Bolts Out of the Blue?

Photo by Ian Fowler/Colorado Mountain School

For years, the wilderness climbing regulations in national parks were vague when it came to bolted routes—but the possibility that bolts could be banned was always very real. Now the wheels are in motion to clarify exaclty what’s allowed in areas managed by the National Park Service (NPS).

In 2013, the NPS issued Director’s Order #41, recognizing climbing as an acceptable use of wilderness and that fixed anchors don’t violate the Wilderness Act, but they should be used sparingly. It recommends controlling and possibly reducing fixed anchors, but left it up to each park to set its own rules. In March, two parks—Sequoia and Kings Canyon—and Lake Mead National Recreation Area issued new wilderness management plans, tightening regulations on fixed hardware.

What does that mean for Colorado? Not much— for now. Rocky Mountain National Park already has a wilderness management plan that allows fixed hardware, with no immediate plans to update it. Colorado National Monument lacks a plan, so it has banned new fixed anchors but allows replacement. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is restrictive about hardware and is currently in the process of updating its wilderness stewardship plan. But if climbers’ voices are not in the mix, their concerns could be left out of future plans.

“This issue affects some of the highest profile climbing areas in the country,” says Erik Murdock, policy advisor for the Access Fund. “It’s important for us to engage in the planning.”

Get involved at accessfund.org.

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