A Call to Arms

It was with dismay that I opened my email yesterday and read of a potentially massive climbing closure in Idaho. The area involved is Massacre Rocks, a treasure trove of basalt climbing in the central part of the state. According to the Access Fund, “the closure is intended to protect sensitive cultural resources within the Cedar Field Archaeological District and will affect several hundred bolt-protected basalt sport climbs.”

At this point the BLM is only proposing this closure, but it appears they intend to begin the process, which will require an environmental review of the area before any changes are made. This marks the second time the Burley BLM office has sought widespread climbing closures in order to deal with cultural resources. They implemented a blanket climbing ban on 400 acres of land at Castle Rock last year due to similar issues, in a move that stunned many given the unprecedented nature of the action.

I believe it’s important to preserve archaeological sites and respect Native American cultural sites, but I’m of the opinion that these widespread closures of an area are unwarranted. In the Castle Rocks case, the BLM had identified specific areas that were important to local tribes, and these spots alone could have been closed, keeping the rest open. You don’t have to look very far to find many places across the county where climbers and important archaeological sites coexist. Indian Creek is perhaps the best example I know of, where climbers have learned to respect that certain routes need to be closed because of petroglyphs or ruins at their base.

While there may indeed be some resources that need protecting at Massacre, it seems highly unlikely that the entire area needs to be shut down, and I would have to ask why we can’t work to find a happy medium that works for both sides? Issues like this set precedent, and if they can take away this much climbing in one place, it could happen in another. Hopefully the locals will come out in force to work with the BLM on this, though the area has remained low key for so long I wonder what kind of support they’ll get. If you’d like to get involved, you can email comments to Mike Courtney at the BLM Burley Field office at mcourtney@blm.gov. And it never hurts to make sure you are a member of the Access Fund. There will also be a 30 day comment period once the action has been officially started, we’ll be posting updates once that happens.

Speaking of low key, I’m reminded of an issue we talked about awhile back in the Secret Crags debate. One of the cons that we discussed of keeping an area secret was that if/when access issues come up, the more you can establish climbing as a legitimate use, the better off you’ll be in the long run when it comes to preserving access. There will always be some secret areas for one reason or another, but overall I think the more people that enjoy a place the less likely it is to get shut down. I want to see my kids get to play in the same places I do, not lament how great everything must have been “back in the day” before the man stepped in and shut it all down.

Of course what we could really use are some climber friendly types on the inside

(In the spirit of sharing more crags, we’ll be posting a new topo online soon to a sub area of the Narrows called the Gash. It’s the closest climbing to Carbondale, and offers the best hard sport climbing within a 30 minute drive. It’s a pretty unique spot, and some of the routes climb remarkably similar to Rifle. The hang isn’t the best, it’s a super steep gully, but it’s worth at least checking out once, with around 20 routes from 5.10 to 5.13+. Stay tuned!)

3 Responses to A Call to Arms

  1. There has been little effort to self-police in the sport climbing community. Maybe closures like this will start making climbers aware that they cant just grid bolt areas and think the land managers won’t notice.
    Also I can’t help but comment on your “how great everything must have been ‘back in the day’ before the man stepped in and shut it all down” statement. Sorry – but back in the day the lines were natural and bolted lines were only in a few places. The man didn’t step in until climbers went ballistic with the power drill.

    pocatelloclbr July 20, 2011 at 6:11 pm Reply
    • My understanding is that this has nothing to do with the bolts, but rather the cultural significance of the area. The BLM generally has no problem with bolt protected climbs, and some of the biggest sport crags in the country are located on BLM land, like Shelf Road in Colorado.

      That’s not to say sport crags shouldn’t be developed in a responsible manner, as grid bolting usually doesn’t win any awards with land managers…

      BJ Sbarra July 20, 2011 at 6:31 pm Reply
  2. To suggest that trad climbers are big protectors of the resource is a little disingenuous as well. Those climbs over petroglyphs and dwellings at Indian Creek? They got climbed before climbers wised up and closed the routes. Same thing in Joshua Tree, and probably a number of other areas.

    As climbers, we should be concerned about all closures and make sure they have a reasonable basis and limited scope, because tomorrow it could be your area, and have nothing to do with sport climbing. Mushroom boulder at Hueco closed for remains, Mt. Williamson in LA closed for frogs, it’s so much easier for an agency to do a blanket closure.

    I climb 90% trad, but I enjoy sport and bouldering. I’d hate to see climbing options limited unreasonably.

    dave July 20, 2011 at 7:00 pm Reply

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