Love it by not leaving bolts behind

  Dear HCN,

I used to assume that those who played in the backcountry were sympathetic to those who fought to protect it. But a new mind set, a category, perhaps even a generation of people seems to be taking form. Spawned by the glossy images of outside-oriented magazines, there are now hordes of "been there, done that" weekend warriors in pursuit of high-risk fun, whose only concern seems to be the marking off of a recreational checklist. All these fun hogs seem interested in is bagging Rainier, power-riding the White Rim Trail, or kayaking the Lower 5 on the North Fork Payette. There's nothing inherently wrong with these activities. I do many of them myself. What concerns me is when I strike up a conversation with someone, whether it's on a cliff, a river, or a mountain bike about the environment and all I get is a blank stare and an "I don't know, Dude, I'm just here to have fun."

Even scarier is that these same people now have spokespersons - people like Armando Menocal, founder of Access Fund, a climbing group whose sole purpose seems to be to ensure that climbers can continue to climb anywhere they want and in any fashion (HCN, 8/17/98). In Mr. Menocal's essay he attacks the Forest Service's ban on drilling bolts into wilderness cliffs. In an opinion wrought with melodrama and emotion, he recounts how he and a friend had to beat a hasty retreat from a mountain lightning storm, leaving a rappel sling behind in the process. His act, he says, was criminal, according to the Forest Service, whose ban he characterizes as "an attack on the wilderness system."

Give me a break. I seriously doubt that the Forest Service intends to issue anyone a citation because they left a nylon sling behind on a peak in an attempt to save their life. The intent of the Forest Service's anchor ban is a reaction to what has become known as "sport" climbing. In essence, this involves the congregation of a large number of climbers in one area and the drilling of bolts, with attached metal plates, to a rock face. The plates are then used to clip a carabiner into for protection in the event of a fall or as a rappel point. The bolts are placed there partly for convenience and partly because the route might not be climbable without them.

Incidentally, while bolts have been around for a long time, their use has increased dramatically in recent years. The fact is, there are numerous types of hardware used by climbers for protection that are removable. The result of bolting is a large number of shiny metal plates sticking out of the rock, high foot traffic, trampled vegetation, litter and chalk marks on the rock (used to keep hands dry). This is because sport climbing areas tend to become well known and over-used very quickly. The result is much the same as when too many horse packers congregate in a small area; a situation the Forest Service occasionally deals with using temporary bans.

But bolts aren't temporary. Bolting is nothing more than an attempt to literally hammer a piece of rock into submission, thus lowering it to our skill level. Who said climbing was supposed to be a risk-free activity? If a wilderness route cannot be climbed without bolts, then perhaps it just shouldn't be climbed. There are more accessible routes in this country, wilderness and non-wilderness, than one person could climb in 10 lifetimes.

Which brings me to the International Bicycling Association's refusal to join the Utah Wilderness Coalition. The reason: Bicycles are not allowed in wilderness areas. Cry me a river. I race mountain bikes and love the sport as much as anyone. But there are thousands of miles of beautiful bike trails in the West that are not in wilderness areas. Bikes are extremely hard on trails and are not very compatible with foot traffic for many reasons, including the fact that mountain bikers love to ride downhill as fast as they possibly can. I know I do. This means locking up the brakes and sliding around corners, tearing up turf and creating the risk that you will run into someone going the other way.

Someone needs to remind the recreation community that if it weren't for restrictions on the use of public lands, then there wouldn't be any place worth recreating in. We need to show a greater regard for the protection of our rapidly disappearing wild places and existing wilderness than we show for the selfish gratification of our own egos. The recreation community needs to compromise and become part of the environmental community once again. Divided, we can be assured that none of us will benefit.

Brad Purdy

Boise, Idaho

High Country News Classifieds