March 31, 2014

Conservation Team Reports from the Ozarks

~Mike & Amanda (aka The Conservation Team)
One week after leaving Oklahoma and making our way to Mount Magazine State Park near Paris, Arkansas we park the Jeep and find ourselves sitting in the middle of the Ozarks resting tired limbs and reflecting on yet another successful project working with volunteers from the local climbing community.
Arriving in Arkansas the week of the project, we set up camp at Brown Springs Campground/Picnic Area. The Arkansas Climbers Coalition, whom we would be working with on this project, had gone out of their way to get us set up with camping accommodations for the week, for which we were extremely grateful. Not only were we minutes away from the work site, but we were also extremely close to the fantastic Savanna Sandstone cliffs that play host to a wide variety of trad and sport climbs at the park. Warm and sunny weather greeted us daily, as we explored the park and began laying plans for the upcoming weekend’s project.
The completed project, which would entail building two stone staircases of significant size and establishing a short section of trail tread, would eliminate a wet and slippery climbing access point that utilized a creek bed. The crag at Mount Magazine faces south and is most frequently used during winter months, exacerbating issues in the creek since it is typically icy during those months. When we first surveyed the site, we realized very quickly that we were looking at a substantial project that would require a tremendous amount of physical effort, and a significant volunteer turnout to achieve the results the park was hoping for. To say that we were initially daunted would be an understatement, but as we explored the site and discussed our options, the pieces began to come together.
Magazine GymOn Wednesday we ventured down to Little Rock to visit the Little Rock Climbing Center. It was great to meet so many enthusiastic climbers interested in what we were up to. Many that we spoke with were excited about the upcoming project on Saturday and planned to make the two-hour drive to help out. We really appreciated the psych and welcome we received from everyone at the gym as well as the enthusiasm for stewardship work.
Magazine LNTThe next morning we awoke to the company of Dani and Roland, the Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer team that would be joining us at the Saturday event. Dani and Roland are employed vagabonds like ourselves, traveling the country educating people about responsible ways to enjoy the outdoors that reduce impacts to the land. Having these experts on hand for the weekend would add yet another voice for the importance of conserving the areas where we play; they are also avid climbers and we were excited to have some friends to hang with at the crag for a couple of days before the project.
The morning of the project we awoke to cool temperatures and partly sunny skies. The forecast earlier in the week had called for rain, but for the moment it appeared that any rain showers that had been predicted would hold off for the morning. We ate a brief breakfast and headed to the trailhead to begin our day. Volunteers arrived at 9 AM and once everyone was registered and had gone through the morning safety briefing we headed for the work site.
Magazine rock moveBuilding stone stairs is a task that requires a strong back and an eye suited for the game of Tetris. It’s also a task that can become cumbersome with too many people due to the fact that you can only work from the bottom up, and the terrain tends to be steep with loose footing. As we began working it became apparent that, with the enthusiastic turnout of volunteers, we had reached critical mass for our trail work site and could disperse to give attention to multiple projects. With this divide-and-conquer strategy, we were able to collect a large garbage bag full of trash, construct a short section of trail, begin work on a second set of stairs, and clear vegetation from the trail corridor along the base of the cliffs. When all was said and done we had established a much more enjoyable access point to the climbing at Mount Magazine, while also improving safety and the sustainability of the trail.
Following the trail building, volunteers were treated to buffet dinner and beverages courtesy of the Arkansas Climbers Coalition, and we gave a slideshow presentation alongside the Leave No Trace Traveling Trainers.
In total, our week in Arkansas was a huge success thanks to the dedication of the Arkansas Climber’s Coalition, volunteers, and staff at Mount Magazine State Park. Without the amazing turnout by volunteers and the cooperation between the park and local climbing community, access to the cliffs at Mount Magazine would still be a slippery ordeal. Thanks to everyone that contributed to this great event!

March 13, 2014

North Cascades National Park Skirts DO#41 Guidelines

In August of 2012, a local climber hand drilled a new two-bolt rappel anchor to improve the hazardous descent off Forbidden Peak in North Cascades National Park (NOCA) in Washington State. Six days later, NOCA staff removed the newly installed bolts, along with a long-established bolted rappel station, leaving the descent route a surprise for unsuspecting climbers.

Forbidden Peak rappels2

Climbers have been enjoying incredible backcountry alpine experiences in the park since the early 1900s, using bolts sparingly since the 1960s, and complying with the established guidelines of the federally designated Wilderness area. The climber who placed the new anchor on the descent of Forbidden Peak was not aware that NOCA prohibited new bolts, because the internal policy was not documented. Therefore, NOCA’s decision to remove the anchors without notifying the public was both confusing and alarming.

However at that time, the National Park Service (NPS) had yet to issue any national guidance on the use of fixed anchors in designated Wilderness, leaving it up to individual parks to interpret the Wilderness Act and other federal regulations on their own. But in May 2013, the NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis signed Director’s Order #41 (DO#41), clarifying the agency’s policy for the placement of fixed anchors in designated Wilderness. Climbers around the country breathed a collective sigh of relief that the new NPS policy eliminated the threat of a national ban on anchors in Wilderness, stating that a fixed anchor “does not necessarily impair the future enjoyment of wilderness or violate the Wilderness Act,” and that fixed anchors “should be rare” and that “authorization will be required.” (See our earlier blog post outlining the implications of DO#41 for climbers.)

2 Bolt Anchor

This new national guidance from the NPS made NOCA’s next decision even more alarming—three months after DO#41 was issued, NOCA staff placed a moratorium on bolts in designated Wilderness—with no public input or process. According to NOCA staff, the bolt moratorium institutionalized the longstanding, undocumented policy to ban bolts, despite bolts having been responsibly placed and used in NOCA wilderness for over 50 years. NOCA justifies the bolt moratorium through an unconventional interpretation of a federal regulation that prohibits damaging mineral resources. However, that interpretation contradicts DO#41 (which interprets that regulation to prohibit chipping, gluing, and gardening—not bolts), is not shared by other national parks, and has not stood up in court. But perhaps most disturbing to the climbing community and wilderness advocates is that these decisions have been made in a vacuum, without public input or well-substantiated analysis.

In January 2014, as part of a broad-based collaboration of 12 climbing and wilderness organizations, we asked NOCA to provide justification and notice to the public before future administrative actions regarding fixed anchors are taken. We also asked to collaborate on a strategy to establish a fixed anchor authorization process, as well as to assess the current state of the Forbidden Peak descent route. However, NOCA has indicated that they don’t plan to address fixed anchor management until they update their 1989 Wilderness Management Plan, which will take an estimated three to five years to finalize.

North Cascades

North Cascades National Park’s fixed anchor policy creates harmful precedent and identifies them as an anomaly within the National Park System. The Access Fund hopes that NOCA will become open to public input and work with the Access Fund and local climbers to establish a strategy to fairly manage fixed anchors in accordance with national-level policy standards. The Access Fund is actively working one this precedent-setting issue at various levels within the National Park Service and Congress.

February 20, 2014

Remembering Mark Hesse

Mark-Hesse-PresentationThis week we have been reflecting on our friend Mark Hesse, longtime climber, conservationist, volunteer, and wilderness educator, who died from unknown causes in a climbing gym in Boulder last month. And we wanted to take a moment to honor him.

Mark dedicated his life to outdoor education and land stewardship. If you’ve ever walked up a trail or a set of stone steps at a climbing area in Utah or Colorado, chances are you have witnessed Mark’s legacy firsthand. Mark had been working on a climbing area stewardship manual for the Access Fund and was actively involved in launching a Front Range trail crew with the Boulder Climbing Community at the time of his passing.

After a long and successful career with Outward Bound, Mark created the American Mountain Foundation and ran it from 1989 to 1998. That organization morphed into the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, which he ran until 2009. Both nonprofits were leaders in the stewardship of climbing areas, building extensive trail networks in Indian Creek and Castle Valley, Utah; Shelf Road, Colorado; and on Colorado 14ers and other high peaks. In 2012, Mark founded Wildscapes Planning and Design, a company focused on trail building and restoration. Mark was the recipient of many awards, including the American Alpine Club’s David Brower Conservation Award in 1995. In 2005 and 2007, he received the Bob Marshall Award for Individual Champion of Wilderness Stewardship presented by the US Forest Service. He climbed and traveled all over the world and made many first ascents on several continents. In 1976, Mark made the first ascent of the southeast face of Mt. Asgard on Baffin Island. In 1982, he soloed the south face of Denali via the Scott-Haston Route. In 1986, he did the alpinestyle first ascent of the northeast buttress of Kangtega (22,241 feet) in Nepal. As recently as 2006, Mark completed a new route on a 20,000-foot peak in Peru.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Mark was still an active climber and trail builder. Even after decades of rugged trail labor, he still had a youthful enthusiasm for the work, and was somewhat notorious for quickly picking all the choice rocks at a worksite for himself. He was incredibly generous with his time and expertise, and truly devoted himself to making the places he loved better for everyone to enjoy.

Mark was a devoted husband and father and is survived by his wife and two grown daughters. All of us here at the Access Fund feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Mark. He will be dearly missed.

~ Steve Matous Executive Director, Outward Bound USA & Former Executive Director, Access Fund
~ Brady Robinson Executive Director, Access Fund

January 16, 2014

Introducing the 2014 New Conservation Team Crew

The Access Fund is thrilled to introduce our new Conservation Team crew for the 2013 tour—Mike Morin and Amanda Peterson.

Mike and Amanda
Mike and Amanda are a husband/wife team who share a passion for stewardship and climbing. A native of Maine, Mike brings experience in trail building and design as well as working with climbers and land managers to build partnerships and complete stewardship projects that protect the environment and improve access to local crags. Amanda is a Coloradan whose love for education and the outdoors led her to work in environmental education. When she’s not working she can be found at local crags, climbing and honing her photography skills. Amanda frequently volunteers her time to build trail at her local climbing areas and enjoys working with youth as a volunteer climbing educator.

Mike and Amanda are excited to hit the road as the 2014 Conservation Team, with stops throughout the lower 48. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to share our passion for stewardship and lend a hand at a lot of different locations across the US,” says Mike.  Amanda adds, “One of the best ways to protect access is to be a good steward of the environment.” They are also psyched to sample the climbing in the areas that they will be visiting and have added a few more volumes to their guidebook collection in preparation for their travels. Along their route, Mike and Amanda will be stopping at climbing gyms to meet local climbers, host education trainings, and pass along information about protecting the environment and our climbing areas!

Mike and Amanda will be headed to the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City later this month to share the Conservation Team story with the outdoor industry. They will then return to Boulder for some training before hitting the road at the beginning of February. Their first official conservation stop on the tour will be Moe’s Valley, Utah, where they’ll work with local volunteers to improve three different landing zones around popular boulders. From there they will make a stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico for a gym visit before heading to Wichita Mountain Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma to continue the work that Eddie and Claire started on last year’s Conservation Team tour.

Please show Mike and Amanda some love if you see their new Jeep Cherokee roll into town to improve your local climbing area!

December 18, 2013

Top 10 Climbing Access Victories of 2013

As the New Year approaches, we invite you to look back with us on some important climbing access victories from 2013. This work, and much more, was made possible by thousands of members, volunteers, and climbing advocates across the country. Thank you for your amazing support throughout the year!

  1. Access preserved at 163 climbing areas across the country, working in partnership with local climbing organizations, volunteers, activists, and land managers. *See below for a full list.
  2. Conservation Team stewards 28 climbing areas, across 22 states, engaging 786 volunteers on their 10 month tour to sustain our nation’s climbing areas. The team also built 13,200 feet of new trail, closed 3,000 feet of social trails, built 20 stone staircases, installed 45 drainage ditches, cleaned 5 cliffs of graffiti, built 16 retaining walls, and cleared 9 areas of trash.
  3. Miller Fork climbing area purchased in partnership with Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition, protecting 309 acres and creating a brand new climbing destination in the Red.
  4. 1 million dollars in grant funding has been put back into local climbing communities through the Climbing Preservation Grants Program since 1991.
  5. NPS legitimizes wilderness climbing with the release of Director’s Order #41, which clarifies the agency’s policy for the management of Wilderness climbing, including the placement, removal, and replacement of fixed anchors. This has been a 20 year effort by Access Fund.
  6. 9 climbing areas opened across the country, including Summit Rock in California; Gold Butte in Colorado, Sandstone in Minnesota, Miller Fork in Kentucky, Jamestown in Arkansas, Signal Mountain in Tennessee; and Torne Valley, Thacher State Park, and Dicke Barre in New York.
  7. 170 hours furthering climber interests in Washington, DC through the Access Fund Climbing Policy & Advocacy program, which works to protect climbing access on our nation’s public lands by educating law makers and keeping climbers’ interests front and center.
  8. First-ever Educate for Access summit brought climbers, educators, gym owners, and athletes together to form strategy around reaching young climbers and helping them become the next generation of climbing area stewards.
  9. Oak Flat legislation defeated again—the 13th defeat of the land exchange that would trade away the popular Oak Flat, AZ climbing area to a mining company, destroying it.
  10. 7 new Local Climbing Organizations formed in California, Arizona, Wyoming, Missouri, and Ohio that will work to keep local climbing areas open and protected.

These victories, and many more, were made possible because of YOUR support.

Please consider making a special, tax deductible, end-of-year donation to the Access Fund. Your contribution will help us continue to expand the work of the Access Fund and protect America’s climbing into 2014 and beyond.

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Did you know that Access Fund recently received a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator? Learn more.

*Acadia National Park, ME; Alapocas Run State Park, DE; Allenspur, MT; Arrow Canyon, NV; Asheboro Boulders, NC; Auburn Quarry, CA; Beacon Rock, WA; Big Rock, CA; Big South Fork, TN/KY; Bishop/Buttermilks, CA; Black Rock, HI; Black Wall, CA; Blue Ridge Parkway, NC; Blue Rock, WV; Boulder Canyon, CO; Bubba City, WV; Callahan, OR; Capitol Reef, UT; Castle Crags, CA; Castle Rock, WA; Castle Rocks BLM, ID; Cedar Mountain, WY; Chapel Ledges, MA; Childbirth, CO; Chimney Rock State Park, NC; Chippewa Creek, OH; Christmas Tree Pass, NV; Clear Creek, CO; Clifton Crags, ME; Coll's Cove, PA; Contender Wall, CO; Curt Gowdy State Park, WY; Cuyahoga National Park, OH; Daniel Boone National Forest, KY; Deep Creek, TN; Denny Cove, TN; Dicke Barre, NY; Dierkes, ID; Dominguez-Escalante, CO; Echo Cliffs, CA; Eldorado State Park, CO; Emigrant Lake, OR; Enchanted Rock, TX; Equinox, WA; Farley Ledge, MA; Flagstaff, AZ; Foster Falls, TN; Garth Rocks, UT; Gold Butte, CO; Goldbar, WA; Golden Cliffs, CO; Governor Stables, PA; Grand Teton National Park, WY; Granite Dells, AZ; Grayson Highlands State Park, VA; Gunks, NY; Handley Rock, CA; Hawksbill, NC; Haycock Mt, PA; High Point, TN; Holy Boulders, IL; Homestead, AZ; Horseshoe Canyon, AR; Horsetooth, CO; Hospital Boulders, AL; Hueco, TX; Ice Cream Parlor, UT; Icicle Creek, WA; Ilchester, MD; Index, WA; Indian Creek, UT; Inyo National Forest, CA; Jailhouse, CA; Jamestown, AR; Joe's Valley, UT; Johnny & Alex, Red River Gorge, KY; Joshua Tree National Park, CA; Kootenai Canyon, MT; Lake Tahoe, NV/CA; Leda, TN; Little Presque Isle, MI; Lory State Park, CO; Lovers Leap, CA; Manchester Wall, VA; Meadow River, WV; Menagerie, OR; Miller Fork, KY; Mississippi Palisades, MS; Moe's Valley, UT; Mt Baker Snoqualmie, WA; Mt Rushmore, SD; Mt. Charleston, NV; Mt. Lemmon/Cochise, AZ; Muir Valley, KY; Needles, CA; North Cascades National Park, WA; North Fork Valley, WV; North Table Mountain, CO; Northern Idaho crag, ID; Oak Flat, AZ; Obed, TN; Olympics, WA; Ouray Ice Park, NV; Painted Bluff, AL; Palisades Park, AL; Palisades, SD; Pere Marquette, IL; Pictured Rocks, IA; Pinnacles National Park, CA; Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest, NC; Pocatello, ID; Pool Wall, CO; Poudre Canyon, CO; Quartz Mt, OK; Ragged Mountain, CT; Red River Gorge Crag, KY; Red Rocks, NV; Rock Woods, MO; Rumbling Bald, NC; Rumney, NH; Ruth Lake, UT; San Juan Mountains, CO; Sand Rock, AL; Sandstone, MN; Seismic Wall, TX; Sequioa National Forest, CA; Sequioa National Park, CA; Shenandoah National Park, VA; Sierra National Forest, CA; Signal Mountain, TN; Sinks Canyon State Park, WY; Skeletal Remains, SD; Skylight Ouray, CO; Society Turn, CO; Sourlands, NJ; South Platte, CO; Steele, AL; Stone Fort/Little Rock City, TN; Summit Rock, CA; Sunset/Chickmauga National Historic Park, TN; Swan Falls, ID; Taylor Falls, MN; Tensleep, WY; Thacher State Park, NY; The Little Crag, CO; Thunder Ridge, CO; Torn Valley, NY; Unaweep Canyon, CO; Vantage, WA; West Rock, CT; Wet Mountain, CO; Whippoorwill, NRG, WV; Whipps Ledges, OH; Whistler Canyon, WA; White Rocks, VA; Whitsides, NC; Wichita Wildlife Refuge, OK; Williamson River Cliffs, OR; Yosemite National Park, CA; Zion National Park, UT; and two climbing areas that must remain confidential at this time.


December 11, 2013

Educate for Access

It’s probably safe to assume that at one point or another you’ve arrived at a climbing area and found music blaring, bits of tape on the ground, tick marks, social trails all over the place, or a group of 15 climbers taking up an entire area with their gear thrown about. More and more, we’ve been hearing the same sentiments: “What’s going on at our climbing areas?” and “What does the Access Fund plan to do about climber education?”


Climber education is a broad topic--covering safety, route development, stewardship, and etiquette. Education, especially stewardship and etiquette, has always been a core part of our mission--we’ve been producing and distributing materials for over 20 years. However, with the needs of the climbing community growing, we knew it was time for us to step up. We took a huge step forward at our 2-day Educate for Access summit this past November in the Gunks. The summit clearly brought to light that climber education needs focused, relevant, regionally specific and nationally recognized leadership.


Ed summit 1

We had 46 influencers from across the nation join the conversation, including climbing gym owners, land managers, professional guides, leaders from local climbing organizations, education professionals, and even a few pro-climbers. Gathered together under the same roof, we shared presentations on the current conditions at our climbing areas, who the current climbing population really is, where they are coming from, what it actually means to modify someone’s behavior, and the types of education techniques currently in use.


Ed summit 4


With 12 informative presentations, over two days, it’s easy to see some commonalities and strong themes repeat themselves. With the ever-growing industry and popularity of indoor climbing, gyms are an ideal space to reach more climbers; climbing gyms are the common link almost all climbers share. The Access Fund sees indoor facilities as a great starting point for education, and we will work to strengthen relationships between climbing gyms, local climbing organizations, and land managers, as well as develop specific messages for transitioning climbers.


Ed summit 2


The explosion in climbing facilities is a crucial link in the education chain, as young and impressionable climbers will play a crucial role in keeping our climbing areas open and preserving the climbing environment in the future. Climbers, spanning the ages of 11-25, possess the greatest potential for positive change. Not only do these climbers crave social acceptance, but they also crave leadership and structured messages. If they begin to hear about the “right” behaviors now, they’ll want to carry them into the future. Dialogue throughout the summit highlighted the simple fact that younger climbers want to do the right thing, they just haven’t been told or experienced what that is.


The Educate for Access summit was only the first step in addressing new educational needs that can improve stewardship and protection of our climbing areas. The summit gave us a much better understanding of the challenges and opportunities, and connected us to a greater community of partners who are facing the same challenges and are passionate about finding solutions. In the coming months, we’ll be rolling out new tactics to grow and strengthen our education programs.

Take a look at this article from our friends at Rock and Ice for more information on the changing demographics of climbers in the US.

Ed summit 3

November 18, 2013

Conservation Team Helps Pinnacles Climbers at Inaugural Appreciation Days

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


September 20, 2013

Park Like a Champ


August 26, 2013

Land & Water Conservation Fund Helps Conserve Climbing Opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 29, 2013

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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