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Climbing Ethics

Climbing Ethics

This was written by the American Alpine Club and Mountain Tools, Inc. under the leadership of Sam Davidson. Many climbers contributed to its production.

CLIMBING IN THE UNITED STATES is now a popular recreational activity. There are perhaps 250,000 climbers nationwide, with visits from foreign climbers increasing. Until recently, no one looked closely at the impact of climbing on the natural environment. Now, we see that our increasing numbers may have an adverse impact on the lands we use, on other users and ultimately on climbers if we fail to be responsible in our behavior.

While many climbers are committed to “minimum impact,” our growing numbers, combined with the evolving styles and objectives of modern climbing, are having a noticeable effect on some areas. Soil erosion, trail degradation, defoliation of trees and bushes, litter, human waste and conflicts with other users—all are increasing matters for concern and can be attributed directly to increased climber use.

We have traditionally enjoyed freedom of access to climbing areas and become accustomed to a lack of restrictions on our activities. To preserve these freedoms, it is imperative that, as climbers, we dedicate ourselves to a code of behavior based on self-restraint, activity demonstrating care for the environment and concern for other visitors to mountain areas.

The following Ten Commandments of Sustainable Climbing are intended to assist all climbers, both American and foreign guests, to act conscientiously toward the environment and to promote good relations with other users, land owners and land-management officials.

Ten Commandments of Sustainable Climbing

1. Never disturb historically, archeologically or environmentally sensitive areas.

2. Don’t scar, chisel, glue holds onto, or otherwise deface the rock.

3. Don’t place bolts near cracks or other natural protection.

4. Avoid using colored bolt hangers that contrast brightly with the rock.

5. Don’t add fixed protection on established routes except to beef up question able belay or rappel anchors.

6. Don’t establish routes in heavy traffic areas such as campgrounds or directly above public trails or roads.

7. If you must leave slings at rappel stations or “back off’ gear, use colors which blend in with the surrounding rock.

8. Don’t throw anything—rotten slings, trash or even human waste—off climbs; it’s simple: everything you start up with comes off the climb with you, not before.

9. Accept responsibility even for the impact of other climbers on the mountain environment by removing rotten slings and garbage from climbs, bivouac areas and descent routes.

10. Know and follow local regulations on climbing and restrictions on bolting, motorized bolting and chalk. Then work to change unfair restrictions through the American Alpine Club Access Committee or local climber organizations.

Dispose of human waste legally and cleanly. Human-waste disposal is a real and growing problem which no one should ignore. Follow these guidelines for disposal of human waste:

When toilets are available, use them.

Do not dispose of human waste within 50 yards of any water source or at the base of a cliff. Bury your feces at least 6 inches below the soil’s surface and pack out toilet paper.

When on a route where human waste cannot be buried, dispose of it and your toilet paper in sturdy plastic bags (zip-lock or freezer bags). Seal them after use and stow them in a non-breakable, non-leak container to be carried out in your pack or haul bag. Do not leave these bags on the climb or throw them away. It is illegal to throw anything off rock walls in National Parks and a hazard in most climbing areas. When off the climb, dispose of bags in appropriate waste facilities.

Renew your commitment to “leaving no trace” of your passage during the approach, climb and descent. Clean up after yourself and others. Take along a plastic bag or hard plastic container for packing out trash. It takes little effort to stuff rotten slings, cigarette butts, food wrappers, etc. into these bags or even your pockets. If you accidentally drop gear or trash on a climb, return to the base of the route and recover it, plus any other garbage you may find in the area. Politely remind other climbers of the need for this commitment.

Always use existing means of access. Walk on trails whenever possible and avoid creating new descent routes or approaches if such routes already exist. Never make shortcuts across switchbacks.

Assume complete responsibility for yourself and your party’s actions while climbing. Be sure someone (friend or family) has detailed knowledge of your plans and timetable. Do not rely on a rescue team to come to your aid. If you get into a problem, get yourself out of it. Know and practice what to do in various types of emergencies, including injury to a party member, darkness or a rapid change in the weather.

Maintain a low profile. Other users of the land have the same right to undisturbed enjoyment of the area as you do. Remember that climbers often have a highly visible and audible “presence.” Whether on the cliff or in the parking lot, try to minimize this “presence.” Respect hikers, bird-watchers and other visitors.

Do not break the law or trespass in order to climb. In most places, climbing is a legal and legitimate activity. Should you encounter restrictions, call the American Alpine Club Access Committee to seek an effective and permanent response.

Respect other climbers in the area. Remember safety and courtesy while climbing. Falling rock or gear is a serious hazard, so be careful when climbing above another party. Do not create a dangerous situation by passing another party on a route without their consent. If you can’t pass safely and easily, don’t do it.

Support projects that make us all more aware of, and responsive to, climber- impact issues. Climbers depend on natural areas for climbing. If we care for the environment and back the agencies that manage it, we help preserve the right to and enjoyment of climbing. Get involved in or start clean-up projects, organizations that protect access and the mountains and back with whatever money you can afford the acquisition and protection of climbing areas.

Spread the word! Climbers should be leaders in attention to environmental concerns and responsible behavior for other land users to follow.

Our readers may wish to get regularly MOUNTAIN, the foremost bi monthly mountaineering magazine published in England on climbing in all parts of the world, including the USA. There are six issues each year and a subscription costs $19.50. To subscribe, send to MOUNTAIN MAGAZINE LTD., PO Box 184, Sheffield S11 9DL, England.