Climbing Areas Loved to Death?

As I talk with climbing advocates from across the country, one phrase hits home again and again: “Our climbing areas are being loved to death.”

Photo courtesy of @bluevanclimber

While this has been a long-term battle, we’ve reached a troubling tipping point. Our stewardship efforts are no longer able to keep pace with the impacts from the growing number of climbers.

I love meeting new and old climbers at the crag, experiencing all that climbing has to offer. There’s nothing like the climbing experience, and it can change your life for the better. But the hard truth is that most of these climbing areas weren’t “built” to handle the number of climbers using them today. Most of the parking lots, toilet facilities, approach trails, and staging areas that support our climbing areas where established back in the days when climbing was pretty obscure and the cliffs saw few visitors.

Take the famous Bridge Buttress at the New River Gorge in West Virginia, which is stacked with classic routes with easy roadside access. This historic area was one of my first climbing road trips 20 years ago—despite its easy access, despite the bridge overhead, trees grew close to the cliff and we felt like the only climbers there. For many climbers, this incredible area is where their love affair with The New started.

But as our numbers have swelled, our love of Bridge Buttress has completely overwhelmed this place. The staging areas at the base of the cliff are nude. Trees are dead because of exposed roots and compacted soil. Perfectly sculpted sandstone holds are starting to polish, because people aren’t cleaning their shoes before pulling on. Parking areas are overflowing. And we’re spreading our impact into the neighboring forest.

Sadly, Bridge Buttress isn’t the only climbing area affected. The story is the same from Maine to California: Our climbing areas are in big trouble. And while it may be easy to point fingers and say that “all these new climbers coming out of gyms are the problem” it’s simply not true. The fault doesn’t lay with any one group of climbers—it is our shared love of these places that is overwhelming them. Yours, mine, theirs. It’s all of us.

As a community, we’re at a crux. But we’re climbers. We can’t be afraid to take on this challenge. Our charge now is to love these areas back to life. And that starts with getting real about the impacts, acknowledging the need for recreation infrastructure to protect these places, and bringing a whole heck of a lot more resources to bear. And by resources, yes, I mean money. We can do it, if we come together as a family of climbers.

Tell Land Managers: Let Climbers Tackle Stewardship

Land managers often lack the funding and expertise to fix growing impacts, and getting through the red tape to put a shovel in the ground is their biggest obstacle. There are several bills and initiatives being drafted now that will streamline approvals for public lands, and we need your help to show land managers a groundswell of support from climbers.
Sign the Petition

As you gather with family and friends over the holidays, remember your climbing areas and the special experiences they bring to your life. At Access Fund we’ll be thinking of you, your local crag, and your generous support. Please consider making a tax-deductible gift before year-end to help us love our climbing areas back to life.

Oh, and I’m happy to report that we’ll be tackling the Bridge Buttress restoration next fall, alongside the National Park Service and our long-time local partners, New River Alliance of Climbers.

Blog by Zachary Lesch-Huie, National Affiliate Director & Southeast Regional Director. Zachary leads Access Fund programs in the Southeast and directs our Local Support & Mobilization program focused on supporting more than 120 affiliate local climbing organizations nationally.