The Ecology of Climbing

Ecology of rock climbing

Climbing offers both challenge and adventure, but it’s also a special opportunity to be in a wild, natural environment. From boulder fields to alpine peaks to roadside crags, we climb in places with significant, sometimes rare, natural value. And the ecology of climbing—how climbers relate and interact with plant life, animals, and water—has direct bearing on climbing access. This is especially true given the growth in popularity of climbing across the country. As more and more people climb, it becomes imperative to find solutions to mitigate our impact to conserve these precious resources now and into the future. In sensitive desert environments like Indian Creek, Utah, for example, climbers’ trail work has helped reduce impact to fragile cryptobiotic soil. In the Obed, Tennessee, top anchors have eliminated impact to extremely biodiverse and sensitive cliff-edge environments. And in Rumney, New Hampshire, targeted cliff-area closures have maintained access to climbing routes while protecting rare ferns. As climbers, the more cognizant we are of these unique and rare natural resources, and the more collaborative we are in working with land managers and biologists to preserve them, the more successful we’ll be in creating solutions that preserve access. Here are some easy tips.

Raise awareness within the local climbing community. Work with area experts (resource biologists, cliff ecologists) to educate yourself and your local climbing community on any rare species that occur at your crag. Organize an Adopt a Crag—an invasive species removal, for example—to bring climbers and biologists together. Develop routes and boulders responsibly. Think about long-term impact and use. Establish bolted anchors (where allowed) to reduce impact on trees. Keep brushing to the minimum necessary. And remember, not everything needs to be climbed.

Put the ROCK Project Pact into practice each time you go climbing. Minimize your impact at the crag by keeping a low profile, packing out all of your trash and gear, respecting closures and staying on trails. Commit to the Pact and view its other tenants at www.accessfund.org/thepact.

Proactively build partnerships with land managers and biologists.The foundation for addressing climbing access issues related to sensitive natural resource concerns is a collaborative, trusting relationship with your land manager.

Participate in and assist with resource and impact monitoring. By participating in or assisting with monitoring activities, you legitimize your status as a stakeholder and gain an opportunity to lend your climber’s perspective.

Generate hard data. Help initiate new studies or surveys on climbing and natural resources. Climbing management decisions should be made based on sound data and appropriate environmental impact studies.

Be open to creative climbing management solutions that preserve access. Trail rerouting, partial closures, seasonal restrictions, permitted access, top anchor installation—these are all examples of creative, balanced solutions that yield surprisingly positive results.

Blog Comments

It’s also a special opportunity to be in a wild, natural environment. - brilliant! You're such an inspiration to aspiring climbers. The tips and advice here are very motivational, it is refreshing to read them every time. I am totally impressed with your tips and decided to share with my friend, he just started working out his passion. I'm thinking he really likes your advise! He shared some of your articles at Soul id.

Posted by: Lindsay Isaiah | March 20, 2015 at 12:15 AM

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