Two National Parks Issue Plans for Wilderness Climbing

Last month, two National Park Service (NPS) units—Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks—issued Wilderness Management Plans that provide detailed guidelines for managing climbing in designated Wilderness, including fixed anchors, crowding, safety and environmental impact. These are some of the first examples of parks putting the 2013 NPS national-level guidelines for climbing in wilderness into action, and are critically important because they will set a precedent for how other National Parks develop strategies for Wilderness climbing management. The Access Fund has been working with both Parks, advocating for climbers’ interests and a balanced approach to resource management. Overall, the latest plans are generally acceptable, but there is still room for improvement.

The Lake Mead NRA final plan (known to climbers as Christmas Tree Pass) is greatly improved from the draft plan, which originally recommended the wholesale removal of bolted climbing routes. The Access Fund provided NPS planners with detailed, critical comments that prompted them to remove excessive regulations, some of which discriminated against climbers, were poorly substantiated and did not support best climbing practices. This new final plan outlines a process for evaluating bolted routes for environmental and cultural impacts, which includes stakeholders from the NPS, Native American tribes, and the climbing community. This nuance is substantial to the climbing community because it recognizes the need for the NPS to include climbers in decisions about fixed anchor management instead of making a unilateral decision.

The Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks final plan is also much better for the climbing community relative to the draft plan. The draft plan proposed that climbers apply for a $20 special use permit, which could take up to 3 months to acquire, in order to add or replace any fixed anchor—including webbing slings. The Access Fund strongly opposed this proposed regulation on the grounds that it is neither realistic nor safe. Park officials worked with this feedback, and the final plan’s preferred alternative now states that climbers can judiciously place non-permanent fixed anchors (e.g. slings and nuts), when necessary, without the need for permits. Climbers will, however, need special use permits to place, and replace, bolts in wilderness. The Access Fund will continue to remind the NPS that bolt replacement is essential to Wilderness management, and that the NPS should not obstruct climbers from replacing bolts due to safety and visitor experience concerns.

Wilderness climbing management is one of Access Fund’s highest priority policy issues, and we are working with Parks all across the country to advocate for climbers’ interests. The work that happens over the next couple of years will set the stage for the next decade, making this a critical time to define best practices for climbing management on our public lands.