Who’s managing climbers?

  • Fritz Weissner belays Lawrence Coveney during the first ascent of Devils Tower, circa 1937

  • Matt Goode climbs at Cave Rock, Nevada


Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story, "Invasion of the rock jocks."

Devils Tower National Monument, Wyo.

Twenty-three Indian tribes claim cultural ties to this 1,200-foot volcanic butte, which, on busy summer days, crawls with upward of 120 climbers. To ease conflicts between climbers and Native Americans using the site for religious ceremonies, in 1995, monument managers started asking climbers to stay off the rock during the month of June. But a handful of local climbers, represented by the right-wing Mountain States Legal Foundation, sued the Park Service. The Supreme Court refused to hear their case, and the voluntary closure stands. Park Service staffers say that 81 percent of climbers comply (HCN, 5/26/97: The sacred and profane collide in the West ).

Indian Creek, Utah

The Bureau of Land Management has no climbing management plan for this popular area of red sandstone cliffs split by famously difficult-to-climb cracks. Just two agency staffers manage recreation on the 1.8 million-acre Monticello district, within which Indian Creek lies, and they don’t even know how many climbers come here. Climbers have created scores of new campsites, and some climb on walls that hold Anasazi rock art. “Every area that was open and pristine has a camp ring, toilet paper and garbage around it,” says rancher Heidi Redd. The Nature Conservancy, which owns property adjacent to the BLM land, is footing the bill for an environmental assessment of Indian Creek’s recreation use. The Access Fund is trying to get climbers to clean up their act.

Cave Rock, Nev.

The Washoe Indians consider the 250-foot volcanic pillar near the shores of Lake Tahoe so sacred that at one time, only medicine men were allowed to enter its deep undercut alcoves. Now it’s a hot spot for climbers, and bolts and chalk marks dot the rock’s overhanging walls. The Forest Service wants to ban all climbing and remove the 300-plus bolts. Climbers say they’ve cleaned up the broken glass and beer cans around the rock, which had become a party hangout for local teenagers. The Forest Service expects to make a decision this summer. The Access Fund’s executive director, Steve Matous, says his group will “consider appealing” any decision that bans climbing.

Castle Rocks State Park, IDaho

The undulating granite crags of this newly created park, located just north of the Utah-Idaho border, are a climber’s paradise. The park, which opened Memorial Day weekend, has a temporary cap of 75 visitors per day until trails, toilets and parking are constructed. Castle Rocks’ management plan bans bolts in some areas, and mandates a minimum distance of 15 feet between bolted routes. But climbers have “broken just about every bolting rule already,” says climbing ranger Brad Shilling.

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Nev.

Bureau of Land Management officials say that more climbing occurs in Red Rock’s remote canyons than on any other BLM wilderness land. Located just outside of Las Vegas, the area’s most accessible walls attract tens of thousands of climbers each year. Staffers hope to begin work on a climbing management plan this fall that will serve as a national model for the agency. There is currently a moratorium on new bolts in Red Rock’s wilderness areas. “Most people follow the rules and don’t do it,” says Mike Ward, who owns a climbing gym and gear shop in Las Vegas. “But (the moratorium) takes the wind out of a lot of people’s sails.”


On southwest Oregon’s Umpqua National Forest, Forest Service staffers and climbers are butting heads over birds. For years, the agency has relied on word-of-mouth to let climbers know where peregrine falcons are nesting on the basalt outcrops scattered throughout the forest. “We haven’t advertised the location of falcon nests” because it would only invite curious onlookers, says wildlife technician Kevin Sands. But in recent years, the number of climbers has multiplied and Sands says he’s seen climbers on routes with falcon nests. It’s a catch-22, says Roseburg, Ore., climber Greg Orton. “We’re expected to stay away from raptor nests, but the Forest Service doesn’t let people know where they are.” Agency staffers say they hope to have some regulations in place by next spring.

Washington, D.C.

In 1998, the Forest Service ruled that climbers could no longer use “permanent, fixed anchors” in designated wilderness areas (HCN, 8/17/98: Forest Service pulls anchor ban out of thin air). The ban was scuttled when climbers objected, and several years of negotiations among climbers, wilderness advocates and land managers failed to reach a compromise. Forest Service officials expect to announce a new wilderness bolting policy this fall. The Bureau of Land Management is also drafting regulations. The BLM’s senior wilderness specialist, Jeff Jarvis, says that the agency is “not going to ban fixed anchors,” but that placing any new bolts will likely require a permit. Don Fisher, the Forest Service’s wilderness program leader, says his agency’s policy will “be very close to what the BLM has drafted.”