Desert Plaques – Art or Graffiti?

There’s a mini-thread going on over at concerning the use of plaques in the desert. For those who aren’t aware, it’s a common practice in the Creek to leave record of your ascent by inscribing the name and grade of the route on a thin slab of sandstone. It’s been the traditional, low key way to leave record of your ascent for those that come after, and the practice started long before there were guidebooks or the internet to spread information around. Back then you hiked up to a splitter, if it had anchors and a plaque, it had been climbed, if not, game on! I think it’s really cool to see the old plaques that have survived over the years, a storied part of our climbing history.

Back to the topic on MountainProject, one zealous poster goes so far as to describe the practice as a “disgusting tradition” and “vile.” Seems a bit overblown to me. Killing babies is vile. Plaques in the desert? Come on, get over yourself.

So what do folks think? Are plaques cool? Are they trash? Does anyone really care? Personally, I think they are an interesting part of the desert climbing experience, and it’s sad to hear about people going around breaking these things in a feeble attempt to boost their own fragile egos.

Comments are on.

3 Responses to Desert Plaques – Art or Graffiti?

  1. Since the begining of time man has left hieroglyphs, cave paintings, scrolls, and etchings to detail history. Is this graffiti or a unique way of relaying our history and achievments to future generations? The way I see it, as long as these plaques are a way of passing on our climbing history to future generations then they are nothing more or less than the cave paintings in Southern Arizona. Imagine being at the base of Devils Tower and finding a small stone etched with a date and a name of the first person to ascend this rock. That, to me, is history. When does it become graffiti?, when plaques are destoryed and replaced, overplaced, or become an eye-sore. If discretion is used, these plaques can be a great way to pass on what we accomplish to future generations. Imagine being at the base of Everest and finding a rock with the words “Edmund Hillary, FA” scratched onto it’s surface.

    Aaron June 11, 2008 at 4:39 am
  2. I guess that seeing the changes at Indian Creek over the past decade mostly make me think that we need to do everything we can to minimize our impact. Tagging new routes is an impact.

    I like climbing for lots of reasons, including getting into the wilderness. To me, traveling with a light footprint is essential. So, I wouldn’t tag a crack.

    Ben June 15, 2008 at 2:14 pm
  3. Well, this thread is old, but I’ll chime in anyways after just coming back from the creek. Times have indeed changed, and not for the better. A small plaque on a piece of stone at the base of a climb is a hell of a lot less intrusive than the internet- which has literally torched a ton of places that used to be off the beaten path and reserved for those with some know how and a good sense of adventure. Add in little helmet cams, and you have the ADD crowd of climbers that dont give a shit about the past and those that came before them. My two cents.
    TK, highcountry, co

    tk April 25, 2011 at 3:07 pm
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