul mission to rescue an injured climber that is stranded mid face. PHOTO David Pope

Search and rescue isn’t typically thought of as an access issue, but it can be. For those rare and unfortunate instances when climbers get in trouble, rescue is a critical part of overall climbing management. When climbers understand how rescue operations work and support their local rescue squad, rescues can go much more smoothly. But if climbers get in the way or don’t build a supportive relationship with their rescue squad, things can go sideways. This can cause negative attention from the land manager and have serious consequences for access.

Here are ways that you can support successful rescues:

  • Be proactive with your LCO and share information. LCOs should reach out to help local rescue authorities improve response times by providing maps and information on where climbers are—names of crags, routes, access trails, and nearby roads.
  • Follow instructions. When a rescue is called in, a legally regulated response is set in motion. Climbers should recognize that a rescue squad has authority and final say on all rescue actions. Follow instructions and respect their decisions.
  • Don’t create another rescue situation. We all want to help, but if you’re at the site of an accident and decide to intervene, you may create another unsafe situation for rescue personnel. Know your limitations and be conservative. It can be a tough decision, but standing by might be the safest choice and the best way for the rescue to proceed quickly and safely.
  • Ask first if you want to help. If you want to help, tell the rescue personnel what you can offer, including any relevant first aid, rescue, or guiding certifications you may have. They may welcome another helping hand, but you should ask first.
  • Be sensitive with helicopter rescues. Helicopter rescues are especially high risk. If strict protocol isn’t followed, the pilot may abandon the rescue, which places everyone at greater risk. Follow rescue squad instructions and do not interfere.
  • Join your local rescue squad. Many rescue teams may benefit from a climber’s experience and expertise. Some of the best mountain rescue teams in the world are composed of highly experienced climbers.
  • Support your local rescue squad. Many rescue teams are under-funded or run entirely by volunteers. Make a donation or hold a fundraising event with your LCO that benefits the local squad.

It’s critical to respect the rules and protocol for rescue operations and to build partnerships with rescue teams so they can benefit from climbers’ experience and knowledge of climbing areas. Working together, we can save lives and keep our climbing areas open.