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The Forest Service To Prohibit Climbing At Cave Rock, NV


by Editor

December 02, 2002

Camp4 - Climbing News Archive

Cave Rock, a well-known crag on the south shore of Lake Tahoe, could be closed to climbing as early as this December to accommodate the religious concerns of the local Washoe tribe. The Access Fund has been working for 8 years to keep Cave Rock open to climbing, but the new preferred alternative of the Forest Service would eliminate all climbing activities at the site. Other "noninvasive recreation" such as hiking, picnicking, stargazing, boating, and fishing would be allowed to continue at Cave Rock. Likewise, use of the four-lane highway that tunnels through the sacred site will remain unchanged.

Washoe Concerns with Climbing:

In the Washoe Tribe's view, the physical effects of rock climbing and the mere presence of climbers on the rock are considered to be insensitive, distracting, and incompatible with their traditional spiritual activities. In addition, rock climbing "affects the setting, feel, and association" of the Cave Rock Traditional Cultural Property (TCP), a legal property designation protected under the National Historic Preservation Act. Washoe elders have expressed specific concern regarding female climbers at the site, noting that the presence of women is a particular desecration. According to the Washoe, the intimate contact between climbers and Cave Rock leads to an exchange of power between the rock and climbers that affects the TCP. Thus, vehicles traveling through the tunnels are transitory and do not affect the rock as much as climbers. The Washoe would prefer that only their recognized spiritual doctors be allowed access to Cave Rock; the Forest Service have accommodated their wishes only to the extent that climbers will be excluded -- all other recreational and transportation uses will be allowed to continue, unchanged.

The Access Fund's Position:

Because Cave Rock is public property, the Forest Service has an obligation to explore management alternatives that do not unfairly benefit one group at the expense of another (especially where religious preferences are concerned). Indeed, a mandatory closure to climbing at Cave Rock raises significant Constitutional concerns. There are numerous examples across the country where federal land managers have effectively balanced cultural concerns with recreational use, including: Hueco Tanks, Devils Tower (AKA Bear Lodge), and the Red River Gorge. The Access Fund educates climbers about Native American religious beliefs and ceremonies where they affect climbing resources or access. This is consistent with the Access Fund's policy of developing cooperative, non-regulatory solutions to competing uses of public lands.

The Access Fund believes that the majority of climbers in the United States are sympathetic to Native American concerns and will sacrifice climbing opportunities to respect Native American religion -- without the burden of exclusionary regulations. This belief is substantiated by the results of the voluntary closure at Devils Tower, which has led to a remarkable 85% (or more) decline in climber visitation during the month of June. The Access Fund believes that climbers will and should support a similar policy at Cave Rock, and that the Forest Service should select Alternative 2 (Manage Sport Climbing to Reduce Effects on Cave Rock TCP -- and allow climbers to voluntarily respect Washoe religious concerns. Likewise, the AF believes that the preferred alternative (Alternative 6, the Maximum Immediate Protection of Heritage Resource) is too extreme a management direction and inevitably raises serious Constitutional concerns.

The Proposed Closure is "Only Now" Available for Public Comment:

The Forest Service threatened to close Cave Rock several years ago. At that time, the Access Fund was successful in convincing the agency that Cave Rock should remain open to climbing and provided a joint education effort that encouraged climbers to climb elsewhere out of respect for Washoe religious beliefs. In 1998, with the urging of the Access Fund, the Forest Service released a draft plan for Cave Rock with a preferred alternative allowing climbing. The climbing community submitted comments and supported this former preferred alternative. The new restrictive preferred alternative that prohibits climbing was not part of the 1998 draft Cave Rock plan. It is only now available for public review and comment.

Please Take the Time to Comment on This New Plan (deadline is December 15):

The Forest Service's recently issued Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) -- prohibiting climbing entirely -- on the Cave Rock Management Direction. It can be viewed at Write the Forest Service in support of Alternative 2 and opposing Alternative 6. Alternative 2 would allow public access, including rock climbing, on the National Forest at Cave Rock. However, climbing would be managed to decrease the current level of use by reducing the number of climbing routes. Thus, under Alternative 2, most existing routes will remain accessible. However, no new bolt installation, or creation of new routes, would be permitted. Maintenance of existing routes by climbers would be conducted only with prior permission from the Forest Service. Tell the Forest Service that selecting Alternative 2 and allowing for a voluntary closure at Cave Rock is the best way to balance recreational and Native American interests. Write to:

Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit
Attn: Cave Rock
870 Emerald Bay Road, Suite 1
South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150

Or email John Maher, Archaeologist for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, at

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