THE INVISIBLE CRAGS INITIATIVE (ICI)
WE CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS:
THE MISSION: The Invisible Crags Initiative (ICI) is an Arizona registered non-profit. It represents a long term effort to minimize the visual impact of climbing crags in order to maintain access and preserve the beauty of our shared natural resources. Although visual impact is only one of many issues related to access, it is increasingly critical. As more climbers equip routes with fixed draws or leve project draws in place for months, crags have become increasingly visible. As they come to look more like indoor gyms, both climbers and non-climbers have raised objections. The situation is starting to cause access problems. A crag with well camouflaged bolted routes can go without notice from land managers or the general public for years and then suddenly become subject to potential closure when someone sees ugly chains dangling from a cliff. As climbers, our perspective on permadraws, long term project draws and other visual impacts can be very different from those of land managers and the general public. Like one’s kids or pets, climbers can have such a close relationship with their draws and the convenience they bring that they can have difficulty seeing them the way other people do. Unfortunately, like some dogs and children, chains, perma-draws and long term project draws are extremely obnoxious to many people.
While complete invisibility may be impossible, reducing the visual impact of climbing crags to the point where non-climbing land managers and hikers do not have visceral, outraged objections is achievable. That reduction requires compromises. Those compromises are necessary to preserve access.
The current petition project
As more climbers equip routes with permadraws made of chain or steel cable or accept the regular practice of leaving project draws up for weeks or even months at a time, the impact of climbing has become more visible and offensive, threatening access and public support of climbing. We love climbing and refuse to stay silent while a selfish few make our crags ugly in their efforts to replicate the indoor gym experience. True crag invisibility is an aspirational goal. However, we can significantly reduce the visual impact of climbing in our shared outdoor areas.
The petition. Short-sighted gym oriented climbers are essentially converting more and more outdoor crags into gym apparatus with no regard for the way it looks or the impact that these efforts are having on the environment. Everyone who signs the petition adds their voice to the demand that land managers implement specific rules and regulations related to the installation of permadraws and the abuse of project draws which are frequently being left in place for many weeks and months at a time. In conjunction with the submission of the signatures, we will be providing model rules and regulations pertaining to such activity for each agency. While these rules will limit the use of visually offensive permadraws and project draws, they will also help ensure the continued acceptance of traditional sport climbing along with the bolts that make it possible. Our model regulations include enforcement regulations that are designed to avoid burdening those agencies with significant additional expenses. This means a reliance on local climbing organizations and coalitions to provide the education and reminders necessary to ensure cooperation. The incentive for their participation will be the potential closure of areas where local climbers and their representative organizations fail to ensure compliance.
At the heart of the petition drive is a short video which illustrates the particulars of the problem, how pervasive it is becoming and why overreaction by banning all bolts would be a mistake. We will be negotiating with various conservation organizations to obtain their cooperation in sharing our petition and a link to the video in their own publications, e-mails to their members and on their web sites.
The video begins with a montage of many of the most egregious examples of just how ugly and extensive the permadraw and project draw problem has become. That is followed with an explanation of our own devotion to traditional sport climbing, among other climbing disciplines. The third part shows some examples of just how inoffensive and essentially invisible properly camouflaged hangars can be, but then contrasts those with examples of how visible those same hangers can become when draws of any kind are left on them. Following that is a brief explanation of why signing the petition will help and what we hope to achieve.
We expect to obtain many tens of thousands of signatures from people who love and use our public lands. We are expecting that this showing of support will motivate land managers from various agencies to take the visual impacts of climbing seriously and implement reasonable regulations to control it while simultaneously ensuring the continued acceptance of traditional sport climbing.
Who we are:
Dr. Cynthia Difranco: (DVM from Texas A & M Veterinary School, BS from Texas A & M University) Cynthia is a retired veterinarian. She owned and ran a large, successful clinic for many years. She has the management and people skills necessary to do excellent work coordinating and running the Weitz Freedom Fund. Cynthia is an avid climber. She is committed to the proposition that the best way to maintain climbing access is to require that climbers act as conservationists.
Jonathan Apirion: (JD: University of Arizona Law School, Magna Cum Laude, MS: MN State, BA: St. John’s College, NM and MD) Jonathan is a retired attorney and prosecutor. He did more than 65 jury trials, consisting mostly of serious felonies including murders and sex crimes. He was nominated for Felony Prosecutor of the Year by County Attorney Brad Carlyon in 2009 and also in 2007 by County Attorney Mel Bowers. Before going into law, Jonathan worked in the outdoors for ten years, serving as a Senior Guide and Head Climber for the non profit Outward Bound and doing private guiding for the American Alpine Institute, Acadia Mountain Guides and other organizations. Jonathan has been climbing for more than thirty five years. He has spent his life doing rock and technical alpine routes all over the United States, Central and Southern America as well as Northern Africa, Asia and other areas.
The Paul Weitz Freedom Fund for Climbing Access
The Paul Weitz Freedom Fund is a special projects unit of the Invisible Crags Initiative, a registered Arizona non-profit corporation.
Paul Joseph Weitz (July 25, 1932 – October 22, 2017) was an aeronautical engineer, test pilot, astronaut and Deputy Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. He flew combat missions in Vietnam, piloted the first manned Skylab mission (Skylab 2) and served as Commander aboard the first Space Shuttle Challenger mission (STS-6). Cmdr. Weitz, was not a climber. However, when his daughter, Cynthia Difranco took up climbing her enthusiasm for the challenges it involved and what she learned about herself while struggling to overcome her fears and frustrations all inspired him. He believed that climbing could help people in their struggle to become better people and regretted that it had not been a part of his own life. Paul hated that officials in public agencies might be limiting our freedom to use our public lands for climbing without reasonable justification.
OUR MISSION: We seek to honor Commander Weitz’s dedication to exploration and the ennobling effects of confronting real challenges by working to preserve and protect access for rock and ice climbing on public lands within the United States of America.
THE WEITZ FREEDOM FUND IS CURRENTLY PURSUING TWO PROJECTS
The first is assembling a litigation team to challenge unreasonable and excessive closures for the sake of protecting Peregrines under the Migratory Birds Treaty Act. While we support the protection of these birds under that legal authority, many recent closures have been excessive and unjustified by either the science of what these birds need or the evidence of climber cooperation with more limited closures. Peregrines were removed from the list of endangered species several years ago and are currently in the least threatened category. Some land managers have enacted, reasonable, limited closures to protect nesting Peregrines. (See for example, Eldorado Canyon.) Climbers have respected those closures and worked to educate other climbers to ensure that everyone complies. However, in too many other areas, land managers have enacted massive, crude closures that reflect a reckless disregard for the science and the evidence. While such drastic closures might have been justifiable under the Endangered Species Act, they often exceed what is necessary or authorized under the MBTA. We will be working to find areas where excessive closures can be successfully challenged so that the result sets a precedent which will apply to other areas. Unreasonably excessive, and frankly lazy closures are not necessary to protect the Peregrines. They represent an institutional inertia and, often, more of a desire to exercise and demonstrate power and control over climbers, than a genuine concern for the Peregrines. Obviously over-broad closures undermine support of government agencies to protect threatened or endangered species. They lead to distrust of government agencies ability to balance valid recreational interests with necessary wildlife protection and engender a lack of cooperation with reasonable conservation regulations. Excessive, unnecessary closures do more harm than good.
The second project starts in Arizona and involves working with a Phoenix lobbying organization to bring two items to the attention of the Governor and various legislators. The first item is the acceptance of climbing as a recreational activity on State Trust Lands. The second, and more important item is our proposal for the implementation of an Arizona Department of Climbing. Have you ever wondered how a state agency like Arizona Game and Fish is able exercise jurisdiction over hunting and fishing on federal lands including those held by the National Forest and Bureau of Land Management? There is an interesting history to the struggle of State’s to assert their rights to protect and regulate their game and fish resources on Federal Lands. While there are differences, we see the possibility of State regulation of hunting and fishing across most public lands within the state serving as a realistic model for better regulation and management of state climbing resources. As with hunting or fishing, everyone who climbs in Arizona would need to pay an annual fee for a basic license. There would be increased fees for out of state climbers and special fees for certain activities or especially sensitive areas. The fees would fund a small agency that would implement rules and regulations that would apply to all Arizona climbing areas. Just as AZ Game and Fish helps hunters access hunting on land that is managed by different agencies, so would AZ Climbing help climbers work with all of those different agencies. Game and Fish also helps facilitate hunting and fishing access to or or through private lands, which can also be an issue for climbers. We envision a scheme by which the Department of Climbing would receive some initial guidance and supervision from Game and Fish, but would eventually become entirely independent. Eventually, the AZ department of Climbing should serve as a model for other states.
Voluntary Crag Quota program
A voluntary quota system for high traffic, sensitive areas is being included in the model rules and regulations that we will be providing to various land managers in conjunction with the petition to effectively prohibit permadraws and project draw abuse. It is also a part of the model implementation legislation, rules and regulations that we are putting together for the proposed Arizona Department of Climbing. Have you ever driven to a crag and done the approach only to find that the crag is already too crowded and then just left, sometimes without any possibility of climbing somewhere else that day? Have you ever arrived early at a crag only to see it overrun by eleven o’clock and decided to cut your day short rather than endure the crowding? We have experienced both of those scenarios repeatedly. A voluntary quota involves setting a maximum capacity for a crag based on an assessment of its size, number of routes and consultations with land managers where appropriate. The sign up log for each day is available to all on the web and can be accessed with our app or a browser. Because the quota system will be voluntary for the time being, no one who shows up without having reserved a spot is going to get a ticket. However, volunteers will check compliance from time to time and explain the system as necessary. A sign at the trail head will also explain the system. Because the various quota sites will be coordinated, multiple bookings at multiple sites by a single individual will be blocked. Not all crags will have quotas – only those few that are considered sensitive or that are often problematically overcrowded. Land managers will conduct occasional random compliance checks. Where the system is working, we expect to be able to keep it voluntary. Where there is a lack of compliance, the quota system may become mandatory or the crag may be closed. This should provide an incentive for local climbing coalitions to do what is necessary to provide the education and reminders necessary to ensure compliance. Access to many areas is threatened due to overcrowding. Even if climbers do everything they can to minimize their impact, too many people day after day in a particular location can become unsustainable for the environment. Overcrowding can also make for an unpleasant experience, friction and rushing which can, themselves lead climbers to be less careful about their impact on an area. When a crag feels more like an indoor gym than a visit to a natural area, people are more likely to treat the area like a gym.
Apirion Iron Works
AIW functions as a subsidiary of the Invisible Crags Initiative, a registered non-profit. We are creating, and soon hope to be producing, tools to help minimize the visual impact of crag development. We are working on an integrated quick draw installation and removal system that will enable placing and removing draws much higher than is possible with current stick clips. It will not provide an alternative to every permadraw placement, but will reduce the need for many of them.
We are also continuing research and testing of drilled protection pockets as an alternative to bolts in highly visible areas. Our emphasis is on their use on sections of climbs that are easier than the crux sections but where natural, removable protection options are non-existent. The advantages include, fewer visible bolts, fewer bolts to place and maintain, fewer hangars to try to keep camouflaged, the fact that they never need replacement – if they ever become enlarged from frequent use, you can just move up to a slightly bigger cam. Currently we are working on a demonstration crag where most of the routes have sections of 5.9 or 5.10 that are protected with these slots and crux sections of 5.11 or 5.12 that protected with bolts. Drilled protection pockets are invisible to non-climbers. Some land management agencies have taken to banning “bolt intensive climbing” in wilderness or other sensitive areas in an effort to combat overuse problems. Routes that require the placement of some gear cannot be categorized as “sport climbs”.
A SUMMARY OF OUR OBJECTIVES:
- Help climbers understand just how ugly and offensive fixed draws and other visual clutter on cliffs can be to the general public, other climbers and land managers. An abandoned beer can in the woods is ugly and offensive because it speaks to a reckless disregard for our shared resources and an insensitivity to the beauty of the area. You see that beer can and it makes you a little bit sad and a little bit angry at the same time. While you don’t like seeing that can out in the woods, worse than the visual impact are the feelings it generates about the people responsible for its careless abandonment. Fixed draws and long term project draws can be even more problematic. It does not matter if they left up all year, all season or just for a few weeks. They can be a high and visible blight on an otherwise stunning cliff face in a dramatic setting. For hikers, sometimes getting to a place with big views that include some cliffs can be the high-point of an outing and seeing that view marred with what look like industrial, permanent intrusions can be depressing. In terms of emotional impact, however, the way those bolts and chains look can be less significant than the message they send. They say “we climbers don’t care about your experience out here, we don’t care about whether or not this is a shared resource, we don’t care about anything more than making things convenient for us to send these routes.” It feels like a betrayal. It feels like a group of people who you thought were on the same side as you in terms of loving the outdoors and being willing to make some sacrifices and compromises to preserve it have abandoned those ideals for the sake of making a selfish little climbing game more convenient. An angry response is understandable. That anger motivates people to do what they have to to see areas closed to climbing. This sort of emotional, gut level negative reaction is not limited to non-climbers. For example, sometime around 1989 or 1990 I was in Hueco Tanks and confronted a climber about the very visible draws he was leaving on a very visible route looming over the front bouldering area. There had already been tension over climber activities and there was a published set of guidelines prohibiting leaving visible gear anywhere on routes. That prohibition was consistent with the feelings of the majority of climbers at the time, which supported minimizing impact of all kinds. The climber told me that “we” had decided that leaving draws was OK for some routes. It is difficult to explain just how disappointing, infuriating and obnoxious his position was to me at the time. His “we” meant a small group of his friends that were working 13s, not the climbing community. I thought “we” should include me and all the other climbers who were willing to make compromises regarding convenience in order to minimize visual impact and preserve access. His statement and his position felt like a deep betrayal of the idea that there was a climbing community that was capable of self regulation and self restraint in order to preserve access. I have had that same experience many times since. I have seen many areas closed. When those people who have some sort of leadership position in the climbing community because they are developing routes and doing the hardest climbs use that position as leverage to defend doing things that can’t be accepted as general practices on all routes, they endanger the unity of the climbing community as well as access. It is time for the climbing community to reject the hypocrisy inherent in the idea that it is acceptable to have different standards regarding visual impact based on differences in the difficulty of a route. In the early stages of popular climbing in the U.S, climbers thought of themselves as stewards of the environment. They saw themselves as leaders among those who visited back county areas in the effort to minimize impact and protect those areas. Now, however, environmental groups increasingly see climbers as a selfish user group that is unwilling to exercise basic efforts to minimize their impact by doing such things as removing draws when they are not using them. Crags with a collection of fun, steep routes with fixed draws attract a lot of climbers and the beaten down vegetation and terrain around those places can become pretty ugly.
- Encourage climbers to do everything they can to make crags invisible. This site provides information about a number of specific tools and techniques for accomplishing this. Making crags invisible does not mean giving up routes. It does mean making some compromises and a willingness to accept that getting draws on and off steeper routes will be more inconvenient than just leaving them in place. Climbers should feel supported in their efforts to clean up crags despite the grief they might get from local climbers who are only concerned with keeping their convenient draws and chains to remain in place. Every climbers should feel that they are a part of the larger climbing community. Everyone should understand that their membership in that community brings both benefits (such as being able to get help from other climbers if they get hurt or need some information on a route) and responsibilities (such as doing what they can to keep their route development or route use practices from endangering access). One of the important aspects of the transition from being in a gym to climbing outside on shared public lands is the difference in control and ownership. The gym is owned by someone else. As a consumer you might have some say in changing the way it is run, but you have no real ownership. In contrast, on shared public lands, every climber, even those who have never placed a single bolt, should feel that they have some say in how things are done. They should each feel that they have a real ownership interest in those shared resources generally, but more critically over the crags they are using as climbers. The gym mentality can translate into a passive attitude towards route development and route use practices. If most climbers who just climb routes that have been developed by others and who don’t climb hard enough to ever consider leaving draws on a route think that they have neither the right nor the duty to comment on the actions of those who are developing routes or using them in ways that might cause problems, there is no functional community. Without a functional community, there is no chance of self policing. Each individual climber should feel empowered to speak out, take actions and challenge others about actions that seem problematic.
- Encourage the climbing industry to sponsor climbers and route developers who are working to reduce visual impact. As consumers we can let the industry know that we do not believe that the climber doing the hardest route is necessarily the best climber or the one we most admire. We can let them know that we care more about whether their sponsored climber is respecting the land and helping preserve access than sending a new 5.15. An effort to minimize visual impact should be the norm for all crags.
CONCRETE STEPS TOWARDS MAKING A CRAG INVISIBLE
- Camouflage: Obviously. Every hanger should be painted to match the surrounding stone. Shiny hangers that glint in the sun are unacceptable. This also means using the lowest profile option for fixed protection. While what can be used in different areas varies, glue-ins with surfaces that will take paint are a great low visibility option. See the tools and techniques section for specifics.
- Reduce the number of bolts: The number of bolts should be minimized. Fewer bolts means less visual impact overall. Fewer bolts means it is easier to keep up with redoing the camouflage paint on necessary bolts as it wears off. Where there are options for natural protection that is solid and easy to place, don’t place a bolt or remove existing ones. This is one of the important compromises that has to be made to preserve access. Even climbers who are focused on high end sport routes need to get into the habit of bringing a small rack of trad gear. While it is not true for every area or every type of rock, there are many sport routes that have sections of moderate climbing with natural protection options that do not require bolts. Again, this isn’t to say that bolts are inappropriate through crux sections or where the natural protection is questionable or non-existent, only that in those sections of a climb where there are reasonable natural protection options, there shouldn’t be any bolts, especially in non-crux sections. The climbing community has to disavow the idea that sport climbing is a distinct pursuit that requires bolt only climbs. Even routes with extremely hard sections that require some bolts through those crux sections may have easier sections that can and should be protected with natural gear if possible.
- Eliminate unnecessary perma-draws and don’t leave project draws up for weeks: Perhaps the most important compromise we have to make as climbers for the sake of reducing visual impact is giving up the convenience of perma-draws and long term project draws. This means we have to be willing to do the work necessary to get draws on and off of routes every time we climb, even when the route is steep. While there are various ways of mitigating the inconvenience, we acknowledge that nothing is as nice or easy as having the draws in place when you show up to climb. Even using the best tools and techniques for placing and removing draws, taking the time to do so may mean you don’t get to do as many pitches in a day. However, given the access issues that have been caused by the visual impact of fixed draws, we believe this is a necessary compromise. Perma-draws can’t be tolerated just because they make a route a little easier to climb or clean. There are some places where they are necessary for safety, but these situations are rare.
- The first 35 feet: We need to pay special attention to the first thirty feet or so as this is often the most visible portion of a route. If the first thirty feet is not especially steep, the first bolt should be placed high (15-20 feet up) with the expectation that it will be clipped with a long, extendable clip stick (except in places where the beginning of the route is so steep as to require lower bolts). Camouflaging and options other than bolts should be more intensively pursued for these sections.
- End of Route Anchors: Chains are easy and convenient. Unfortunately, chains are visible in a way that fat rap hangers are not. A pair of glue-ins can also serve as a low profile anchor from which you can rap, but because some may be tempted to lower through them, rather than rap, which wears grooves into them, you have to leave a couple of quick links on each of them. A couple of quick links are less visible than a long chain. When I am out hunting down “secret” areas, it is usually the chains I see first with the binoculars, regardless of whether of not they are camouflaged, because their straight vertical outline stands out from the natural contours of the cliff. Chains at anchors are not as serious a priority as fixed draws, but we should move towards avoiding them and only using low profile, rap only hangers or hangars with just a couple of quick links which are lower profile than long chains. Of course steep routes where cleaning the draws needs to be done while lowering or seconding the route, rather than rappelling will continue to be equipped with anchors that can be used for lowering.
- TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES TO FACILITATE CRAG INVISIBILITYCarry a big stick: An extendable stick clip can be used for placing and removing draws on bolts pretty high up, depending on the stick construction and the skill of the user. Pacing and removing draws up to 25 feet high with a stick clip is easy. Higher is difficult, but not imossible. Yes, a big stick can be cumbersome and some people just don’t like them. Too bad. This is an easy compromise we need to make. They are better than endangering access. Many routes can be entirely set up and cleaned with a big stick.
Be creative with your stick clip: For example, a strategy that works at some crags and on some routes involves climbing the first and easier portion of a route with a long string attached to a stick clip on the ground. Once below the start of the steeper, hard section you go in straight and haul up the stick in order to place draws through the crux section. That being done, you can lower. You have done half the route as a warm up and now there are draws on all the bolts, facilitating your send attempt.
Carry a little stick too: A collapsible stick clip that you can carry on your harness allows you to go bolt to bolt, aid your way through the difficult sections and put draws on the bolts before trying to send. Again, this involves a little work. It can be inconvenient. It is a necessary compromise. Placing the draws by doing some aid on the way up can be a warm up itself, although, admittedly, it is not much fun.
Create moderate routes for the purpose of reaching the anchors of harder routes. A moderate, fun routes that enable you to reach the anchors of harder routes can serve as a warm up and allow you to lower down the harder route, placing draws as you go. While such routes are not always an option, try to put one together if you can. In addition, an easy traverse route or continuation of the moderate access route can allow you to go from the anchor of one hard route to another. Even if such a route is contrived, silly or otherwise less than ideal, it can be useful. Do what it takes to establish them, without making them more visible than other routes.
If you are a sport only climber developing routes, ask someone with traditional skills and a rack to look for protection options in the moderate sections that you might not notice. This is pretty simple. Don’t place bolts where natural protection is solid and reasonably easy to place. Don’t place a bolt near a solid gear placement on moderate terrain.
Drill holes and leave them empty for the use of removable bolts on sections of a route where the climbing makes placing that kind of protection reasonable. Yes, current options for removable bolts suck. However, even the currently available products can be utilized in places where falls are less likely and getting them stuck not so much of a problem. If the first 30 feet of a route is not as hard as the crux sections, leave nothing but some holes, which are much less visible than bolts. NOTE: Much better removable bolts are in development and should be available soon.
Placing (and leaving) a few more bolts than might be necessary for a safe send for purposes of making it easier to get draws in place before trying to send a route: A few extra bolts left in place between the necessary bolts for climbing a route safely can make it easier to get draws in place for an attempted send. While extra bolts are not ideal, they have less visual impact than fixed draws.
Limited gear placement enhancement: When the most visible parts of a route could be protected with removable gear if the placements options were only a little better, it may be worth enhancing some of them or creating a few from scratch so that they will make a solid cam placement. Such enhancements are invisible from the ground. Three half inch holes lined up horizontally with the ridges between them chiseled out form a perfect pocket for a Camalot .3 x4. That slot also works with several other types of small cams. Smaller drill bits can be used to create slots for sliding nuts. Two larger holes can be used to create a placement for a small tricam. While it is true that some of these drilled protection slots can be used as holds, the same is true for bolts. Also, while the cable on a cam may end up kinked if you fall on it in one of the horizontal placements, we are making these placements only on the easier sections of routes where falls are unlikely. The crag we are developing as a demonstration for this approach has a number of routes with an initial 40 or 50 feet of lower angle rock followed by 20 or 25 feet that is much steeper. On routes where the upper crux section is 5.11 or 12, the lower sections are 5.9 or 5.10 and we are using drilled protection pockets only the those lower parts with bolts through the upper parts. Placing fewer bolts means you can afford to place better bolts. There will be less work involved in replacing them when that eventually becomes necessary and it will be is easier to keep up with refreshing the camouflage on the hangers.