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Holding On (Access Fund Editorial)


by Bennett Barthelemy

December 15, 2003

Camp4 - Climbing News Archive

To contend with gravity and climb the impossible is one thing…to pro-actively contend with access issues before they reach critical mass seems to require a strength and stamina altogether mythical.

For the adventurous, climbing in Northern California offers some of the most rugged and wild terrain left anywhere in the US. But because of its dense tangle of ridges, rivers, and property boundaries, it poses some challenging access concerns. Ferreting out and developing new areas, climbers have inadvertently stumbled across more than one dope patch. Depending upon the cultivator of the patch it could be left solely to the sun and winds, or it could be protected with any assortment of military style accoutrements. Getting to the hidden citadels is another factor. Up to 3 hours passing logging trucks on roads often narrowing to one lane and sliding between the folds of the craziest jumble of drainages and steep river gorges provides an ample dose of pre-cliff adrenaline. Topo maps are often an intersecting mess of Forest Service, private logging, Park Service, Wilderness, individuals, and reservation lands. Contacting the right owner(s) to discuss access concerns can be daunting and historically has been viewed often as a kind of Pandora’s Box of trial and tribulation—with an area so obscure and distant, why not keep it quiet?

For its size, Northern California is home to about as many Native American tribes as you could find anywhere in the US. Where reservation land stops and Park Service and Forest Service begins, there is often a bleed-over of interest by the Natives as the ownership and use of the land is still hotly contested. Many of the areas, regardless of lines on a map, are still used ceremonially for religious purposes as well as for fishing or hunting by the dozens of Native tribes in the region.

“Climbing wasn’t even on the radar until I got here,” mused Chief Ranger and climber Scott Wanek of Redwood National Park. Wanek has been at the Park for just two years and climbing has carried on there for more than a decade. Sea cliffs bolted and boulders sent scores of times, all without much notice. Lost Rocks has now jumped into the international consciousness with Chris Sharma’s Rampage video — who knew that word would leak out and this sleepy beach could have such an impact on the climbing psyche? Who knew that such a paradise might smother beneath the demands of bureaucracy and the overlooked concerns of the local Yurok tribe? What happens now with the developed world-class limestone crags that are “way out there” beyond the pale?

Out in Hayfork, Natural Bridge lies waiting for climbers but is absent of the click of carabiners against its steel bolts. The Nor-Rel-Muk Nation is actively seeking a means to have more effect over the care and use of the area — pulling it from the under-funded, understaffed clutches of the Forest Service while asking climbers for their help in respecting the area. It is an area that holds the distinction as a massacre site with more than 150 unmarked graves of their people. Many Northern California climbers signed a petition stating that they would voluntarily not climb there.

Again we are left with questions. What if climbers had been more pro-active at Natural Bridge and Lost Rocks? What kind of message does clandestine bolting send out regarding other now-developed areas with looming access issues? Yes, it is the climbers right to climb on Federal lands but there is often more at issue than a boundary line and a policy statement. We need to ask ourselves, individually and as a climbing community — “Are there certain areas that should not be climbed?”

Respect comes in many forms—pro-active dialogue and a sincere effort to expose future potential issues will go miles at preserving what we climb and may still develop. Yes, if we own up to our climbing practices and really listen to others needs, we may have to let go of some areas—but we can also hold on to many others. We need to ask ourselves what we can learn from the Cave Rock Closure.

The goals should be to secure access through conscientious action—letting folks know climbers care through dialogues, organized clean-ups, involvement in policy issues, and respecting closures before access becomes a boxing match. Dominion and the assertion of it, will only take climbers so far and areas will keep getting blacklisted for climbers. We will shoot ourselves in the foot if we expect access will be sustained by being secretive and low profile. Gyms just aren’t that appealing.

Editorial from the Access Fund.

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