Last time in “How to Navigate the Crag,” we covered general crag etiquette: how to maximize your safety and the safety of others while having fun, as well as how to be an informed outdoor climber wherever you climb. Now we’re looking into how to get specific access information for the crag you’re visiting, whether that’s Devil’s Lake, the Red River Gorge, the Holy Boulders, or wherever you end up going to climb outdoors.
The safety and local practices you should know when you go to a new crag are often referred to as the local “ethics.” Without knowing these, you could still have a great time, but you’d likely end up violating some local access rules, making crag maintenance more difficult, or possibly endangering yourself or others. Plus, a huge part of growth in climbing is about building up your repertoire of skills to become more adaptable as an adventurer and athlete – figuring out new beta, reading a route from the ground, knowing what to look for at a new anchor, etc.
We don’t mean to intimidate you here – learning how to be a conscientious climber wherever you go really just comes down to doing an hour or two of research, asking some questions, and making friends, all stuff you’ll hopefully do anyway before you pile into the car for the weekend. This way, you’ll immerse yourself more deeply into the local climbing community, which will often net you valuable beta you wouldn’t find in a guidebook, and you’ll learn more about rock climbing as a pursuit than you could learn in a gym setting. Follow these three steps to get up to speed on local issues for your destination:
1. Understand Access Issues and Logistics
If you’re looking into climbing outdoors for the first time, invariably you’ll come across the word “access.” Consider this: 60% of U.S. climbing areas lie on public land. While huge political battles often play out in the public sphere over climber access on public lands, keep in mind that 40% of climbing areas are on private lands in which climbers have earned – and need to maintain – the right to climb.
Your job is to find out the critical issues for where you’re climbing. A great example is Roadside Crag at the Red River Gorge, a very popular crag that sits on private land. Climbers have lost access to Roadside in the past for violating landowner rules, so it’s important to know how to act before you go. For the Red, you can find relevant access info at Red River Climbing, and of course Mountain Project for access beta for spots all over the world. We of course can’t forget the Access Fund, either, for all the work they do in fighting for climbers’ access to land all over the country – we recommend a yearly donation if you can swing it.
2. Research local practices and conversations
Many local climbing areas will be served by several organizations. The Red River Gorge has the RRG Climbers’ Coalition, Wisconsin has the Wisconsin Climbers’ Association, and Illinois has the Illinois Climbers’ Association. These organizations (as well as sites like Mountain Project, including the messages boards) will usually share critical information around climbing ethically in that specific area, such as whether or not you should climb on certain boulders after rain in Devil’s Lake, for example.
Some areas will even have issue-specific groups relevant to local practices, such as the RRG Fixed Gear Initiative, which works to re-bolt the Red with higher quality equipment, replacing lower quality and dangerous fixed gear used in the past. To get up to speed on the local issues and practices, search around for local organizations, message boards, and Facebook groups, and read up on what questions people are asking, and the types of issues that come up repeatedly. There won’t always be clear answers, but the more you’re tuned into the issues, the more you’ll understand when you start to talk to people at the crag.
3. Go to events, meet people, and get involved
A time-honored (but sometimes overlooked) way to get the most up-to-date information and advice is to talk to other climbers, particularly those who’ve climbed where you’re going and go there often. Getting in touch with other climbers outside your crew is more than a great way to make new climbing friends – it gets you a first-hand look at how locals and more experienced climbers are handling situations or access issues. One way to connect with locals is to give back to the community, like volunteering for events such as trail maintenance days or clean-ups. You not only meeting new people at these events, but you also take part in a climbing community effort to maintain access for the future. If climbers leave everywhere they go in a better state than they how they found it, we’re more likely to have years and years more access to the beautiful places we love going to climb.
Now that you’re up-to-speed on the issues related to your destination, you’ll need to figure out what you want to climb. Up next: How To Navigate The Crag, Part 4: What To Climb.
By Chris Rooney, a writer and climber based in Chicago, IL.
Photos courtesy of Daria Taylor. Follow her @dariaxtaylor.