Act Now: Fight for Sustainable Climbing Access in Black Canyon

We need you to help the park service improve a proposed Wilderness and backcountry management plan that includes misguided climbing policy in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison (Black Canyon). Frequently bold, often difficult, and always thrilling, the Black Canyon is internationally known as one of America’s most adventurous and wild climbing destinations—the very definition of long, traditional, backcountry Wilderness climbing. The National Park Service (NPS) is updating the Black Canyon’s Wilderness and Backcountry Management Plan, and now is the time to speak up and call on the NPS to reconsider key climbing-related parts of the plan—before it sets a precedent that could impact Yosemite National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, and other Wilderness climbing areas across America.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Ancestral Ute lands. © Daniel Dunn.

To date, the climbing management in the Black Canyon represents a collaborative effort between climbers and park staff that maintains sustainable access and preserves the solitude and adventure of the canyon’s dramatic setting. The new management plan preserves some of that critical work and proven strategies, but in other areas it dramatically—and unnecessarily—changes course:

  • The NPS draft treats fixed anchors in Wilderness areas as fundamentally prohibited, which ignores established fixed anchor management policy, overlooks years of great work by Black Canyon rangers, and puts climber safety at risk by preventing the timely maintenance and replacement of aging and unsafe fixed anchors

  • The NPS has set an arbitrary limit on new routes and access gulleys, without any data to show why these limits on climbing are necessary.

  • The NPS ignores modern raptor protection strategies, which are based on a large body of scientific research, opting instead for antiquated blanket closure strategies that restrict access unnecessarily.

The most worrisome aspect of the plan is the requirement of a Minimum Requirements Analysis (MRA) for the placement, maintenance, and replacement of any kind of fixed anchor. The MRA process is reserved for prohibited activities in designated Wilderness—and sustainable Wilderness climbing, including the use of fixed anchors, is not illegal. Climber safety relies on the timely maintenance of aging anchors, especially in remote areas like the Black Canyon, where rescue is challenging and costly. Besides ignoring established NPS policy and grouping climbing with other activities that are illegal in Wilderness areas, the MRA requirement takes climber safety out of the hands of climbers and puts it through an expensive, slow, and unnecessary bureaucratic process.

Take Action

Visit the NPS Public Comment Portal now to make your voice heard. Use the talking points below to let the NPS know how it can better manage climbing in the Black Canyon:

  • Current climbing management in the Black Canyon balances sustainable access with preservation and conservation, and there is no need to dramatically change course by reversing the interpretation of the Wilderness Act to prohibit fixed anchors in Wilderness areas.

  • The NPS must acknowledge that inserting the MRA process between climbers and the regular maintenance of fixed anchors puts climbers at risk by removing their ability to replace aging and unsafe anchors as needed.

  • The NPS should work with climbers to keep an accurate inventory of routes in the Black Canyon instead of applying an arbitrary limit to the number of new routes in the calendar year.

  • The NPS should adopt the successful, science-based raptor management practices developed and implemented in collaboration with climbers in other national parks such as Yosemite and Zion national parks.

  • To gauge climber capacity within the canyon more accurately, the NPS should measure it by party rather than by individual climbers entering the canyon.

Tell the NPS now about the shortcomings in this proposed climbing management plan.

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