07/18/2022

Access Fund Brings Climbing Advocates Together for Fixed Anchor Conference

Climbing advocates from across the country gathered at the Petzl Technical Institute for a weekend of learning, collaboration, and fellowship centered around the placement, maintenance, and replacement of fixed anchors. Access Fund, as the leading national climbing advocacy organization, reached out far and wide to the country’s most prominent fixed anchor advocates—those at the forefront of fixed anchor policy, rebolting, and rope access at climbing areas—to bring them together in one place where they could share their knowledge with the greater climbing community.

Keith Luscinski, Petzl Technical Institute manager, demonstrating a work-at-height system.

Sharing Field-tested Rebolting Strategies

Every local climbing organization (LCO) has a different approach to rebolting work. Even within the same region, individual climbing areas can have different challenges to maintaining and replacing fixed gear. The kind of hardware used when the bolts were first placed, relationships with land managers, the rock itself, and countless other factors affect how easy or difficult it is to put a fixed anchor program in place and how that program must function.

Leaders from Boulder Climbing Community (BCC) and Salt Lake Climbers Alliance (SLCA) gave presentations on successes and challenges in funding, implementing, and maintaining their respective rebolting efforts. BCC runs a robust, volunteer-based program that trains local climbers in basic rope access and rebolting techniques. SLCA funds a small team of professional rebolters who are certified in rope access and employed full-time by the local climbing organization.

The success of SLCA’s paid teams is undeniable, but not every LCO can fund a fixed anchor program with a full-time rebolting team. BCC’s approach relies on the community to bring in volunteers and then trains them in rope access and rebolting techniques.

Fixed Anchor Policy at the National Level

Fixed anchor policy at the national level impacts what happens at the local level. It’s in the best interest of local climbing organizations to keep their finger on the pulse of what’s happening nationally, especially with agencies that manage their local climbing areas.

Erik Murdock, Access Fund vice president of policy and government affairs, and John Steiger, legal and policy expert, shared their perspectives in two informative presentations. Steiger presented on the current legal status of fixed anchors, especially in designated Wilderness areas, while Murdock zeroed in on how permit systems—including those for the placement, maintenance, and replacement of fixed anchors—are developed and deployed on public lands.

Access Fund has been working for years on fixed anchor policy guidance at the national level. Smart management that balances sustainable access—for climbing and other recreation alike—with the conservation of natural resources is Access Fund’s ultimate goal.

But the target continues to move, interpretations continue to change, and in order to best approach their rebolting efforts, LCOs should stay up-to-date on best practices for working with various federal land managers along with their state and local land managers.

Training and Practice with Rescue, Work-at-height Techniques

Petzl, aside from hosting the event, also hosted a work-at-height training session for everyone in attendance. “Petzl’s training was invaluable as part of pushing the conversation forward around work-at-height techniques that LCOs can take back to their rebolting teams and volunteers,” says Mike Morin, Access Fund northeast regional director and conference organizer.

Practicing partner rescue at the Petzl Technical Institute.

The session opened with a work-at-height system using two ropes—a work line and a back-up line—that provides the highest level of safety. As climbers, we can all recognize the importance of redundancy in our systems, and it’s especially important when working at height with the power tools that can cut your rope with just a slip.

After the system demo, attendees were invited to hop on some of the ropes to practice some partner rescue techniques for scenarios that might be encountered while replacing bolts at the local crag.

The Ripple Effect

Equally valuable to the presentations and training were the conversations that buzzed in the hallways between sessions, and during the breakfast and lunch hours, where attendees went deeper on issues that were raised during sessions and shared what was working for their LCO back home.

“By bringing individuals from around the country together, the impact of this single event has a ripple effect that extends well beyond the conference,” says Morin. “We've seen first hand the benefit of this conference in the development of tools, removal techniques, and material standards over the past decade.”

By facilitating a weekend filled with panels, discussions, demonstrations, and many happy hours, Access Fund ensured that the attendees returned to their respective climbing communities more knowledgeable than ever about fixed anchor maintenance, policy, and safety.

Access Fund thanks the climbers, advocates, and bolt experts who attended, and the LCO staff who contributed to the programming. We’d also like to extend a special thanks to Petzl for hosting the event and providing the work-at-height training.