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Tread Lightly to Protect Climbing Access

Climbing, once an obscure activity with few participants, has become a mainstream form of outdoor recreation. And our impact on the environment and others around us is under increasing scrutiny. As climbers, we must show a healthy respect for the places and policies where we climb. This mindset helps assure continued climbing access by showing landowners and managers that we take care of the places where we play.

Slip into stealth mode and follow these easy guidelines to help protect climbing access every time you’re at the crag.

Stay on established trails — Even if the trail is not the most direct line to the base of a route or boulder, avoid the temptation to blaze your own path. Hiking off trail promotes erosion and destroys vegetation.

Keep a low profile — We know that route you’re working requires a lot of moxie, but yelling, swearing, screaming beta at your partner, and even playing music at the crag can seriously disrupt those around you, including the landowner.

Clean up excess chalk — Chalk is a necessary part of climbing, but it also creates visual evidence of climber impact. Clean up spills and brush off tick marks after each session.

Respect closures — Respecting the wildlife (e.g., nesting birds) and cultural resource (e.g., petroglyphs) closures will help ensure that they don’t turn into unreasonable closures. Visit for an updated list of closures and restrictions across the country.

Keep tabs on your dog — Dogs at the crag can have a serious impact on climbing access due to their ability to disturb the peace of those around them, including that of the landowner. Consider leaving Fido at home. If you must bring your dog to the crag, keep it with you at all times, control its barking, and clean up after it.

Pack it out — Don’t trash the crag. Carry an extra plastic bag and pack out your own trash (yes, even climbing tape counts). Human waste counts too—do your business away from cliffs, boulders, trails, and water sources and pack it out. For AF member discounts on Restop bags, visit

Pad and tread lightly — We know you’re focused on sending that sweet boulder problem, but remember to think about the life on the ground around you. Avoid trampling or throwing crash pads on vegetation.

Educate others KINDLY — If you see someone hiking off trail, blaring music, or throwing trash on the ground, kindly let them know that their actions could threaten access for everyone. In many cases people simply don’t
recognize that their actions might negatively impact the environment or access to the area.


For more information on stealthy climbing practices, contact


The Access Fund is the national advocacy organization that keeps U.S. climbing areas open and conserves the climbing environment. It's also one of the outdoor and environmental non-profit organizations that Trailspace supports. Founded in 1991, the Access Fund supports and represents more than 2.3 million climbers nationwide in all forms of climbing: rock, ice, mountaineering, and bouldering. 

(Illustration by Kristin Marine)


The problem at the Frenchman Coulee, where I like to go, is that its free camping so people going to Gorge Amphitheatre concerts camp there and trash it.  Usually its broken glass and trash.  I heard a couple of guys as I climbed talking about gathering enough sagebrush to keep their fire going all night.  So all the vegetation is probably gone now.  Yes, we all don't like the same music either so blasting Fish, Dave Matthews, Usher or whomever is playing at the Gorge that weekend is annoying too.  Once the porta-pooper was tossed off a cliff by concert-weekend campers.  Climbers, ever inventive, got it back up the 100+ foot cliff.  The Fish and Game dept. must be really frustrated at how their land is treated. 

The illustration accompanying this article subtly pointed out some other issues that often go unacknowledged:

  • Stay off archeological and Paleolithic sites!  There are plenty of crags out there, no reason to accelerate the aging of ancient historical sites of interest.
  • Seek permission from whomever is the custodial caretaker of the land you intend to climb, before you set out.  All land is under some form of supervision; much of it requires explicit consent to engage in activities such as hiking, camping, and climbing.  Coping an uncooperative attitude about this will only work against the outdoor community in the longer run.
  • Use pitons only under exceptional circumstances.  I haven’t used a piton on any published route in the last 25 years.  I have used them with great reservation on routes that will rarely ever see traffic (e.g. Washburn route up Mt St. Elias).  It’s nice to feel like you are the first, even when you’re not.  I still carry pegs, but intend to use them only when a rescue would be safeguarded by such application.
  • Leave the bolts at home!  There are enough top rope and sports routes already;  If you can’t climb it, leave it for Spiderman who surely will come along some day and show you up by doing it lag-free.
  • Clean the route.  Carry a soft bristle brush to clear chalk off the route.  Remove hardware and slings left by prior groups.
  • Learn to set and extract pro so you don’t leave it behind yourself.  A fair amount of hardware is lost because of incorrect placement, and/or lack of extraction techniques.  I’d love to use the stuff I recover, but since I don’t know it’s history, I end up tossing into the scrap heap.  A lesson or guide can show you tricks on this craft that you may never learn otherwise.  The cost of a set of cams lost over the duration of a few season will more than offset the cost of such instruction.
  • Lastly, use a poop tube!  Nothing worse than bombed out base sites, or crapped up crags.


Ed, thanks for raising these important points about climbing and Leave No Trace.

In addition to the general LNT principles, LNT publishes Skills & Ethics Booklets for specific activities (ex. climbing , sea kayaking, mountain biking) and areas (deserts and canyons, Sierra Nevada).

Boils down to simple respect, if you have it or are you and ass ??

To Sagey Snow Man, I wish more camp sites were free but then who pays directly and indirectly for the restoration and clean up ??

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