The Unspoken Strain of Secret Crags

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Nothing rouses climbers more than newness: new gear, new partners, new routes, and, most important, new crags.

The novelty of a freshly developed crag excites climbers and gets their forearm blood pumping. So imagine when new crags are built on the down low—climbers quietly and sparingly spread the beta, keeping a tight lip. This can foster strain within the community and tension with landowners, which can lead to access issues.

Secret crags exist all over the U.S.; there’s no question about it. Climbers continue to discover new rock everywhere but disclose beta only to close friends and trusted partners. Mike Majerczyk, a climber based in Seattle, Washington, brought up the issue of secret crags with the Access Fund: “In my 15 years of climbing, it consistently disappoints me how ‘locals’ to an area refuse to divulge information about a crag, hoping to keep it a secret,” he says. “Newcomers inevitably go looking for these ‘secret’ crags anyways and cause the majority of our conflicts with landowners out of ignorance.”

So are secret crags acceptable? Well, there is no definitive answer. There are cases where keeping a crag under wraps from the rest of the community is acceptable and a requirement for access. “Oftentimes, things are kept quiet when the access status is sensitive or unclear,” says Brady Robinson, executive director of the Access Fund. “There may be strategic reasons why things are quiet.” One great example is an area in central Colorado. The developers have been putting up routes for over a decade but have requested that climbers do not spread the word yet due to unfinished routes and lack of parking. The equippers hope that by waiting to open the area—their long-term goal is complete public access—they will have time to fix the parking situation and host many intermediate routes in an area otherwise dominated by hardman climbing.

On the other hand, there are cases where a secret approach does more damage than good, like developing a crag without landowner permission, which in turn leads to secrecy from other climbers. The most logical answer is to be responsible stewards of climbing access: Instead of poaching the land, do what you can as a climber to open access for everyone, as long as the situation calls for it.

Tell us what you think…

Read more on page 8 of the Vertical Times.

Blog Comments

I couldn’t agree more that this is a case by case issue. I could write an entire novel on the benefits of being straight forward and working openly with landowners, park employees, and officials, but I also realize the necessity of keeping private areas private. Each area has its own nuances, but I have had a number of outstanding successes with access by being honest and open with various areas in Virginia. One of the most extraordinary success stories I have been involved with has been with Grayson Highlands State Park (which again to avoid a novel I won’t go into great detail) where bouldering by tip-toeing quietly to the blocks and brushing holds ninja style for several years, with smatterings of small scale development on obvious, choice boulders just out of sight.

By approaching the park with an open minded, motivated, and honest attitude the park not only allowed bouldering, but exceeded all expectations from the climbing community. By working proactively with GHSP, they have implemented bouldering as an official, approved, and embraced activity, and are in the process of renting out crash pads to climbers and building a state maintained, self guided bouldering trail to some of the 650+ problems in the park. While this I realize this isn’t on scale with massive crags and maintaining routes and pro, it is a great example as to what building solid and straight forward relationships with land owners and parks can accomplish.

Great post you all, and keep up the good work!

Posted by: Aaron James Parlier | May 01, 2012 at 06:28 PM

A few disjointed thoughts . . .

I also think it depends on the environmental impact in a given area, and what facilities exist around the area. I know of a few places being developed (actually in your example area, Central CO) - one of which has been published in a guidebook, but we are still actively developing, finding new cliffs and putting up a lot of new routes.

On the plus, it is a beautiful spot and has a good range of climbing for all abilities, and can continue to grow. On the negative, there is no established bathroom or true campground facilities, and I've watched the area become more and more trashed over the last four years, and find myself losing a few climbing days each season because I'm cleaning up other people's trash - which makes me way less likely to want to bring more people.

Two final thoughts -

There are tons of established climbing areas that are nowhere near climbed out for the majority of climbers - drive through Clear Creek Canyon or Rifle and look at how many cars line the sides of the road! I think a lot of us seek out putting up new routes in "secret" spots after climbing a lot of the existing, known routes in a given area - or when we have hit a ceiling in terms of difficulty (if you climb 5.12 and suddenly the cliff jumps to 5.14, you either have the option of project way over your head or go elsewhere).

At the same time, I do think there are "secret" crags that legitimately stay secret, and it's not always true that newcomers will invariably show up. Some places require legitimate, y'know - hiking to get into, and not all climbers are willing to walk 5+ miles through unclear terrain for boulder problems, even if it is on public land.

Posted by: mike. | June 24, 2015 at 08:39 AM

I have a few small secret spots. I've let some details slip to friends of friends but mainly just want to save it until I fishing putting up all the possible lines.

But I really like the idea of planning access like parking issues before releasing your crag.

Posted by: Tristan | June 24, 2015 at 09:09 AM

The reasons for keeping crags secret almost always fall flat, and are actually thinly disguised attempts to keep an area "exclusive." At the very best, climbers keep areas secret in order to better preserve their own trespassing activity when they know that a private landowner does not approve of climbing. In almost every other case, climbing would be improved by transparent, open engagement with local land use authorities, the Access Fund, and the ASCA. There is more ego involved in keeping secret areas secret than there is any sort of good.

Posted by: A. King | June 24, 2015 at 11:08 AM

How about connecting this to The Pact? We wouldn't need to keep areas secret if we didn't need The Pact. With the legions of gym climbers entering the wilds of rock climbing (on rock), there is more and more potential for novices to ruin the fun, or more seriously, access, for everyone. Not that veteran climbers are angel crag citizens all the time, of course.

But sneaking around sucks. Can you tell your friends where you've been? "Oh, I, um, went for a trail run." Where has that one high profile member of the local climbing community been climbing lately? "Oh, I don't know." And of course the consequences are more than personal when you sneak around on private property in this land of easy gun ownership.

Posted by: John | June 24, 2015 at 11:20 AM

Secret crags are a must for locals. There I said it go fuck off on the polished "5" star routes.

Posted by: J | June 24, 2015 at 11:59 AM

This article is so wrong headed, I don't know where to start. It's almost click bait, and I did. ugh

And jeebus, it's from 2012.

First, the false dichotomy of creating tension vs. no tension is silly. There is NO obligation to disclose a crag location. Tough noogies if you're not out there looking for new crags and want stuff handed to you on a silver platter.

Second, the underlying issue here is private vs. public land. Again, no obligation to disclose. But for private land if word gets out, tough. If climbers can't either organize and handle it, or avoid it, or secretly do it, they get the closure. It's private land. No obligation to let you have access. It's a permission, not a right. duh

But on public land, if I find a crag and I don't share the beta, again, no obligation to disclose, but if word gets out, that's just the way it is. And in that case, early engagement with land owners (if they are amenable) can prove invaluable.

But the way that is written above, joke. Let's get real about writing about the issue. No click bait writing.

Posted by: Munge | June 24, 2015 at 12:25 PM

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