Access Fund and The Wilderness Society Collaborate on Fixed Anchors in Wilderness

Access Fund is pleased to announce a significant advancement in our collaboration with The Wilderness Society to improve land agency regulations and policies related to fixed climbing anchors in designated Wilderness. This continued collaboration is indicative of the growing relationships between conservation and recreation organizations.

“The Wilderness Society supports climbing as a longstanding recreational activity in Wilderness,” says Melyssa Watson, Vice President of Conservation at The Wilderness Society. “We consider the climbing community to be long-standing champions of public lands and key partners in public lands conservation efforts.”

Climbers have enjoyed a deep history and connection to Wilderness areas in the United States, and they have played a significant role in conservation of these wild places. Prolific climber David Brower was instrumental in the 1964 signing of the Wilderness Act while he was executive director of the Sierra Club. He is also believed to have been the first climber to place a climbing bolt in 1938.

Photo courtesy of © Kennan Harvey

Despite a rich history of climbing in Wilderness, the legality of fixed climbing anchors (bolts) in federally designated Wilderness areas has been uncertain for decades. The fact is, there is no law that addresses bolts in Wilderness, only general language in the Wilderness Act that is left up to the interpretation of individual land managers across the country. Most land managers allow the conditional use, placement, and maintenance of bolts in Wilderness. However, some national parks and forests have banned new bolt placements, and a few land managers have even removed rappel anchors and proposed the wide-scale removal of existing climbs.

“The lack of clear policy and implementation guidelines for fixed anchors has resulted in uncertainty for the climbing community, which has at times left climbers skeptical of proposed Wilderness designations that include developed climbing areas,” says Erik Murdock, Policy Director at Access Fund.

The threat of bolt bans in Wilderness areas is always lingering, with the potential for significant climbing restrictions at places like Yosemite, Black Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Joshua Tree, North Cascades, Canyonlands, and Red Rocks and many others.

“We do not support the removal of existing fixed anchors solely because an area has been designated Wilderness. We believe the use and maintenance of fixed anchors established prior to the enactment of new Wilderness designations should be allowed,” says Watson. “We understand that this is a very real concern of our partners in the climbing community, and we are committed to working collaboratively to remedy misapplications of the Wilderness Act in agency regulations and policies.”

“We are working to get to a place where the climbing community knows for certain what Wilderness designations mean for America’s climbing areas. The Wilderness Society is helping us move toward that goal,” says Murdock.

Both organizations agree that climbing, just like all other recreational uses in Wilderness, needs to be managed in a way that preserves Wilderness character. They also agree that per the Wilderness Act of 1964, the use of power drills to place climbing bolts is prohibited under the ban on “motorized equipment” in Wilderness areas.

“Recreation and conservation are both core values of the climbing community. And this collaboration with The Wilderness Society is incredibly valuable to the future of America’s Wilderness Preservation System and the protection of our shared public lands,” says Murdock.

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