Proposed Bolt Ban in Sierra Nevada Wilderness Reversed

After months of sustained advocacy, Access Fund is happy to report that Inyo National Forest has officially reversed its proposed ban on fixed anchors in Sierra Nevada wilderness areas. The alpine wilderness of California’s Sierra Nevada range is one of the most spectacular climbing destinations in America. This vast wilderness contains a lifetime of world-class climbing, including all but one of California’s fourteen thousand foot peaks, and its foothills are home to the Buttermilk boulders and the Pine Creek sport and trad climbing area.

Josh Huckaby walks the line on a classic Sierra Nevada ridge, Mt Emerson. Photo courtesy of © Ken Etzel

Inyo National Forest began the long process of revising its forest management plan in 2012. Access Fund has been actively representing climbers in this planning process, as it will determine every aspect of how the forest can be used, and a single sentence can mean the difference between open access and a climbing ban.

When Inyo National Forest issued its final plan in October of 2018, Access Fund discovered that a section had been inserted into the final draft, prohibiting fixed anchors in wilderness. This added provision was not part of any of the draft management plans, and was never studied or opened to public comment as the law requires. This provision would have prohibited climbers from hand-drilling fixed anchors to replace antiquated bolts and open new backcountry routes throughout the Inyo National Forest wilderness.

The ban would have made many existing and yet-to-be-discovered High Sierra climbs off limits, given the near-impossibility of descending these peaks without some form of fixed anchor. The ban was also at odds with the US Forest Service’s national-level interpretation of the Wilderness Act of 1964, which permits climbing in wilderness areas, including the limited use of fixed anchors to facilitate primitive and unconfined recreation.

Access Fund quickly pushed back on Inyo National Forest officials, submitting an official objection to the proposed fixed anchor ban and presenting at a stakeholder meeting in Bishop, CA to outline our objections. We’re happy to report that Inyo National Forest has removed the provision banning fixed anchors in wilderness areas. The new forest management plan is scheduled to be finalized in the coming months, and it will not impose new barriers to climbing access in the High Sierra.

Wilderness areas offer a rare opportunity for a special type of adventurous, self-reliant climbing and immersion in nature. Protecting our limited wilderness climbing opportunities is essential, and maintaining access in the Sierra Nevada is a major win for California climbers and climbers across the nation. This is also a good example of the critical importance of participating in the long, often arduous process of Forest Service plan revisions—a task Access Fund is committed to in order to ensure the best possible outcomes for climbers.

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