Date: March 18th, 2019
About The Access Fund
The Access Fund is an organization dedicated to keeping climbing areas open for climbers while keeping land owners happy with us climbers. These passionate people have worked hard to keep places like the Red River Gorge and Hueco Tanks open to us. From their site… “Since 1990, the Access Fund has assisted with 76 acquisitions through the Access Fund Climbing Preservation Grant Program and the Access Fund Land Conservation Campaign, helping to preserve over 17,323 acres of land for climbing.” See a list of their many good deeds here. You can become a member or give to them here.
I did an interview with the Access Fund back in 2016 about things that climbers do that threaten access to climbing areas, such as poop disposal, trail erosion, pad stashing, etc. You can listen to that interview with Brady Robinson and Travis Herbert at www.trainingbeta.com/media/access-fund.
The reason I wanted to talk to the Access Fund again is that I’ve noticed a growing trend of disturbing behaviors at crags around the country, and I wanted to address those concerns with a professional in the industry. I talked aith Zachary Lesch-Huie, who is the National Affiliate Director and Southeast Regional Director for the Access Fund, about the following:
- improper poop disposal
- bad dog behavior
- high noise levels
- big crowds
- loud, unruly kids
- music when others are at the crag
- erosion at climbing areas
Why This Is Relevant to Training for Climbing
1) If we disrespect climbing areas enough, they get shut down or highly regulated (ex: Roadside Crag in the Red and Hueco Tanks), so what are we training for if our favorite areas are no longer available to us?
2) All of that hard training for projects outside can be ruined in an instant by people screaming, dogs barking, and a smoker below you on your big redpoint attempt.
My Plea to Everyone
I’d like us all to get on the same page about our behavior at climbing areas. If we all respect certain guidelines, everyone will have a better time climbing, and more importantly, we’ll all continue to have climbing areas to train for.
I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’m not, and I have changed many of my own behaviors over the years, including being less loud at the base of climbs, not talking to people while they’re belaying, staying on trails even when they’re muddy, heeding access regulations, and teaching my dog to be quiet and respectful of others. I try very hard to be respectful of you and your experience when I’m climbing outside and inside.
Be an Advocate
I have also stepped up as an advocate of climbing areas by talking to people who are doing disrespectful things, asking them to please stop, and often telling them why I think it’s important. This is not easy for me to do, but I feel it’s my responsibility so I do it anyway.
In this interview and the last interview with the Access Fund, we talked about how to communicate effectively with people without coming off as being offensive. It’s really scary to confront each other about our behaviors, but silence often implies consent, so people will never know their behavior is offensive, dangerous, or threatening to climbing access if we don’t step up and inform each other.
Climbing is my happy place. I love it so much I almost feel like I need it. When I don’t have it in my life, I don’t feel right, and I have a feeling you can relate. When I go to climbing areas and am faced with these issues, I feel sad, frustrated, and scared for our favorite places. If you listen to this interview and find that you do any of these things, please make a commitment to make changes in order to contribute positively to our community and our shared spaces. Let’s work together to make sure we all have positive experiences at our beloved climbing areas, and that they stay open for many years to come.
Please, please listen to this episode, even if you think you already know all of these guidelines. And please send this episode to any climbers you think could benefit from it.
My Talk with the Access Fund
In this interview, I talked with Zachary Lesch-Huie, acting Executive Director (at the time), National Affiliate Director, and Southeast Regional Director of the Access Fund. We covered a lot of topics, including:
- Proper disposal of poop
- Guidelines for dog behavior at crags
- Noise level considerations
- The problem with crowds, and what to do about it
- Children at crags: what not to do
- Smoking etiquette
- Is music ok at climbing areas?
- What we do to cause erosion, and why that’s not ok
- How these things have gotten climbing areas shut down
- Areas that are in danger of being closed
Please send this to any new climbers you know…
Access Fund Links
- Give to the Access Fund: www.accessfund.org
- Educate Yourself about Etiquette and Environmental issues: The Climbers Pact
Training Programs for You
- Check out our Route Climbing Training Program for route climbers of all abilities.
- Checkou out our Bouldering Strength and Power Program for boulderers of all abilities.
- Our other training programs: Training Programs Page.
Review the Podcast on iTunes
- Link to the TrainingBeta Podcast on iTunes is HERE.
- Please give the podcast an honest review on iTunes here to help the show reach more curious climbers around the world 😉
Top banner by Neely Quinn of The Fins in Idaho.
Photo in Facebook post of Barbara Zangrel in Joshua Tree by Colette McInerney @etteloc.
Neely Quinn: Welcome to the TrainingBeta podcast where I talk with climbers and trainers about how we can get a little better at our favorite sport. I’m your host, Neely Quinn, and I want to remind you that the TrainingBeta podcast is an offshoot of the website trainingbeta.com which I created to have one site that is just dedicated to training for climbing.
We have a blog, we have training programs, I do nutrition for climbers remotely on Skype and email, and Matt Pincus does training online with people also, all over the world. If you go to trainingbeta.com you’ll find all of that there.
Recently on the blog we put up a post about using isometric testing and training with kids teams and Brannon Frank wrote that for us. He runs the Boise Climbing Team in Idaho and has had some really good success. If you’re interested in isometric testing or training, which is something that Tyler Nelson has written and spoken a lot about for on TrainingBeta, this is practical usage of that. You can find it at trainingbeta.com/blog. If this is a long time from when I’m publishing this, you can just search ‘Brannon Frank.’
In this podcast episode I talked with Zahary Lesch-Huie of the Access Fund. He is the southeast regional director as well as the the national affiliate director for the Access Fund. At the time I did this interview he was the acting executive director, so he’s a lot of directors. He knows a lot about what they do at the Access Fund and I thought that he would be a good person to talk to about some access issues that our crags are facing.
First things first, the Access Fund is amazing. They keep our crags open for us and they keep them safe and clean and all the things. They do the talking for us with the landowners and managers so please, please, please if you’ve never given to them, you can go to www.accessfund.org and become a member, like a monthly donor or just give one time. It really goes a long way. That’s my pitch for them. We all support them.
Today what we’re focusing on are some things that are pretty controversial [laughs]. I’ll just start with that. I’m sorry if I offend anybody in this episode. Sometimes when I go to crags lately I feel pretty scared about the things that I see happening. I also feel like I don’t enjoy going outside as much anymore because of just how much noise there is, dogs’ behavior, seeing where people are peeing and pooping, and seeing all the trash and the erosion, and just the way that people are treating each other in general. It’s not going to get any better on it’s own, right? We have to talk to each other, we have to form some kind of guidelines for each other – sort of a code of ethics, I guess – among climbers and we have to teach each other, I think, what is affecting us at crags.
I know that this seems sort of out of the realm of the Access Fund but I do think that there are access issues when it comes to disrespectful and, I don’t know, just off-putting behaviors at crags. You can look at it as a) sometimes crags get so out of hand and erosion gets so out of hand and garbage and everything that places actually get shut down. Roadside Crag got shut down because of erosion and other issues. Hueco Tanks got shut down and then restricted, right? It happens. It happens not a lot but often enough where we should really give pause to these issues.
The second issue here is, like I said earlier, sometimes I don’t have as good of a time at areas anymore climbing. Honestly, I won’t even go to certain crags because of the things that I’ve experienced there. That in itself is an access issue. I don’t want to access these crags anymore because I don’t feel comfortable there. I don’t think I’m the only person who thinks that. We spend hours and weeks and months training inside for usually, well not usually but a lot of times, just to go outside and climb something hard or climb our best, right? What is the point of doing all this training and climbing indoors if we don’t even enjoy going outside to our local crags?
This episode is an attempt. It’s my attempt to have us as a community sort of come together and talk about these things. I really, really encourage you to talk about it on Facebook in a respectful manner or any social media, and then also just have conversations with your friends about what they think is appropriate and what you’ve learned from this episode. Then also, I think the most important thing is for us to actually be talking to each other at the crags when we see things happening because I think that silence can imply consent. If we don’t say things about the fact that somebody’s dog just ate our lunch and it’s all we have to eat and that’s not an acceptable thing to have happen, that person is never going to know that it actually bothered us or affected our climbing day. I think that we have to respectfully talk with each other about these things so that’s what this episode is about.
I want to say that I’m definitely not perfect and I know that I’ve climbed with a lot of you and I know that some people are probably going to be like, ‘Yeah, well she can’t say anything about that because she was loud at this crag when I was there,’ or ‘Her dog stepped on my rope one time,’ or something like that. I’m not perfect by any means and I’ve learned a lot about how to change my own behavior and I really, really try hard to not get in people’s way or ruin their experience and train my dog and all of these things. I hope that’s what we can all strive to do, be the best that we can be for each other so that crags continue to a) stay open and b) stay fun and enjoyable places for us to be.
In this interview we talk about things like dog behavior, kid behavior, poop and pee, noise and music, smoke, and screaming, and erosion, like where to walk at crags and where to put our stuff. Those are the things that we go over and I really hope that you learn something new or that it just reiterates something that you already knew. I really appreciate you listening to this one. I know it’s not going to give you ‘how to train for such-and-such.’ Please pass this episode on. This one is really important to me so thank you for listening and I’ll talk to you on the other side.
Neely Quinn: Welcome to the show, Zach. Thanks very much for talking to me today.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Absolutely. Glad to be here.
Neely Quinn: For anybody who doesn’t know who you are, can you tell us about yourself?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Sure. My name is Zachary Lesch-Huie. I’m the southeast regional director for Access Fund. I’m based out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. I’ve worked for Access Fund for about seven years and do Access Fund mission work from Kentucky and Virginia on down. The other hat I wear at Access Fund is as the affiliate director which means I’m the point person and support person for all of our local climbing organization partners.
Neely Quinn: Nice. Do you think that access to our climbing areas is an issue?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: I do, yeah, I do think it’s an issue. It’s a real issue that I faced when I first started climbing. That’s sort of what galvanized my climbing advocacy, personally, was in western North Carolina where I grew up and started climbing, closed areas were a reality. I watched certain areas get closed. My climbing mentors told me about these other great areas that we could no longer go to and that still happens today, just outright closures and threats like that, but access is also an issue in terms of climbing communities, impacts, and just day-to-day use at the crag. Yeah, it’s a real pressing issue and the good news is there is a lot of support in the climbing community for being proactive about addressing it.
Neely Quinn: Right. That’s why we’re talking, to discuss what we as climbers can do to avoid having our areas closed.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: When folks think of Access Fund they think sometimes of more distant things like our work in Washington, DC or land acquisition deals or purchases but a lot of access does come down to just the day-to-day and you can make a difference. When you go climbing, just an average trip to the crag or boulders, there is a lot there that makes a difference for keeping an area open.
Neely Quinn: So there are things that we can do that will help keep areas open. Can you name some basic things that landowners actually care about that we do on their property?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: As a good guideline, Access Fund has something called ‘The Climber’s Pact.’ It’s just a short list of common sense things that I think most climbers get and understand but these are the kinds of things that landowners and land managers like to see and really, I think that the climbing community ultimately likes to see. Basic things like being considerate to other fellow members of the climbing community that are out at the crag but also hikers, bikers, other users of our public lands.
Another simple one is just following the rules. Private land owners don’t like it when you trespass. Public land managers don’t like it when you do things that just fly in the face of basic policy so those are the real basic ones.
There are other ones that may be more subtle and that we may not think about as much but make a difference for sustaining the climbing resource, just having lower impact overall. Things like when you get to the base of the crag where you put your stuff down or throw your boulder pad actually ends up affecting the long term climbing environment there and it can make a difference for whether or not our impacts spread back into the woods or desert behind us, or whether they’re more sustainably contained. Little things like putting your gear close to the rock when you get to the crag also matters a lot.
Neely Quinn: Can you give me a couple examples of areas that have been closed because of the impact that climbers have had?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: I’ll give two higher profile areas. The list is quite long for local backyard areas, too. Hueco Tanks is one big one where just the sheer climber use numbers and impacts really concerned the land managers and there was a partial area closure and other management rules that they put in place to help manage the amount of visitors that were coming.
Red River Gorge is another big one and an example we refer to a lot is Roadside Crag. It was one of the early marquee Red River Gorge crags and it’s privately owned. Climbers loved it but we used it a lot and we used it in greater and greater numbers and we didn’t always take good care of it. The private landowners just shut it down. They had had enough and the impacts were enough and so they shut it down. Now it’s a success story so it’s gone full course, that Roadside Crag, from a place that grew into a really heavily visited spot to a place that was closed and now it’s reopened and it’s on a better, more sustainable path and we’ve done some work there.
Neely Quinn: We were just there last month and you have to get a permit for the day online, you should give a donation, but what is the difference between now and then? Basically, you can just go online and get that permit and as many people as sign up can go. What’s the difference now?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Roadside was the first crag I went to way back maybe 15 years ago when I first went to the Red. Back then there was zero regulation and you just parked down there on the side of the two-lane road and walked up and it was just everybody having a good time. A lot of people, maybe some dogs running around, and that eventually just wore the place out, particularly on one side of it where there’s more moderate routes and hence more use. The landing area at the base of the crag just completely blew out and was eroding down the hillside.
The difference now is 1) the landowners created a nonprofit to hold and manage it and I think that’s a good development, Graining Fork Preserve, and 2) you do have to sign in and agree to the landowner’s terms and make a donation. Those two things there help restrict just a little bit the amount of folks going which can help with impacts but that’s not the whole story. The other big difference is Access Fund and local climbers digging in and doing work at the crag, the physical environment there, to rebuild the base area and reinforce the trails and base areas to just make them able to withstand the love we bring to the area. That’s a difference now. Access Fund’s conservation teams have worked with landowners and we did a big project there on the right side to help rebuild that base area and it looks a lot better. It’s more sustainable but there’s a lot more work like that to be done. That’s the kind of difference from a crag that was more wild west back in the day and now is a little more proactively managed.
Neely Quinn: Do you think that – because I think that a lot of people listening are like, ‘How does this affect me? How does this affect my crag?’ – there are other areas that you see are sort of on the brink of being closed.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Well, the truth is that you don’t know. We take for granted when we go out and enjoy any place but in the background, there are land managers monitoring use, there’s the slow progress of our impacts, and these things are sort of easy to forget. I forget them myself when I just go out and have a nice day climbing on the weekend but a lot of our bigger, most famous areas are being watched for these kinds of impacts. If we don’t stay proactive about it and work with land managers and really be honest about the fact that our use has impacts, then places can close.
Red Rock, Nevada, is an area where you have a sensitive desert environment. Bouldering and the route climbing there poses a bunch of issues that land managers are concerned about and we’re concerned about. That’s a spot where closures could be a possibility if we don’t help bring about a better management solution.
It’s a long list. I don’t want to put too many black clouds on the horizon but really, every area has this risk if we don’t address it.
Neely Quinn: I’m just trying to get a sense of how it’s being monitored. The land managers will go up to the areas and what will they see that they don’t like? I want to get into what we can do.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Here’s another example kind of from an earlier climbing area for me on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, a bouldering area. One way that a land manager might monitor this is by photographically just watching use over time. In this case it’s a bouldering area where – I think climbers have seen this – it’s a new bouldering area and it gets more use and the staging area starts creeping back and further back. The bushes that were five feet away from the base of the boulder might disappear. That kind of impact is something that gets watched over time.
Also, visitor use counts. Rocky Mountain National Park has a visitor use counter on a tree next to a really popular boulder. That’s another way folks get data about use and impacts. Worse examples are when land managers find things that we shouldn’t be doing like stashing pads or something. Those are some of the measures of that.
Neely Quinn: Okay, so it seems like there are a lot of things that can affect that. The main things that I notice at crags more recently are how many people are there, first of all, the amount of dogs that are there just running around, how many people are going off trail or, like you said, just pushing back landing areas.
The other thing is I feel like my experience at crags is much worse now a lot of the time because of all of the people, all of the noise, all of the dogs, all of the kids, all of the everything. I don’t know if they’re too separate issues where I don’t like this and so I want it to stop or if those things are actually affecting our access because I do want everybody to have a better experience. When you’re in Ten Sleep and there are literally a hundred people at the crag and 16 kids screaming and four dogs barking and 10 people smoking, these things I want to think are access issues but maybe they’re just nuisance issues to me. Can you sort of delineate there?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Yeah, I think they are access issues ultimately because it’s not just the physical environment that we’re trying to protect, right? We’re trying to protect a lot of different kinds of climbing experiences that we really like. The good news is that there’s not just one kind of climbing experience. There’s a lot of diversity there, right? There’s getting way out by yourself in the wilderness, having a really big adventure, there’s more urban bouldering, there’s sport crags where you might have a lot more people, there’s the mid-country situation. There’s everything in between and a lot of different kinds and slices of climbing experience there but it’s not just the physical environment. The climbing experience matters, too, and the two go hand-in-hand.
I can also say I can relate to your feelings. An analogy might be to road rage or something where inside the vessel of your car sometimes you’re noticing things out there that make you say some cuss words under your breath but if you were to get outside of the car you might carry yourself differently. I’ve walked up to crowded crags and on the one hand thought, ‘Oh no. It’s super crowded,’ and then had to remind myself, ‘Everyone is probably saying that and who am I to say that I’m the only one who gets to enjoy this crag? This is really for everyone’s enjoyment,’ so you go up there and you make the best of it. That’s a more positive spin on that problem.
I went climbing the other weekend at Denny Cove here in Tennessee, outside of Chattanooga, a place Access Fund and the Southeastern Climbers’ Coalition helped buy and protect. It was really crowded. There were maybe two dozen folks pretty much stacked up next to each other, route by route by route, and there were dogs and kids. It could have been a situation where it was not so pleasant but for whatever reason it was pleasant and folks were getting along, folks were sharing ropes, sharing draws, and it was an example of where that more crowded crag and social situation was working well. I think it was working well because folks got intentional about it and were like, ‘We’re just going to enjoy this aspect of it for a day and we’re going to be a crowded neighborhood for a day and share that.’
To your point, it doesn’t always work that well and sometimes a dog is running around, dancing on your rope or taking a crap on your rope [laughs].
Neely Quinn: Doing all kinds of things like biting other dogs or whatever.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Or there’s a small child that runs in and causes you to short-rope your leader or something. Those are real issues and I think it can totally go south. To be specific, dogs are problems sometimes but not always. Kids can be a problem sometimes but not always. Playing music, noise in general, can definitely be a downside to the experience out there but these things are manageable, in part if we bring a good attitude to the crag but also we’ve got to reach out to our fellow climber when things go awry and talk to people.
Neely Quinn: It seems like what you said is there are sort of two issues we’re talking about: one is access where the landowner or land manager might be like, ‘We don’t want you here anymore.’ The other thing is the crags being so crazy that a lot of people don’t want to go there anymore and that’s an access issue, I think, in itself. It’s no longer enjoyable enough because people are being inconsiderate that people don’t want to go there anymore. I think there are two issues and maybe for each of these topics we could maybe talk about both, like how each of them impacts each access issue.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Sure.
Neely Quinn: If that makes sense. Do you want to talk about dogs? I think we should know what the Access Fund thinks are some parameters that we can follow for dogs at the crag.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: You’re putting me in a sticky wicket here. This is one of the hotter topics. Once we did a post on dogs at the crag on Facebook, I think, and good golly it went wild. We got a lot of action on that. A couple people held our feet to the fire but yeah – we have some Access Fund literature and guidance on dogs for folks that are interested in that.
I think it’s pretty simple: number one you just follow the rules and often there are rules, namely keep your dog on a leash. Let’s be realistic: sometimes you don’t keep your dog on a leash at the crag. Now, the guidance there is you probably should unless your dog is just a saint but there are also – and this is the harder reality and the harder line we have to say – some places that dogs are just not suitable and that’s just the case. Some places they’re just not allowed. Muir Valley in the Red River Gorge is a place where, for example, dogs are not allowed and that was a decision that the landowners made about impacts and the user experience.
I’ve got a dog and I like to take my dog climbing but if your dog is out there terrorizing people, taking dumps at the base of the crag, eating people’s food, then you shouldn’t bring your dog to the crag. I think people should think very carefully about which crag they’re going to and whether it’s really suitable for the dog.
Neely Quinn: What are some guidelines for that?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: A guideline would be how many people are going to be at that crag? If it’s really crowded and you know it’s going to be and you know other people are just going to go ahead and bring their dogs, leave the pooch at home. More backcountry wilderness situations are another spot but not always. It’s not hard and fast but maybe consider leaving your dog at home. I’ve seen some very unfortunate dogs having to ride out a full day at the base of a route, wondering what’s going to happen, so situations like that. I think it has a lot to do with crowds and just guidelines for a particular area that exist.
Neely Quinn: Can I bring up a couple points and see what you think about them?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Yeah, fire away.
Neely Quinn: A couple of experiences that I’ve had with dogs that were pretty disturbing are when you approach a crag and you’re walking up the trail and you get to a place where there’s a group of people who have dogs and the dogs run up to you and start barking or they just block the trail and growl and bark. These are things that I find to be first of all, scary and second of all just rude. The owner doesn’t do anything in my experience. I think that they think the dog isn’t going to hurt you because they know their dog and they know it’s not going to bite you but I don’t know that so they don’t do anything. I think that that’s an issue.
I also think just barking in general. If a dog has a tendency to bark at other dogs and the owner doesn’t know how to stop that from happening, I don’t think that dog should be at the crag. I don’t know. What are your thoughts?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: I think you’re right. It’s sort of the same rules that apply to your dog in your neighborhood or even your dog at the dog park. If your dog is nuts and scaring people then it’s not a good idea to take them many places perhaps, but to climbing areas particularly.
I know exactly what you mean, too. A dog owner knows their dog is not going to hurt anyone but when their dog runs up to someone and just starts barking, it’s just the other person has no notion of that. They don’t live with your dog everyday. They don’t know the difference between that and whether this dog is about to take a bite out of their leg. That’s another example of egregious dog behavior where it’s not a good idea to bring them or just ensure as a dog owner that that does not happen. Tie your dog up but if it does happen, just know that you’re scaring people and you’re also putting a big diminishment on the overall climbing experience for the day for people.
Worse, consider if that is a ranger walking up the trail and your dog is running loose and running up to a ranger, potentially threatening it. A lot of downsides to that.
Here’s a good dog story, too. I was at a bouldering area and a buddy of mine put his sandwich down on the ground and someone else’s dog ran up and just ate that sandwich right away. Promptly, the sandwich was gone. [laughs] My buddy politely said, “Hey, you need to keep your dog on a leash. This guy just ate my sandwich,” and the dog owner’s reaction was, “Well, you should put your sandwich higher up.” That, I think, is the wrong kind of thinking in general for dogs at the crag. The onus is on the dog owner and the responsibility is on the dog owner, not on the other people who are subject to experiencing your dog.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, that one is super frustrating. When I was in Ten Sleep over the summer the five of us girls were having lunch and this dog wandered over and was begging and getting into our stuff for a while. The owner was not anywhere in sight and we had to ask him to please control his dog. That’s not something I should have to ask, I don’t think. That definitely deterred from our experience at that crag.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Yeah, it definitely is a bummer. It’s not what you want to do when you’re out climbing. On the other hand, I will say, Neely, it’s what is required sometimes and a person may genuinely just not get it yet in all these kinds of situations. I think it’s great that you went and raised the issue and talked to someone. That’s really what we might have to do sometimes and if we can do it in a way that doesn’t leave the person feeling bad but kind of helps them understand that there’s other people out here and what they’re doing is affecting other people’s experience it can come out well. It can come out positively but yeah, you don’t want to have to do that everyday. You don’t want to have to be the ranger on the ground but on the other hand we can set an example and then if we have to, we can reach out to people and help them get it.
Neely Quinn: I think that is a huge issue, what you just talked about, with not only dogs but with everything. When I’m at a crag and there’s something that’s really annoying happening I feel like I’m the only person I know who will actually say something which doesn’t always come off well and I’m sorry if I’ve ever offended any of you. I feel like it’s almost my duty because there are other people thinking the same thing but we don’t know how to talk to each other in a way that, like you said, gets the point across but isn’t a negative experience.
In that dog situation I think it would have been appropriate for me to say, “Hey, we’re trying to eat our lunch here. Your dog is sort of getting nosey. Is there any way you can keep him over by you?” Do you think that would have been offensive?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: I don’t think that’s offensive but different people will take offense at different things. I think the way you just put it sounds really respectful and addresses the problem directly and you do it in such a way that asks for their help in addressing it. Those are good ways to do it. I think that’s the right approach in general.
This is one of our Pact bullet points: be an upstander, don’t be a bystander. Don’t just sit there and think these bad thoughts about everything going on around you. Get out of your head and reach out to fellow climbers and see if you can affect things more positively. If you do it in the right way I think most of the time folks will – there will be some folks who will be put off no matter what – appreciate it if you do it the right way.
Neely Quinn: And even if they’re put off the first time, it might help them not do it the next time and the next time. I think that’s what is happening. Everyone is not saying things and so everybody is just getting away with this stuff and they don’t know that it’s bothering people, or they know but they don’t really care because no one has said anything, so it just keeps going and going and going. I think it is really important that we police each other because there’s not anyone else going to police us.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: I totally agree. Ultimately, that’s Access Fund’s climbing management ideal. If we could pretty much self-police then we would have far fewer access problems and relieve land managers of a lot of the worries and concerns that they have. Self-policing also helps ensure the climbing experience is really great when we go climbing so I totally agree. It’s a way to make a difference.
The bad examples can kind of snowball like you’re saying. If we don’t reach out and sort of intervene, people start to just think this stuff is normal and these kinds of situations and behaviors are normal and that’s not good because if that stuff gets super normal then crags get closed and we don’t like climbing much anymore.
Neely Quinn: Right, exactly. We don’t want to go to our favorite places. It’s awful.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Again, I just want to emphasize – and I’m going to get put in hot water for talking about dogs but that’s okay because it’s an important issue – that I’m a dog owner and I’m not an angel or perfect with my dog. I’ve learned a lot, too, going climbing in different places. There’s places where I can kind of let my dog be more of a dog and it’s more appropriate but then there’s just a lot of climbing places where you can’t. I think that kind of attitude will help, too, in our outreach to other folks. We’re all not perfect about these things but we do know what’s a bit better and what’s better for climbing areas. Putting it to people that way is also maybe an effective approach when you have to walk up to someone at the crag and say, “Hey – your boombox, your subwoofer, maybe that’s not so great right now. I can’t hear my belayer.”
Neely Quinn: That’s exactly it. Just to finish up with the dog thing because we need to talk about how dogs – obviously, with an actual access issue where landowners are going to close areas down because of dogs that’s probably going to be when dogs are off leash, but other things that might contribute to that are, I’m assuming, like poop not being picked up and dogs just running around and digging stuff up and things like that.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Yep. Poop and digging, digging in particular. Man, I have seen some bad examples of where dogs are dogs and they just start to digging and every side of the staging area of a crag looks a bit excavated after a year or two. That’s bad. That’s another bad issue with dogs.
Neely Quinn: And the poop issue can get a little bit out of hand when people don’t pick their poop up but people are like, ‘I don’t want to pick up my dog’s poop and put it in this bag and then have it sit next to me for the whole day in the sun so what do I do?’
Zachary Lesch-Huie: You’ve got to pick it up. It’s that simple. Put yourself in the streets of New York City or something. If your dog takes a crap on the sidewalk you pick it up. We can at least think of our climbing areas as a bit better than a sidewalk and a really special place that we share with other people. We’ve just got to. Our own poop we’ve got to take care of properly. Our dog’s poop we’ve also got to take care of properly. [laughs]
Neely Quinn: Which by the way, dog poop bags are very handy for human poop as well.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: That’s good adaptive use there. Maybe we’ll put out a little education piece on that. We do promote the use of WAG bags in certain spots.
Neely Quinn: Is there anything that I or we missed about actual access issues with dogs? Is there anything else that they’re doing?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: No, I think that covers it. Don’t let your dog scare people or threaten people, keep them on a leash, don’t let them run amuck, don’t let them dig and erode the climbing area, and pick up their poop. Consider the reality that it may be better sometimes to leave your dog at home. There’s the summary. Don’t forget, too, that a lot of Access Fund-ers are dog lovers, myself included, but even I sometimes don’t take my dog to the climbing area.
Neely Quinn: Remember that if your dog is barking it can be really difficult to hear your belayer and your climber.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Yeah, that’s a good one.
Neely Quinn: Okay, I think that’s all on dogs then. Can we talk a little bit about noise in general? Noise levels? I’m assuming that noise levels are only an issue for landowners or land managers if they’re close to the crag. What do you think about that? Have you seen an area be closed because of noise?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Yes. Well, I have seen land managers evaluate climbing areas and wilderness areas overall based on noise. This is kind of a nerdy, wonky example but for wilderness areas for example – and a lot of our best climbing areas are in wilderness areas, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, a lot of our climbing areas are in wilderness areas – land managers do assess wilderness areas even based on the acoustics overall and whether there’s an appropriate soundscape for wilderness. There’s kind of a wonky example of how noise is very explicitly a part of land management.
I think in general it’s an important consideration for the kind of climbing experience we’re looking to have and the more concrete one that Access Fund has talked about before is playing music at the crag or boulders and whether or not that’s appropriate, when it’s appropriate, when it’s not.
Neely Quinn: When is it appropriate and when is it not appropriate?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Well I am going to first qualify that it’s situational. Sometimes there are rules and then it’s just not appropriate. Those rules from a land manager are usually based on a disturbance to wildlife and/or disturbance to other users and the overall experience so don’t do it when it’s that easy. But then there are other places where there is no explicit rule and you might want to play some techno and boulder or something, whatever music you like. I think if you’re by yourself and there’s no wildlife concerns or other hikers around that you might disturb then you’ve got some leeway to play some music. If you’re not by yourself or with someone you know that you know is not going to be bothered, I think a good rule is to always ask. I think if you’re at the crag or boulders and there are other climbers then a good rule is to always ask first.
Neely Quinn: And know that, like in our other conversation, people are loathe to say, “No, it’s not okay.” Read them, too.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Yeah, it’s totally true. Just asking is maybe not completely fair because in asking someone may just be a really nice person who has a hard time saying, “No,” but their true feeling is they don’t want to listen to music while they’re climbing. That’s a hard, subtle thing to read but it’s worth thinking about but still, as a rule, if there are other climbers around don’t just flip the on switch. Ask and engage the other climbers and other users around.
Neely Quinn: Also, I feel like people forget that it’s music to you when you’re sitting right next to your speaker but it’s just noise when you’re 40 feet away.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: You can’t really hear the lyrics.
Neely Quinn: It’s just something that’s getting in the way of you hearing wildlife or the birds or the river or your belayer, more importantly, or your climber.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: No, I think that’s a fair point. There’s other sounds out there that aren’t too bad to hear that can be pleasant and that other climbers are even looking for, you know? And the lack of noise. Some climbers are looking for that amount of quiet. There are some places where it may be an okay fit and there’s a group of climbers that’s down for it and music is fine so it is situational. We’ve got to be careful, considerate climbers and not just assume one situation applies everywhere and when we go everywhere consider our surroundings, consider other users there.
Neely Quinn: What about noise with other things besides music? With the music, I do hear it sometimes but it’s not super often. What I hear more is just people screaming for no reason, like just using really loud voices when it’s totally unnecessary. I don’t know. It just gets in the way of everything sometimes. [laughs]
Zachary Lesch-Huie: I think that’s a harder one because you know sometimes there is instruction to be loud and very clear to be safe, ‘On belay, off belay,’ and that sort of thing.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, totally.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Then there’s the sort of wobbler screaming that results when you take a whip on your project and you didn’t get it. That might be more of an instance where if it’s you screaming, pitching a fit possibly, you might be able to reflect and think, ‘This might be harshening folks’ experience right now.’ That may be a better example of where folks can just think about their own contribution to noise and sound at the crag.
Neely Quinn: I mean, I definitely have tossed a couple of wobblers in my life and my husband was not proud but it’s also when you’re at a small crag and then some people roll in and there’s a group of them and they’re just sitting, waiting to climb, and they’re talking super loudly as a group. That can just make it really hard to hear what you need to be hearing.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: I think some of this is tricky, kind of even cultural etiquette stuff, and can depend on the crag, like you said, the situation if it’s not crowded or if you’re at a quiet corner of the crag, or if suddenly everyone is kind of quiet because someone is trying really hard to redpoint something. It can be a bit like somebody doing their final putt on a golf course and everybody’s quiet and then some dude blurts something out. It’s hard for me to come up with a good, hard, fast rule in those situations but there’s etiquette to be aware of and follow. It does generally just come back to being aware of your fellow climbers and surroundings.
Neely Quinn: I think it’s all on a spectrum, right? There are times when you’re going to talk with your friends and whatever but I think that I’m thinking of a specific – I had a very terrible experience in Ten Sleep, obviously, because I keep bringing it up. There just kept being more and more and more and more people who came to this particular crag on this day and the more people who came the more screaming there was, people were talking over each other, it was like being at a party, right? There were 10 kids screaming 60 feet away but it was echoing up. I’m on this climb, I’m trying to onsight, and I’m distracted by the noise. I can’t even hear myself think. It’s that level that I’m talking about where you walk up and you just start screaming and nobody can hear anything.
We learned from that experience and when we would walk up to crags after that we would whisper. We would talk really quietly because we didn’t want to get into people’s way and I think that we can all do that a little bit.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: It’s exactly like you said, like going to a party and you’re the first ones there and then more and more people pile into a room and an hour and a half later it’s just crazy loud or something. That’s a great example and you got more aware of it.
This is the unfortunate option but the other option is to just go to a different spot or go to a quieter corner of the crag because sometimes there’s just no way around the fact that a lot of folks are going to show up one day. That’s not to diminish the need to think about the overall experience but sometimes it’s a better option. If you’re not down for that big group experience, you don’t want to be in it. [laughs] You don’t want to be set off all day.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, for sure. You know, it brings up the point for me of why I’m wanting to do these talks with you on the TrainingBeta podcast. I want to bring it back home for a second. It’s because we train for our sport, we put so much time and effort and care into how we prepare ourselves. We spend hours at the gym, hours reading blogs and listening to podcasts about how we can get better at our sport, and then we go outside and it’s our weekend to get out there and perform and all of these other things are happening around us and it makes it so much harder to perform. If you were an Olympic runner or something you wouldn’t have somebody on the track blocking your way. You wouldn’t have a baby screaming in your ear at the starting line. Things like that. I know it’s different but it kind of isn’t. We all sort of take this sport seriously and I think we should give it the love and care for other people, too, so that they can enjoy their experience.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: I think it’s a great point. As serious as some climbers take training, we can take the climbing experience at the crag just as seriously and think about the experience and our behaviors that way. I think it’s worth saying, too, and this is the wrong audience perhaps to mention this but part of that serious thinking about what we’re looking for when we go to the crag is knowing that other climbers aren’t necessarily going to show up looking for that Olympic track performance situation, right? Other climbers will be less performance orientated and may not have trained all month or all year to come work on their project but they’re still showing up to climb on a route and I think ultimately that’s a good thing. It’s an awareness about how we share the stage and share the climbing environment with all sorts of different climbers with different aspirations who are looking for peak performance experiences to just a mellow weekend out with friends.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, we are all there for different reasons.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: I think it’s possible to get all of those things in there and what we’re talking about now is just kind of the tensions sometimes that come up but you’ve just got to be aware about those different aspirations and balance them.
Neely Quinn: And be kind and considerate to each other.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: That’s a great rule right there. That’s a good bottom line: just be kind and considerate.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, because it’s only going to get more crowded out there.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: It is and I think that’s a reality worth stating. OIA estimates there are six or seven million climbers now, visitation at popular climbing areas is going up, and for a lot of places this is a part of the climbing experience and getting into it, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em is a part of it or getting out of it and finding different places and crags that give you that solitude or peak performance route is also part of it. We’ll have to think a little bit harder about that going forward but more visitors, I think, means a bigger, more rich climbing community, a stronger force to keep climbing areas open, so I think it’s a good thing in the end.
Neely Quinn: I hope so. I think if we can all talk to each other – yeah, I think it’s a good thing. I mean, climbing is an amazing thing and I think that also more climbing areas will open as more climbers are coming into the community.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: That’s true. In fact, that’s happened. To go back to an example we talked about earlier at Roadside in Kentucky. It got closed once and right around the same time a lot of new climbing areas opened thanks to local advocates like Muir Valley, Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition, Access Fund, Miller Fork.
Neely Quinn: These new areas – there’s just so many.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Yeah, so new areas are opening and that helps spread impact out or keep it less concentrated in one spot so that’s a good thing. More places are opening so we’ve got more places to go.
Neely Quinn: Okay, what are we missing?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Oh lord, we talked about dogs, we’ve talked about noise, some other ones we talk about at Access Fund are human waste. We just cut right to it and call it poop. The issue of poop and how to deal with it well. As visitation goes up that really is a big one. We’re getting more emails and calls about how to deal with it from land managers and local climbers. Another issue is kids at the crag.
Neely Quinn: Should we talk about the poop for just a minute? Would you be willing to tell me which land managers you’re hearing from?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Yeah, well it’s the whole gamut but it’s not just land managers, it’s also from climbers. At peak use season, say, in the fall at a popular crag it was sort of an annual cycle where we’ll get some messages like, ‘Good golly! Poop problem’s peaking! What can we do?’ Then peak season falls off and we actually don’t hear anything for a while.
To give the solutions, the short solutions are in environments where there is a lot of rain, usually in the east or the northwest sometimes, and you can get away from water sources, digging a hole and following Leave No Trace can be a totally legit and appropriate way to do it but we mentioned WAG Bags. This is actually an approach more local climbers are getting on board with. The idea of pooping in a bag and then having to carry it around all day is not necessarily common sense [laughs] but in some places land managers say it’s absolutely required. Alpine environments, particularly like Tetons, Rocky Mountain, other places, you’ve got to do it and then you’ve got to pack it out. Even in Red Rock, Nevada, the local climbing organization put out a poop bag dispenser and voluntarily you can grab one and use it and it’s important not to leave that out in the desert. You take it out and you throw it in the trash can at home or wherever. That’s an experiment more local climbers are trying, offering WAG Bags from a box at the trailhead.
Neely Quinn: And those don’t really smell, honestly, especially if you put it in a bag after you’re done. It’s pretty sealable.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: No. I’m a practitioner and it’s far more pleasant than folks might think initially and easier to deal with than you might think, initially. This will just sound outlandish but maybe you’ll even look cool carrying a shiny silver thing back to the car. [laughs]
Neely Quinn: I don’t know about that but maybe.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: The other way to deal with it is just porta potties or a permanent pit toilet. Sometimes a place gets that much use where that’s a need. Salt Lake Climbers Alliance, for example, smartly paid money and rented porta potties for Joe’s Valley for a number of years during peak season. That was a really good service and now we’re working with them and the Forest Service and BLM to get a permitted pit toilet installed there because a long term solution for poop there was needed.
Neely Quinn: Okay, so what about people who don’t have a plastic bag, they don’t have a WAG Bag, they don’t have anything with them and they really have to go and they’re in the desert, let’s say. What do they do?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Oh man.
Neely Quinn: I mean, I know it’s terrible but a lot of people are in this situation.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Sure. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, right? Nature calls. In an emergency, dig a hole and hide the heck out of it and make it so that someone walking over it wouldn’t even notice. That’s the best advice I can give. If you can, walk back out if there’s a pit toilet or something but what am I going to say? In an emergency you’ve got to go.
Neely Quinn: I guess I learned in some places that you can smear it so that it’s at least going to be dried out by the sun and sort of eroded away more easily. Is there any place that that’s appropriate to do in an emergency?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Yeah, sometimes natural resource folks will debate over this unfortunately termed thing called ‘fecal smearing’ as an appropriate way to deal with your poop out in the backcountry. I think theoretically it only works in super duper dry, arid, sunny environments because the thinking is the sun will bake it off and get rid of it and it will blow away and I think that can work in the right spot but it may be better to dig a very, very deep hole and hide it like it just wasn’t there at all.
Neely Quinn: Okay. Poop and then last thing for now is pee. I’m thinking of one very particular area: the Gallery in Red Rock. There’s this one little cave that you walk down, around, and you go pee there and it smells awful. Actually, one time my dog sat in it and her fur changed forever and I’m not joking. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything we can do about that, right? Pee is just going to be kind of gross in some areas or what do you think about that?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Yeah, I mean that’s a cruxy one I think. There, if you tried to wander off in another direction you’re going to be facing a thousand cars and a bunch of hikers so options are really limited. I think every climber has come around the back of a boulder and suddenly found themselves in a pee spot. It’s unpleasant.
You can deal with that by walking further and just moving further away from the cliff or boulder. If it’s in a concentrated spot and you’ve got another option further away you might go for that. It’s not going to be a perfect solution for that one. That’s a tough one. I think I might remember that from my trip to the Gallery once.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, and on the topic of walking a little further there have been two instances where I’ve seen – one was on Ultrasaurus, this climb in the Flatirons in Boulder, where you have to scramble up about 40 feet to get to the base of this climb and this guy was on belay and he got to the actual base of the climb, 40 feet up, and he peed right on the climb, right? There was this other time this year where we were in this pretty crowded climbing area and this guy just peed directly behind this climb on another wall. That kind of thing. Nobody said anything to him so he doesn’t know or doesn’t care but I think that kind of thing can’t happen because pretty soon our climbing areas are going to smell like Yosemite big walls.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Yeah, Yosemite big walls are the poster child for how this can go bad for awhile. Having to fish out years and maybe decades of poop in brown bags stuffed in a chimney on top of a ledge and now that’s totally not cool and not practiced. People pack it out.
Ironically, when you’re on a longer route or a wall, peeing on a face where water is going to get to it eventually is kind of better than the crack where it’s in a perma-dry spot in terms of that smell and decomposition. I mean, that’s a tough one. Sometimes you’re on a wall and there are a lot of climbers around and you kind of run into issues of privacy and dealing with that so there’s not a perfect solution there either.
That does raise the issue though of at single pitch areas, say you’re at a steep sport crag, you definitely should get out from under the steep sport crag. Go beyond the drip line to pee because if you put it under the overhang, there it sits and stinks for the rest of a long while. That’s a useful rule in a lot of places now since we just love steep sport climbing these days.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, these are good guidelines. People can follow these.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: You know, some common sense, some situational awareness, some restraint and then if there’s an emergency you do what you’ve got to do. [laughs]
By the way, you can go onto the Access Fund website and order WAG Bags. I started carrying them in the top of my pack now and the more that I do that the more that I use it and the better I feel about packing out my bad stuff. Setting the new habits can be a little hard but once they get going they work and make a difference.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. I’ll carry a bag with me and my toilet paper and I go out there with my toilet paper and put the toilet paper back in the bag and I stick it in the top of my pack and throw it away when I’m done. That’s another thing, just a quick reminder to please don’t leave toilet paper out there. Just put it somewhere else where you’re going to take it out with you.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Yeah, the fancy rhyme is, ‘When in doubt, pack it out.’ Oh man, besides toilet paper being a terrible thing to see at the base of the crag – and that can happen, the ol’ white toilet paper flower is not a favorite flower – but folks have tried to burn their toilet paper and quite literally started a forest fire so just pack it out.
Neely Quinn: Whew! Alright, well I think we’ve covered a lot.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: A lot of pleasant topics.
Neely Quinn: Oh my gosh. Hopefully people don’t completely hate me at least now but, you know, I’m just trying to do my part to conserve our climbing areas and the pristine nature of them and our climbing experiences.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: I appreciate you just proactively talking about it. I think that’s what we’ve got to do. Talking about this stuff doesn’t have to be weird or awkward or piss each other off. This is just good stuff to talk about and at the end, leaves us with the kind of climbing experience we want to have. We all want to go to the crag and just enjoy ourselves and that’s ultimately what we’re talking about here.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, I think so, and we want to be able to go to our crags because they are open, most importantly.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Thank you. That’s right and that’s Access Fund’s bottom line right there.
Neely Quinn: How can people find more information on Access Fund about this stuff?
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Just go to the website accessfund.org and actually, a lot of the stuff we’ve talked about today we’ve done a lot of educational posters on, we’ve written some articles and gotten a bunch of different perspectives on these kinds of issues so if folks want to really go deep you can find that stuff there. Reach out to us if you run into this stuff at your local area and you think there’s a solution for it. That’s the business we’re in. We want to hear from people what kind of impacts are affecting your local crags so email us, call us, let us know and we’ll try to be helpful.
Neely Quinn: Alright. Thanks so much. I really appreciate it.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Yeah Neely. It was a pleasure talking with you.
Neely Quinn: Talk to you soon.
Zachary Lesch-Huie: Okay, bye bye.
Neely Quinn: I hope you enjoyed that interview with Zachary Lesch-Huie. If you want to give to the Access Fund or learn anymore about these issues they have tons of material on all of them at accessfund.org.
I’m not going to say anything more about that. I’ve already said my piece and again please, please join any conversations about it on social media or you’re welcome to write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have more to say.
Coming up on the podcast I did an interview with Shaina Savoy who does our Instagram posts. She’s awesome and she’s a friend. She lives in Vegas and is a strong climber who has really quickly broken into 5.13 in her climbing career. I’ll be in Spain with her, actually, next month I hope. I’m going to go there with my husband and Jonathan Siegrist and a person named Dusty who I don’t know. We’re going to go to an area near Malaga and we’re going to be there for about a month. I will be doing podcasting and regular TrainingBeta stuff so stay tuned for those episodes there.
I do also have a couple interviews coming up with people who plateaued at 5.11 or 5.12 and then broke into 5.13 via training, which I’m really excited about because I think this is more of the climbing level that a lot of people are at currently who listen to this podcast. I think it will be pretty relatable.
Again, you can find us at trainingbeta.com and on social media @trainingbeta. Thank you very much for listening all the way to the end and I’ll talk to you next week or the week after.