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NPS Bolting Policy Update

Editor’s Note: Alpinist previously published a press-release from the Access Fund which can be viewed here. Below is an updated NewsWire on the current situation.

The NPS is formulating a policy with regards to fixed anchors in National Parks and Wilderness lands. Part of the proposed policy could require that climbers get pre-approval before leaving fixed gear on a route. [Photo] Jason Martin

The National Park Service has issued a draft policy regarding the use of fixed anchors in wilderness areas. The policy accepts that fixed anchors do not necessarily impair the quality of wilderness, but it calls for each individual park to create a management plan to regulate the creation or repair of fixed anchors through permits or other forms of authorization. The policy acknowledges that climbing is an appropriate use of wilderness, provided that it does not impact or threaten wilderness resources or character in any way

The recent proposal has been more than twenty years in the making. The discussion began in the early nineties, and although the organizations involved agreed that there would be no use of power drills, and that hand drilling may be permitted, the NPS and other managing organizations never implemented policies that would put these ideas to action. Now the NPS has proposed a policy that seeks to manage the use of fixed anchors in the wilderness; a policy that affects not only the regulations of anchor placement, but the future of climbing at large within wilderness areas.

Most importantly, the new policy is a definitive statement that climbing does have a future in the wilderness. The plan states that “climbing is a legitimate use of wilderness areas,” a privilege that not all user groups have been granted, mountain bikers for example are not allowed in wilderness areas. And though the act of climbing pre-dates the Wilderness Act in itself, it wasn’t always certain that the sport would even have a future in the wilderness, according to Brady Robinson, Executive Director of the Access Fund.

Despite this relative success, there are several concerns about the policy, the biggest being that prior authorization is required in order for fixed anchors to be placed. Because the term “fixed anchor” includes bolts, nuts, pitons or anything else left permanently behind, the policy may imply that not only will bolting require permission, but leaving a sling or nut might as well. Naturally this raises a number of concerns, chiefly that one doesn’t usually know where a permanent piece of gear will be needed until the very moment it is used.

Though the terminology seems to include all kinds of fixed anchors, it’s the use of bolts that is most controversial. It’s important to understand that the argument against the use of bolts in the wilderness extends past style and visual impacts they create. A bolted face climb in many cases draws significantly more people to an area than would normally be there. In no way is this a certainty however, as there are many remote bolted routes that go unnoticed or even unclimbed for long periods of time. But for those areas that do draw the crowds, often areas that are close to a road, it is hard to deny that a popular sport climbing area would be “incompatible with wilderness values,” as Robinson put it.

Since each individual park will create its own management plan, Robinson expressed concern for what will happen from the time the order goes through on the national level until each park actually creates a plan. Since this process could take years in some parks, he raised some interesting questions on what will happen in the interim. “Will we have a de facto ban on all fixed anchor placement?” a possibility that the Access Fund does not support, and which would certainly curtail progress on the issue as a whole. One thing that is certain is that if the policy is enacted, the focus will now be on each individual parks climbing management plan, a step that would be welcomed by the Access Fund.

The review period for the proposal ends March 10th, and the Access Fund will likely solicit feedback from the climbing community while developing an advocacy plan.

Sources: Brady Robinson,