Rock climbers are clinging a bit more tenaciously to crags on federal lands now that the U.S. Forest Service has all but outlawed climbing at a network of caves outside of Bend, Ore. To protect dwindling populations of bats and to preserve the caves, which are sacred to the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs, in late February the Deschutes National Forest banned the installation and use of climbing bolts. It also created a $200 fine if climbers are found using, or even possessing, magnesium carbonate, a chalk-like hand-drying agent that permanently stains the dark porous volcanic rock.
"Not only is this outrageous, it's unconstitutional," says Shawn Tierney, a spokesperson for the Boulder, Colo.-based Access Fund, which unsuccessfully appealed the decision. "One of our primary objections is that this arbitrary ban could be used to justify similar actions around the country. It's a very dangerous precedent."
Others say climbers don't deserve to use the area: They bolted 160 climbing anchors over one 400-square-foot area of rock near the mouth of the most popular cave, and coated parts of the caves' ceiling and walls with layers of magnesium carbonate, covering prehistoric Native American pictographs.
"When I first saw what these guys had done, I was so upset that I couldn't sleep for a week," says Portland cave conservationist Larry King, who removed the last of the bolts days after the ban was enacted. "They went in there without asking permission, without doing any environmental or archaeological assessments, and turned these caves into their own personal climbing gyms."