10 Climbing Areas in Crisis

10/03/2018

World-class climbing isn’t the only thing these ten areas have in common. Each one has made its way onto this list because it is facing a major threat—and things are getting dicey. Access Fund is actively engaged at each of these endangered areas, but we’re reaching the tipping point quickly, and we’re likely to start seeing closures and restricted access if we don’t come together to solve these issues.

1. Red River Gorge, Kentucky

The Red River Gorge is one of the crown jewels of American climbing. But it’s time to get real: the number of climbers visiting the Red is out of control. On any given day, popular crags will have a rope and group on every climb, with a waiting line right behind them. All of those feet and gear have killed the majority of vegetation at the base of cliffs, including shade trees, turning many popular crags into dirt piles that are baking in the sun and littered with human waste. And private landowners, who manage the bulk of climbing in the Red, are taking notice. The threat of closures here is as real as it gets—just ask locals who lost access to Roadside Crag for 7 years. (Photo courtesy of © Elodie Saracco)

2. Tensleep, Wyoming

Hundreds of pocketed limestone sport routes, great camping, and perfect summer temps have put the once obscure Ten Sleep Canyon on the map. Over the last 10 years, large crowds of climbers are unintentionally crushing a wider and wider swath of plant life, which is causing the base of the cliffs to crumble away from erosion. Climbers are also making the most of roadside pull-offs that weren’t designed for recreation parking, causing friction with locals and creating safety hazards. Poop and toilet paper flowers are also a growing concern. To make matters worse, the Bighorn National Forest budget was recently slashed, meaning the land manager doesn’t have the staff or funds to fix these issues. (Photo courtesy of © Louis Arevalo)

3. Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

With world-class climbing within minutes of Vegas, it’s no wonder that droves of climbers descend on this wild landscape each year. But here’s the thing...this desert environment is fragile, and when people constantly create new approach and descent routes, they expand impact by killing native plants that prevent erosion. People are also leaving their poop and toilet paper everywhere, thinking it will biodegrade, but it simply won’t break down in desert soil. If conditions continue to deteriorate, land managers could be faced with hard decisions. (Photo courtesy of © Andrew Burr)

4. Rumney, New Hampshire

Rumney is one of the most iconic sport climbing destinations in the Northeast, offering hundreds of quality routes within an easy drive from Boston, Quebec, and New York City. If the sun is shining, Rumney is packed. But Rumney is seeing more climbers than it can handle: Parking areas are overrun and climbers have created a ton of unapproved trails, which spreads out our impact and leads to unstable hillsides. If we don’t course-correct soon, trails and staging areas will be so blown out that they won’t recover, creating safety concerns and environmental impacts that will be hard for the Forest Service to ignore. (Photo courtesy of © Lee Hansche)

5. Indian Creek, Utah

Offering renowned crack climbing in a spectacularly vast and primitive landscape, Indian Creek's popularity has grown exponentially over the last 5 years. All those feet and vehicles are unintentionally crushing sensitive desert soil, and camping areas, approach trails, and the base of cliffs are crumbling. In this desert landscape, cryptobiotic soil plays a star role in stabilizing the earth and sustaining life—it takes decades to grow and a single footstep to destroy. People are also leaving poop and toilet paper everywhere, thinking it will biodegrade, but it simply won’t break down in desert soil. Indian Creek is managed by the BLM, and this arm of our federal lands system is notoriously strapped for funds and staff, which means they don’t have the resources to address these impacts. (Photo courtesy of © Andrew Burr)

6. New River Gorge, West Virginia

The New River Gorge is one of the most iconic and popular climbing areas in the US, with endless miles of bulletproof sandstone trad, sport, and bouldering in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains. This forested landscape is also home to salamanders, lichens, mosses, rodents, and countless other species that make up an impressive ecosystem. But heavy climber traffic has taken its toll on the environment—beat down cliff bases with no vegetation and exposed roots that are killing shade trees. These unsavory conditions are being noticed by the land managers, and they are likely to react harshly as soon as impacts move beyond their comfort zone. (Photo courtesy of © Dan Brayack)

7. Joe's Valley, Utah

Joe’s Valley exploded in popularity in early 2000, and it draws climbers from around the world to conquer its sandstone boulders. But Joe’s faces some unique challenges. Given the close proximity of climbing and camping to the nearby reservoir and seasonal creek beds, the local water supply is in real danger of being contaminated by human waste from visiting climbers. And heavy foot traffic and pad placements are killing native plants and causing extremely eroded and unstable landing areas and trails. Visitors are also parking illegally on a narrow canyon road with very limited visibility, creating safety hazards. (Photo courtesy of © Peter Dodge)

8. Leavenworth, Washington

Leavenworth has it all—from roadside crags, to world-class bouldering, and access to breathtaking alpine adventures. But the same granite that attracts climbers from across the globe also creates a decomposing granitic soil that is just like kitty litter. And on steep and heavily trafficked approach slopes, this is a recipe for eroded hillsides, rapid sedimentation in water sources, and quickly deteriorating cliffsides. Add to that a growing concern of human waste and limited parking, and land managers will be faced with some hard decisions. (Photo courtesy of © Truc Allen)

9. Jackson Falls, Illinois

With a dense concentration of high quality climbing on phenomenal sandstone, the centrally located Jackson Falls in Southern Illinois is a magnet for climbers in the region. In many places, climbing approach trails and belay platforms share travel corridors with heavily traveled equestrian routes, and these combined impacts are killing plants, exposing tree roots, and speeding erosion. As visitors struggle to find areas to pass each other, store their gear, or watch climbers, they expand environmental impacts by moving further and further from approved trails, threatening to displace native species. Like so many other forests, the Shawnee National Forest is seeing a shrinking budget and lacks the resources to fix these issues without our support. (Photo courtesy of © Dan Brayack)

10. Boulder Canyon, Colorado

Boulder Canyon offers a few thousand routes on quality granite with quick roadside access. This well-loved climbing area has a list of issues a mile long, starting with the fact that the decomposing granitic soils that make up the canyon are some of the fastest to erode, making approach trails and cliff bases incredibly vulnerable to Rocky Mountain thunderstorms, rapid snowmelt, and heavy foot traffic. Climbers are also parking and walking along the tight canyon corridors en masse, often exploding into traffic lanes and creating huge safety concerns. (Photo courtesy of © Ethan Welty)

3 Easy Ways You Can Help

  1. Donate to our stewardship work. Our Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Teams are working with locals to build recreation infrastructure that will help our climbing areas withstand the growing number of visitors. But we need your help. Donate today.
  2. Speak up! Tell federal land managers to cut the red tape and put climbers to work building sustainable infrastructure. This is often our biggest obstacle to improving our climbing areas. Sign the petition.
  3. Minimize your impact. Explore and commit to The Climber’s Pact and learn how to tread lightly, and consider giving these places a rest and explore new areas. Commit to The Climber's Pact.