Date: August 30th, 2016
About The Access Fund
The Access Fund is an organization dedicated to keeping climbing areas open for climbers while keeping land owners happy with those climbers. Since 1981, the organization has been helping to end disputes between climbers and landowners and buying climbing land and making it available for us, among many other things. For a full history and overview of the Access Fund, go to this page.
Often unnoticed by 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 59 acquisitions through the Access Fund Climbing Preservation Grant Program and the Access Fund Climbing Conservation Loan Program, helping to preserve over 16,303 acres of land for climbing.”
See a list of their many good deeds here.
They also organize something called the Rock Project (link no longer available), where influential climbers teach other climbers how to responsibly and safely go from climbing in a gym setting to climbing outdoors.
This is mostly what I wanted to talk to them about, since there’s a growing influx of new climbers all over the world, some of whom are doing unsafe and/or unsavory things at the cliffs.
My Talk with the Access Fund
In this interview, I talked with Brady Robinson, the Executive Director, and Travis Herbert, the Education Director of the Access Fund. We covered a lot of topics, including:
- Their recent access work
- Poop disposal at the crag
- Smoking at climbing areas
- Stashing pads
- Music at climbing areas
- Cutting down trees
- Putting up new routes
And lots of other goodies. If you’re new-ish to climbing – or even if you think you know everything about etiquette, please listen to this interview.
If we all got on the same page about these things, climbing areas would be much safer and even friendlier places than they already are.
Access Fund Links
- Give to the Access Fund: www.accessfund.org
- Educate Yourself about Etiquette and Environmental issues (link no longer available)
Training Programs for You
- Check out our Route Climbing Training Program for route climbers of all abilities.
- Our other training programs: Training Programs Page.
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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 today we’re on episode 59, where I talked with the Access Fund.
This episode is a little bit different in that we’re not talking about training to be stronger, but I thought that it was a really important topic to broach with you guys because there are lot of new climbers coming from the gym and going outside. I wanted to talk to the Access Fund, the experts on this, about how we can go out there and be responsible to the environment and to each other.
We talked about things like poop – you’ll hear a lot about poop – and what to do with your poop in different climbing areas. We talked about putting tick marks on and if that’s actually acceptable, monopolizing crags with your ropes and gear, we talked about whether it’s okay to smoke at crags, play music at crags, stashing pads up at bouldering areas. We talked about checking bolts, leaving fixed draws, moving rocks, cutting down trees – we talked about a lot of topics. It was kind of a quick-fire conversation.
Hopefully this is helpful to some of you guys if you are new to climbing, to help you go outside and be a responsible climber.
A little update on me: I took about a month off and that’s why you haven’t heard a new podcast recently. I’m sorry if I left you bored in your car on your way to climbing trips. I’m back now. We went to South Dakota. On the way there, by the way, we got hit by volleyball-sized hail. Well, it wasn’t quite volleyball but it was like baseball-sized, at least, hail and it broke our windshield it was so heavy. That was exciting – Wyoming.
Then we went to Victoria Canyon and it was beautiful and the climbs were amazing. The limestone is so much better than any limestone I’ve ever climbed on in the United States, really, and there was nobody there. If you’re a 5.11, at least a 5.11, climber I would highly recommend it. It’s kind of like a waste. There’s all these beautiful climbs out there and nobody’s out there to enjoy it.
Then I got injured. My neck got hurt somehow and I took a week off and did a staycation at home, which I highly recommend. It’s amazing. Then we went to Rifle where I promptly got super burnt out on climbing. I’m at a point now where I gave up on my project. It’s way too hard for me right now and I just kind of lost motivation, mentally and emotionally, so I’m kind of taking a break from hard stuff and doing easier stuff, and having a lot more fun. So – yeah. That’s kind of what’s going on with me.
Before I get into the interview I will let you know that FrictionLabs is our awesome sponsor. They have really great deals for you on www.frictionlabs.com/trainingbeta. You can also try their chalk at, basically, any climbing gym and REI and all of the gear shops out there, too. Right now, I just looked on that website, www.frictionlabs.com/trainingbeta and they’re actually, right now, giving you guys a free bag of chalk. All you have to do is pay for shipping. That’s pretty cool. You can try it out.
I think that’s it. I think that’s all of my updates so now I’m going to let you listen to the Access Fund. Here are Brady and Travis. Enjoy!
Neely Quinn: Okay, welcome to the show, Brady and Travis. Thank you very much for being with me today.
Brady Robinson: Thanks for having us.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. So for anybody who doesn’t know who you guys are and what the Access Fund is, let’s start with you, Brady. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the Access Fund?
Brady Robinson: Yeah, so Brady Robinson, executive director of the Access Fund. I’ve been working for the Access Fund for almost nine years now. We are the national organization dedicated to keeping climbing areas open and conserving the climbing environment in the United States.
Neely Quinn: Okay. That’s very succinct. Sounds like you’ve said that quite a few times.
Brady Robinson: I’ve been doing this for almost nine years, as I said, but honestly one of the great things about the Access Fund is that we are very focused. I think it’s – our mission statement hasn’t changed over the last 25 years. We’re celebrating 25 years this year. We’re having a big party on October 22nd in the Boulder area. Everybody that’s listening to this podcast is invited.
One of the reasons I love working for the Access Fund, and there’s a number of them, is that we’re very clear what we’re about and what we do, so yeah. That’s what we do.
Neely Quinn: Great. Then we’ll talk a lot more about that. So, Travis, can you tell us a little bit about what you do there and who you are?
Travis Herbert: Sure. My name is Travis Herbert and I’m the education director at the Access Fund. I’m a little bit more of a rookie than Brady. I’ve been here since the middle of 2014, which is when the education director position – at least the full-time position – became available here at the Access Fund.
Neely Quinn: Okay, so can you tell me, on a day-to-day basis, what kinds of things are you teaching people? What are you doing?
Travis Herbert: Well, a lot of my work is behind the scenes, figuring out how to create a national education strategy to reach climbers across the country, to inspire them to take care of outdoor climbing resources. That looks different depending on the audience and the group, but working with gyms, working with local climbing organizations across the country, working with land managers on educational signage, things like that.
Neely Quinn: Okay, and I’m assuming both of you guys are climbers.
Travis Herbert: Yes.
Brady Robinson: That is correct.
Neely Quinn: Brady, I see you at the gym sometimes but I have not seen you, Travis. You guys are in Boulder, just to clarify for everybody.
Brady Robinson: Yep.
Travis Herbert: Yes.
Neely Quinn: Why would my audience care about the Access Fund? How does this directly impact their lives?
Brady Robinson: Well I think that – I’ll take a swing at this one – climbing is changing quite a bit. A lot more climbing is happening inside and I think people, now, have the opportunity to have a full and fulfilling climbing or experience, if you will, predominately climbing in gyms. That’s something that’s changed, however, I think even people who are climbing in gyms, gym climbing is largely inspired by what happens outside.
I think, over time, a lot of people who climb in gyms aspire to climb outside. We are the group that is focused on making sure that there are places to climb, that privately-owned climbing areas are open, that climbing areas that are federal, state, county, city land are open and well taken care of, and that those areas are ready for them when they want to go out and enjoy the great outdoors. We can go into the various means by which we accomplish our mission, but as I said at the beginning, we are the only national organization that’s solely focused on this and I think we are really good at what we do and by supporting us, people ensure that there are places to climb outside now, today, tomorrow, next week, and for the next generations.
Neely Quinn: So why are there issues with areas being open to climbers? Can you give me an example of some of the work that you have done?
Brady Robinson: Yeah. Well, I think there’s a lot of different things that come up. Let’s just start with public land. It’s a tough job to be a land manager. You’re trying to, if you’re managing a federal park or forest or a BLM property, you’re trying/there’s a lot of different people who want different things from you and you’re trying to make sure that the resource is protected, that cultural resources are protected, that plant species, rare birds, what have you are protected. Then there’s all different kinds of user groups that want things from you.
Typically, people who are managing these lands are underfunded and one of the things at their disposal is to just close something down. If they’re worried about climbers interacting with, say, peregrine falcons or other cliff-nesting raptors, or if they’re worried about liability concerns, one of the things that a land manager can do is say, “Well, let’s just close it to climbing. There’s a lot of other users that come to this park or this property.” Certainly that’s something that land managers have done in the past.
One part of our job is to make sure that that is not a painless decision, that climbing is viewed as a legitimate use of public land. Not to say that it should be open all the time, everywhere – there are sometimes that closures are justified – but our job, really, is to make sure that, 1) it’s not a painless decision, but even more importantly that we are working with land managers and giving them the tools and support that they need to do their jobs to manage the various uses and user groups that are interested in accessing public lands, and making sure that we’re helping them protect resources.
We’ve got a big – there’s kind of different wings of us – we’ve got a big public policy shop, we’ve got a presence in Washington, DC, we’ve got someone who is an expert at federal planning processes, and so we work with the federal agencies as they make plans and manage their lands.
We’ve also got two, full-time trail crews on the road ten months out of the year in partnership with Jeep. They’re driving around in Jeep Cherokees and these are two teams of two people who are expert trail builders, and also trail planners, so we can go into an area, work with land managers, and say, “Okay. Here’s what the use patterns are, this is where climbers are going, this is how we can kind of build up the infrastructure so that the climbers get a great experience and the place doesn’t get trashed in the process.”
Our big programs are climbing policy and advocacy, land acquisition and protection – we’re also a land trust. We’ve got a million dollar revolving loan program that we use to buy and protect privately held climbing areas. Stewardship and conservation – a big part of that is the trail team I just mentioned. We also consult with landowners when they are concerned about liability issues and work with them to manage those risks so that landowners who own crags feel comfortable opening them up to the public.
Then local support and mobilization – we’ve got a grassroots network of over a hundred local climbing organizations all around the country. They’re incredibly important and really one of the only reasons that a relatively small nonprofit based in Boulder, Colorado can have a footprint across the whole nation, although now we have satellite offices in Seattle, Tucson, Moab, Phoenix, and Chattanooga. We’ll soon have some more, so we’re working on regionalizing the organization as we grow.
Then finally, our sixth program is education, which is the program that Travis is in charge of.
Neely Quinn: Wow. You guys do a lot.
Brady Robinson: We do.
Neely Quinn: Thank you, first of all, for your work.
Brady Robinson: Sure, yeah.
Neely Quinn: Okay, can we break it down even further? Can you give me a very specific project that you guys did that we can sort of relate with on a personal level? Like, did you guys ever do anything at the Red River Gorge or here around the Boulder area? What kinds of projects have you had success with?
Brady Robinson: Well, at the Red a lot of our success is in partnership with other organizations. Here in the Front Range, we’re blessed with some really strong local organizations in Eldorado Canyon and in the Flat Irons and more recently the Boulder Climbing Community that’s been working on issues in Boulder.
We worked a lot with Jefferson County on their new plan to manage climbing in Clear Creek Canyon and there was initially some concerns that the peregrine falcon closures were going to be a little bit – or eagle closures, I can’t remember which one or the other or both – too broad, so we worked very directly there to make sure that any cliff-nesting raptor closures were very focused, and we tried to understand what did Jefferson County/what were they really concerned about, and making sure that their management plan focused on those concerns without curtailing climbing access any more than it needed to. That’s something that we’ve done on the Front Range. We worked with the Boulder Climbing Community – that’s the local organization here – on that.
Now in the Red, the climbing community is blessed with an incredibly successful local group, The Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition, and we have worked with them on a number of land acquisitions and they have used our revolving loan program. Some of the biggest acquisitions that they’ve done recently have been funded with us.
Basically, what happens is we work with them. They identify a privately-held climbing area that is either threatened or could potentially be threatened in the future, and we work with them to put together the deal. We finance it, we generate a loan at very low to 0% interest, and then they pay it back over time. With Rocktoberfest and just the enormous group of climbers who are interested in climbing in the Red River Gorge and their proven track record, they’re really good at raising money. I think that the climbing community knows that when the Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition and the Access Fund have a project, that it’s going to be worthy and they generously open their wallets and support it. We’ve had a number of successful acquisition projects there.
Neely Quinn: Nice. How can my audience participate in this? What can we do?
Brady Robinson: Travis, sorry, I’ll take this one then I’ll hand it over to you. There’s a lot of different things. I think just being – the first step is just being aware. I think it’s really important that we understand that climbing outside is a privilege, not a right, and just understanding when we go climbing outside, who owns the land? What are the rules and regulations? What are the issues?
The question is then: well, how do I figure that out? I think one great way to do that is to sign-up for the Access Fund newsletter to be tapped in and just spend a few minutes every month when it comes out reading over what the issues are and educating yourself. Figuring out if there is a local climbing organization in your region and maybe making it a goal to show up at one trail day or one stewardship project. Just one day out of the year, take the time out to go out and do some trail work, maybe clean-up, maybe clean-up graffiti, it depends on what’s going on in the area.
Then, a number of things will happen. 1) You’re giving back to a place that you love, 2) you’re going to meet a lot of other people and kind of learn more about what the issues are, and 3) you’re going to be a part of a movement of climbers who shows land managers in the world that we’re the sorts of people that show up and take care of these places, which ultimately sends a really strong message that climbers are the sorts of people that we want to have on our public lands. They’re the sorts of people that are responsible and that land managers want to work with.
Those are a number of great steps, and of course, I wouldn’t be doing my job as the executive director of the Access Fund if I didn’t encourage people to become members. We have a budget that is made up largely out of individual support. We don’t get very much money from the government. We get some money from our generous supporters in the outdoor world and also a few others outside of it, like Jeep I mentioned, but the majority of our funding comes from individual climbers who go to our website and become members at $35 or up if they want, and just say, “You know what? I think this is important and I think climbing access and conservation is something that is important to me and I’m going to support it with my dollars.”
Those are a number of things that your listeners can do.
Neely Quinn: Cool. Besides the one-time membership fee thing, you can also do monthly donations, which is what I was doing for a while.
Brady Robinson: Oh cool. Thanks, Neely.
Neely Quinn: Well, just so people know that. Yeah – definitely give to the Access Fund. You guys can find it there at – where – www.accessfund.org, right?
Brady Robinson: Yeah, at www.accessfund.org and ‘Join or Give’ is at the top right of the website. You can’t miss it.
Neely Quinn: Alright, so part of what you guys do in order to have these great relationships between climbers and the landowners is to help educate climbers about how to be on these lands so we don’t disrespect owners/we don’t disrespect the land. I’d love to talk about some of those topics with you.
Brady Robinson: That sounds great.
Neely Quinn: Starting off, what are the main things – well, first off, what is the ROCK Project? What are the main things that you guys are trying to teach?
Brady Robinson: That project is a program that started in 2014 in partnership with Black Diamond. Black Diamond Equipment has been a long time supporter of the Access Fund and conservation issues related to climbing. They came on board to help support this position in education and to try and raise awareness and inspire climbers to climb responsibly when they climb outside.
The ROCK project – and ROCK is an acronym for Responsible Outdoor Climbing Knowledge – is really that. It’s to help bring people along and re-engage those who maybe have been climbing for years and years and feel like they already have their Leave No Trace principles and practices dialed in, but the world of access is constantly evolving so we want to try to inspire people towards the spirit that we’re all in this together as climbers and we each have a role in taking care of the climbing areas each time we go climbing.
Neely Quinn: So, can you explain what you do with the ROCK Project? How are the athletes involved and what kinds of things do you teach?
Travis Herbert: Yeah, the most public-facing of the ROCK Project thus far has been these ROCK Project tour events. These events – I believe we’ve held eight so far in different cities across the country – we engage the local partners, as Brady had discussed, the local organizations, the climbing gyms in the area, the local land managers, and we have an event where we bring in pro climbers and work with the local partners.
We run clinics in the gym on the Saturday and the clinics have been geared towards the trad, sport, and bouldering disciplines, where there are tips and tricks from the pros about how to be a better climber. Really, infused within that content is material and education about how to reduce your impact when you’re at the crag. We talk about things like human waste, how to poop in the woods, taking out your trash, why is it important to stay on the established trails, things like that, and we can connect those specific behaviors with local access issues.
Neely Quinn: Do you feel like, during these events, do you feel like you are actually reaching these climbers and telling them things they don’t already know?
Travis Herbert: I think in some cases, yes, and in some cases, no. The majority of the folks who have signed up for these have been folks who learned to climb in a gym. Many are newer to climbing outside or they’ve never climbed outside before so, for me, much of the information that we’re sharing is new, or they’ve heard of Leave No Trace but aren’t quite sure how to put that into practice.
From our evaluations and their feedback, folks have left saying they have felt super-inspired to want to try and take care of the areas near them.
Neely Quinn: What are the things that people are most surprised by? Or the things that people really didn’t know about before?
Travis Herbert: I think, honestly, some of the things I feel that folks are the most surprised to learn is there are the specific issues that are challenging for folks, like going to the bathroom outside. If you’ve never done it, it can be very challenging and human waste is a concern across the country with different land managers as we see more people recreating. I think that’s one particular issue where nurturing people through the process to get good information and understand what it looks like to put those behaviors into practice is interesting.
Also, I think folks don’t know what a local climbing organization is. They don’t know that there’s this community of people, maybe outside the gym and larger than the gym, that are deeply connected with their local climbing areas and are already engaged and doing the work of protecting them. I think there’s a sense where you’re connecting these newer users to the outdoors to that larger climbing community beyond the social hub that gyms are.
Neely Quinn: Okay. Can we backtrack a little bit to the poop part and how to deal with it?
Travis Herbert: Yeah, let’s do it.
Neely Quinn: Can we talk about how to poop in the desert, in the forest, and in alpine areas?
Travis Herbert: Sure, absolutely. I will say that I feel like the foundation of our knowledge around outdoor ethics and outdoor ethics education comes from Leave No Trace, which is another organization here in Boulder. They have some specific guidelines and principles. One of the first things I’d say is if you haven’t checked them out, check them out, learn their principles, and try to put them into practice. Before we dive into specific behaviors and things like that, I think it’s really important to note that whatever the behavior is, it depends on where you’re at and the situation. You’ll have to use your judgement to figure it out, but there are multiple ways. The easiest and least impact is to go to the bathroom in a toilet, right? Our
Brady Robinson: Let’s just start at the basics here.
Travis Herbert: Okay, so drink your coffee or whatever your morning beverage is, and plan to go to the bathroom before you go out. Many of our climbing areas have a vault toilet or an outhouse at the trailhead that you could use. Probably the next in line on this spectrum of least impact is packing out your human waste using a WAG Bag or one of the…
Brady Robinson: Or a Restop Bag.
Travis Herbert: Yeah. That’s literally what it is. It’s kind of like a ziploc bag that you open up and you go to the bathroom in and you close it. It has a gelling agent in there to break down the poop. You seal it up and then you take it out with you and you put it in the trash when you’re done.
I think at our ROCK Project events we show/everyone gets a Restop Bag in their swag bag of gear so they can check one out. It’s something that we go over in each of our clinics. There are some social things, like, people like to see their poop go away. They don’t like to carry their poop with them, which I can’t blame them, so I think there are some social pieces to packing out your poop that, as a climbing community, we need to work towards getting over so it becomes more of a social norm and acceptable to pack out poop.
Brady Robinson: It’s the sort of thing that once you do it once, it becomes easier. I mean, these are not – without getting too graphic here – these little kits make it really easy to do everything that you need to do and not get anything nasty on yourself. They’ve been well-engineered, and done right, there’s basically no danger of anything gross happening, other than maybe you just have to get slightly more intimate with this biological function than you’re used to.
The truth of the matter is, if there’s a place that gets a lot of use and it’s far in the back country and for whatever reason a toilet isn’t available there, when use hits a certain point, there really isn’t any other option. I think one of the best things that we, as climbers, can do is start adopting the good behaviors before access issues or conservation issues come to a head. This is certainly one of those. I would just certainly encourage listeners to give it a shot. Once you do it once, you realize it’s not that big of a deal and all you need to do is just make sure you’ve got one of these kind of in your kit, in your backpack, in your crash pad, ready to go when you need it. Often times it isn’t exactly predictable when someone in your party is going to need it.
Neely Quinn: Right.
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Alright, back to the interview.
Neely Quinn: Just one more quick question about this: if you don’t have a bag, should you bury it? Should you smear it? What should you do? I’m sorry to get so graphic.
Travis Herbert: No, please. In different environments it’s different. I will say, I think it would be worth knowing – one of the things we like to do is, rather than just saying, “These are the behaviors we want you to do,” is to connect you to the ‘why.’ So, what happens if someone poops in a way that is irresponsible? What are we actually trying to protect the environment from? Those things are water contamination – which can make people sick if they drink it; wildlife – if it’s not buried or packed out properly – can get into it and spread that into water sources; and there’s an aesthetic/social piece of this, too. You don’t want to walk around the boulder field and see turds around every boulder that are just lying out.
In general, if you’re in a forest environment where the soil has the organic organisms to be able to break the poop down – which is a lot of the east coast crags, they’re like that, and sub-alpine, and out in the desert – you can dig a cat hole 6-8 inches deep and bury your poop. That will break down fairly well. In the desert it’s a little bit different. The sun helps to break down and kill the pathogens in our poop, so instead of burying it eight inches deep you want to bury it a little bit shallower so the heat from the sun can get to the poop to break down those pieces, but you’re going to want to pack out your toilet paper in that environment.
Similar to the alpine zone, the alpine zone can be tricky. Pack it out is probably the best, but often that soil, well, 1) it may be snow covered, in which case if you’re pooping in snow that will melt for the spring, then you’ll just kind of have poop laying on the surface then, but similar to desert, if you can find a place to bury it, that’s the best.
Smearing, I think, used to be a common practice several decades ago, but I think smearing is no longer recommended, 1) because it’s exposed. Well, the sunlight may kill the pathogens. That exposed poop is a social issue. People don’t like to see it and also people can get it on their hands and insects and wildlife have more of a tendency to get at it than if it was buried. That’s no longer recommended.
Brady Robinson: I mean, just personally, I can’t really personally recommend smearing your poop.
Travis Herbert: [laughs] Do you have a personal experience with that?
Brady Robinson: Yeah. Poop, poop, poop. I think the big theme here is just to be thoughtful, to have a plan, and we’ve got articles about it on our website. I think that the common theme here, just beyond this particular topic, is being thoughtful and having a plan before you go out, and understanding that the things that we take for granted when we are either in the gym or near a trailhead might not be the same. There may be impacts to other users and even to our ability to go climbing there in the future if we don’t think about it.
Neely Quinn: That’s what I was going to ask. If there’s all this talk about poop right now, which can be a little uncomfortable for some people, I want to know if there has been an area that was actually endangered particularly because of human waste that you guys have dealt with.
Brady Robinson: Yeah, I think in alpine environments it’s been an issue. In Eldorado State Park it was listed as an issue. I think that it’s been an issue in a number of places and often times it’s not just – you know, we don’t get a letter from a land manager just saying, “Subject: we have a poop problem.” It’s usually a myriad of things. If you’ve got a human waste issue, you’ve probably got other issues, too. It’s a constellation of things. Maybe there’s people that are going off of trails and there’s social trails, and so not only is there poop, but there’s new trails to the poop. Maybe people are building landing pads for their crash pads, you know – building things up and engineering things.
Usually, I would say the human waste issue is part of a overall, just sort of, impact that people are having. Yeah, it does get brought up as a reason to either close or curtail access. I think the most iconic example of that is Hueco Tanks. Now, some of your/a number of listeners to this podcast never climbed in Hueco in the mid-90’s but there was a free-wheeling days of Hueco Tanks, when basically you could just go into the park wherever you wanted and do whatever you wanted. There was a trail from pretty much any given boulder to any other given boulder. People would walk around with music blaring and to that generation of climbers, and I was there a few times, it was just incredible because you could do whatever you wanted. There were all kinds of issues and human waste was one of them.
Ultimately, the park shut everything down for a few years and then the Public Use Plan came out – the so-called PUP came out – and that is what governs how Hueco is used today. You’ve got a set number of people who can be on North Mountain, and they’re so-called ‘self guided,’ and then every other part of Hueco Tanks you have to be with a guide, either a professional one or a volunteer one. That’s the regime that this generation of climbers has come to get used to. Now, if you talk to people who were used to it the way it was in the 90’s, a lot of climbers don’t really like the way that Hueco Tanks is now. If you talk to the new generation, a lot of them say, “Maybe I don’t like all these inconveniences, but frankly, I’ve seen the park, I’ve seen how the vegetation has come back, the trails have grown back, and frankly, the park is in a lot better shape than it was towards the end of that period in the 90’s.”
That’s just one example of a state park, Texas State Parks, taking a pretty serious management action as a function of human impacts, then closing it for a few years and coming back with a new management structure that governs climbing. That was/different climbers can debate whether or not that was a victory or a bummer, depending on what you like, but the fact remains that the impacts in Hueco at that time were reaching unacceptable levels and the park felt like they had to do something about it.
In the future, if we as a climbing community can so-called ‘self police’ or ‘self govern’ ourselves to the point where we prevent that level of impact from occurring and avoid the situation where land managers have to come in and do something about it, I think we’re going to be better off.
Neely Quinn: Well that’s what I was going to ask: do you think that there are other areas that are going the way of Hueco? Do you ever see the Red River Gorge being like that, where you need a guide and to watch a video before entering?
Brady Robinson: Well, the Red is interesting. There’s two/there’s a lot of – so, when we think of the Red, a lot of the crags we think of first are actually owned by either private landowners or the Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition. I mean, I don’t think the Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition is going to be making us watch videos anytime soon, but there is an enormous amount of climbing – and some of it is developed but much of it is not – on the Daniel Boone National Forest out there. We’re currently, as we speak, working with the Forest Service to take a look at how could we open that up to new route development over time? So, you know, that’s going to be a place where, yeah – we’re going to have to be really on our best behavior as climbers.
In terms of places that are getting scrutiny, I think it’s really important for the community to know that the National Park Service is taking a pretty hard look at alpine bouldering right now. That includes Rocky Mountain National Park, that includes some relatively new development that’s happening in the Tetons and elsewhere, and these are/some of these incredible boulders are only exposed for a relatively short period of time during the year because during the winter time they’re covered with snow and it’s too cold to climb.
You’ve got these use patterns where you’ve got very heavily concentrated use. Bouldering in these environments is very popular. It’s maybe the most spectacular place you could go bouldering and people are doing stuff like stashing pads and maybe not treading as lightly as they could. We have it on good information that this is getting scrutiny at the very highest levels of the Park Service, which could mean a management action that the climbing community is not going to like.
Neely Quinn: Like what? What would that look like?
Brady Robinson: Like closures. That’s certainly something they could do, or they could say that off-trail travel isn’t allowed. It could be – I’m not trying to scare/I’m not trying to use any scare tactic – alpine bouldering, it’s a fragile environment and we treat it like it’s our own backyard or it’s just our own place to do whatever we like at our own peril.
If people are stashing gear, crash pads, if people are making new trails or doing construction projects to try to enhance landing zones, you know, it’s a cumulative effect. Any one action isn’t the thing that’s going to close it or curtail access but added together there will come a point/there is a threshold at which the Park Service is going to do something about it.
I don’t know when or how that’s going to happen, but the takeaway here is that if we, as a community, are doing our very best to enjoy these places in a responsible manner and to have a plan for all of these things, and carry our stuff in and carry it out, to try to stay on trails, to do whatever we need to do to climb safely without undertaking engineering projects, to clean off our tick marks, to be respectful of other users, to not be playing music, to just have as light a profile and be as low impact as possible, we’re going to be a lot better off than if we have a cavalier attitude about the whole thing.
Neely Quinn: Okay, I have a couple specific questions. I know a lot of people stash pads. I know that there’s been a lot of debate about this online and a lot of talk, but what is wrong with stashing pads? I know a lot of people do it and if they don’t they’re tempted to. What’s wrong with it?
Brady Robinson: It’s illegal. It’s abandoned property. I don’t know what the statute is, but basically, if you abandon property for over 24 hours it’s just – you can’t do that. I mean, it’s not legal.
Neely Quinn: Anywhere?
Brady Robinson: Anywhere in the National Parks, nope. It’s not legal to do that. Of course, that’s maybe not a compelling enough reason for folks. There’s plenty of examples, I’m sure, of people stashing pads where they don’t think anyone will ever find it and leaving them there for weeks, maybe months – I’m not sure – and coming back and everything’s fine, no harm/no foul. What’s the problem, here? There are also instances where land managers have found pads, in which animals get in them and chew them up, and if it becomes the norm, that stashing pads is just the norm, then where’s the end?
The fact, also, is that land managers have told us that they’re concerned about it and they don’t want it to happen, so it’s illegal, the land managers don’t want it to happen, and there’s the potential for wildlife to get in there and to chew it up and suffer some kind of harm from that. I mean, to me, that’s enough information.
I’m going to tell you right now, in a former life when I lived in Asheville, North Carolina, I was a passionate boulderer. I’m not anymore. I’ve done Tommy’s Arete, I’ve done some cool stuff in the park, but usually when I go up in the park I’m up at/you’re going to find me at the Diamond, dangling around in the cold up there. [laughs]
Climbing isn’t supposed to be easy. That’s not the point. If it’s more convenient to do a boulder problem with eight pads stashed up there, okay it’s more convenient, but the point of climbing isn’t that it’s easy. The whole point is kind of that it’s hard. If figuring out how to protect yourself from injury within the constraints as dictated by the federal government and the conditions on the ground, that’s part of the challenge. I’m not going to say that I have all of the solutions to that but I think/my opinion is that the climbing community needs to embrace that as part of the challenge of climbing in the alpine.The weather conditions have to be there, you have to be fit enough, and you have to figure out how to climb the thing without hurting yourself. Don’t break the law and impact the resources as a function of that.
Neely Quinn: That’s good. It’s like a challenge to the community. I double-dog-dare you to make this hard for yourself.
Brady Robinson: [laughs] Yeah, and like I said, I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a boulderer so maybe people can say, “Well Brady, that’s easy for you to say, but I want to go up after work by myself and work my project and I can’t do that safely with one pad. I need three or I need four.” Well, that makes it harder. That’s a challenge, but if we as a community want to continue to enjoy this privilege – and again, it is a privilege, regardless of how important we believe it is – to the National Park Service, we climb on federal land as a privilege. If we want to continue to use and enjoy this privilege, we have to be the sort of user group that land managers and others see as being responsible users. Sometimes that means it’s going to be less convenient.
Neely Quinn: Alright. I would like to do sort of a – we don’t have that much time, we have about 20 minutes, but I have a lot of topics that I want your guys’ opinions on. What I see is a lot of newer climbers coming out of the gyms into climbing areas outside, and I see a lot of dangerous stuff happening. I see a lot of reasons why landowners and management would want climbers gone. I would like to go through a bunch of different topics and maybe you guys could alternate and give me your answers about what you think about it, what to do instead, and any other information. Does that sound okay?
Travis Herbert: Sure.
Brady Robinson: Sure.
Neely Quinn: I don’t want to dwell, not dwell, but I don’t want to get too deep into all these topics, so if we could keep it quick, that’d be awesome.
Brady Robinson: Are you saying that I should stop monologuing?
Neely Quinn: [laughs] No. All the information you’re giving is really, really great.
Brady Robinson: I won’t monologue, I promise.
Neely Quinn: Okay. We already talked about poop. I’m just going to go down a list here. We already talked about poop. I don’t think we need to talk about it anymore. What about – and you’ve mentioned tick marks, but maybe you guys could just say a little bit more about that.
Travis Herbert: I think for us, with tick marks, just brush them off after you’re done with your session. I think that’s it.
Neely Quinn: Is that, like, any time you’re in any area, no tick marks, ever?
Travis Herbert: Well, I think – yeah. Again, all these things will require judgement and decision making, but basically tick marks can provide visual impact, they can kind of raise the alarm if you’re a land manager or other users walking around this area and all of a sudden they see all of these white marks on boulders, but they also serve a purpose. I think they are a part of climbing so I think we can just be responsible about them and after you’re finished with your session, brush them off, especially focusing on areas that don’t get hit by rain and overhanging terrain and things like that.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, I saw in one of your videos for the ROCK Project that you guys actually took a group of people out and wiped and cleaned and rinsed all of the chalk off of a bouldering area.
Travis Herbert: At the Gunks, yeah.
Neely Quinn: Which I can imagine, as a climber, people were probably coming up and being like, “What are you doing? We need to know where the holds are!” What is your response to that reaction.
Travis Herbert: We did have a few people come up and say, “What are you doing?” and we explained that we were brushing chalk off and chalk gets caked-on and we were trying to reduce impact and bring back the friction to the boulders. People were generally psyched. Many of the people, for that particular stewardship project, had never climbed outside, ever, before. Their first experience climbing outdoors was at the Gunks, at a place that is a historic, iconic climbing area in our country, a really great land manager who believes and wants to connect climbers with the outdoors, and the first thing they did was a stewardship project where they gave back and brushed off the chalk. Then we went climbing after. I think in many ways it sets a great example of how you can be outside. People were psyched.
Neely Quinn: Cool, yeah – it’s a new way of looking at things. Okay, I’m going to go on to – this is more of an etiquette thing, but what about monopolizing crags with, like, hanging ropes that nobody’s even using and having your gear everywhere and stuff like that?
Brady Robinson: That’s a great one. I think we’ve just got to realize that we have to share the resource and I think that being courteous is the great guide rather than having hard, fast rules. If you’ve got a project that you just desperately want to be working on and you need to have a rope hanging on while working it, if someone else comes up and is interested, offer them to use your rope. Just be courteous, make a joke, if tensions rise as they sometimes do, be light-hearted and try to keep your stuff in one place.
I think it’s natural that, if you come to a crag or bouldering area and you’ve got it to yourself, to just yard sale initially and just have your stuff all over the place. Before you know it, there’s a few other parties there and you should take a moment to tidy up. I just really think it’s about being courteous, and I think that goes with music, too. With BlueTooth speakers, anybody can have their own tunes with them and, personally, I really don’t like listening to other people’s music when I’m outside. I think if you need music for the send, use headphones. For me, personally, playing music through speakers in the outdoors just doesn’t really have a place. I think that falls within the be courteous category.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, I have a quick comment on that. I was in Rifle a couple weeks ago and there were these 20-somethings down the way from me blasting Rod Stewart. If you guys are listening, please don’t do that. I couldn’t hear my climber, I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t hear the things that I wanted to hear like the birds and the river. Those are definitely things that a lot of people don’t like, and it’s also hard to say something to somebody without being confrontational, so please just don’t do it.
Travis Herbert: I think that’s a huge point. One of the things that’s come up at every ROCK Project event that we’ve done across the country is, ‘How do I talk to other climbers that I feel are doing something that might be irresponsible or might be bad for the crag, in a way that’s not confrontational? That doesn’t make me feel like a jerk and whatever, but addresses the issue?’
We put out a thing called the “Pact” that has a set of behaviors to strive towards, and one of those is to be an upstander and not a bystander. You know, while it’s tricky – and we’re trying to develop some kind of upstander training to inform climbers of techniques that they can use – saying something is important, even if you mess it up the first time. Chances are they might not have known, they might not have been engaged on it, and even if they do know the conversation will potentially, at least, raise some awareness.
Leave No Trace has done some research on this and there’s a technique that’s called ‘Authority of the Resource,’ which instead of trying to be authoritative personally or kind of change the behavior using rules and regulations, it’s talking about the impact that their behavior has on the climbing experience or the place, the ecological impact, instead of just, “This is wrong.” There are ways to do that.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, it’s hard. It’s definitely hard. Okay, moving along. Smoking.
Brady Robinson: Smoking. Smoking what?
Neely Quinn: [laughs] Whatever. Smoking whatever.
Brady Robinson: I think it goes in the courtesy thing again. You should know, we’re in a state where it’s legal.
Neely Quinn: Well, even cigarettes, too.
Brady Robinson: Right, but what I was going to say is I was just talking to a law enforcement officer in Rocky Mountain National Park over the weekend. On federal land, it’s still illegal, so even though you’re in the boundaries of a legal state, if you’re in Colorado, as soon as you go into Rocky Mountain National Park or other federal properties, the federal laws are in effect. So far, it’s still illegal. Just be aware that you’re bringing marijuana onto Park Service land or using it, you’re doing so at your own risk.
I just think be courteous. It’s something that I haven’t – just personally, I don’t see it a whole lot. I don’t see evidence of it. I see cigarette butts around, which, of course, it seems like some people haven’t figured out that that is also trash. Do it downwind and pack it out, and be courteous. Travis, do you have anything else?
Travis Herbert: Yeah, one of my main climbing partners back in North Carolina smokes cigarettes. One of the impacts there is potential fire, right? And trash? And just kind of unpleasant. Usually we were at a place where we weren’t surrounded by too many people, but he was very/as responsible as you could be in making sure that he threw away his butts when he was finished. I mean, follow all federal land regulations. Make sure, if you are smoking cigarettes, that you’re aware that they’re fully out and that there’s no chance that it could start a fire and that you’re packing it out as trash.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, and if I could add a little bit. I, personally, get headaches when I’m around smoke. It’s interesting to me. I’ve always wanted to ask smokers about this. I feel like they think that other people don’t smell it or something, or they don’t know how far it reaches. There can be a smoker 200 feet away and if you’re at a crag, especially an overhanging crag, you’re going to smell the smoke. Just for people that don’t know those things, you know, it does affect people, it does distract people, and it makes it hard to breathe when you’re trying hard. Those are my two cents.
Brady Robinson: Does that happen at Rifle fairly frequently?
Neely Quinn: Yes, yes it does. Okay, moving on. This is kind of an obvious one, so maybe a few words on littering.
Travis Herbert: Pack it out.
Brady Robinson: Don’t.
Neely Quinn: [laughs] Okay.
Brady Robinson: Okay, maybe a little nuance. I used to work – both Travis and I used to work – for Outward Bound and I used to work for NOLS, and we both have experience teaching Leave No Trace.
What is litter? Well, okay, obviously wrappers and plastic crap is litter, cigarette butts are litter, orange peels are litter, banana peels are litter, and when it comes to food scraps, what we used to teach at NOLS – the National Outdoor Leadership School – was that anything a grain of rice or bigger, you need to pack it out. Maybe that would strike some people as absurd, but just imagine if you poured out half of your Tupperware container of rice. That’s a big pile of rice and it’s not going to go away anytime soon.
Usually, within reason, if you accidentally dump something out and there’s a bunch of powder on the ground, sometimes you can just kind of rub dirt on it. For food scraps, grain of rice or bigger, pack it out.
Neely Quinn: Okay. What about moving rocks or cutting down trees to make better landings or whatever.
Travis Herbert: I think Brady touched on this a little bit before. I would be cautious, right? The environmental impact is obviously in your face, obvious, and significant. In some places it’s illegal to cut down trees and to engineer landings. It definitely raises the alarm with land managers, so I would definitely use caution and avoid engineering landings when possible.
Brady Robinson: Well, don’t cut the trees. Just don’t do that. We don’t have to go over the relatively recent examples we have in the climbing community, and there’s more than one, of people cutting trees down or limbing something and getting in big, big trouble for doing so. That’s happened here in Boulder Canyon, that’s happened elsewhere in the country, and when it comes to engineering landings, technically we’re not supposed to do anything. If you move a rock out of the way that’s going to break your ankle, I mean, okay. It’s a matter of degrees, but I think if someone comes upon a place and there’s clearly a landing that’s been built that wasn’t authorized, that could be problematic. That’s the sort of thing that can affect access, so moving a few rocks around the base likely isn’t going to be a problem, if there’s not some kind of cultural resource there or something else. As soon as someone gets out a saw or a shovel or any of that sort, you’ve passed a threshold and you’re in the danger zone, you really are.
Neely Quinn: It seems like every place has different laws and regulations.
Brady Robinson: They do, but I think construction – if you’re on federal land – even doing something well-intentioned like putting in a water bar at a trail could be illegal. It’s this catch-22, especially with the Forest Service, that climbers have. We can walk back and forth to a crag or a boulder field and if a trail kind of results as a function of our passage, that’s okay. That’s called a social trail, but as soon as we do anything intentional to that, even if it’s with good intentions, even if we know what we’re doing, effectively we’re breaking the law. Listen – I’m not here to defend it, but that is the law and that’s one of the challenges of our conservation teams, is sometimes not doing the work but actually getting permission to do the work.
Again, that may strike people as absurd, but that’s just the way it is. Constructing landing zones falls into that same category.
Travis Herbert: It’s tricky, though, because I will say that there are places – I think one of the future conversations around education I’d love to engage in is with the development community, whether it’s developing boulders or routes or things like that, because really what we’re trying to do with our education and stewardship programs is build/figure out how to have a sustainable climbing resource that can withstand the impact of a bunch of users. We may figure out ways, just as we know how to build sustainable trails that aren’t as susceptible to erosion and things like that, there may be ways that we are reinforcing or building a sustainable area that can withstand a bunch of use.
Brady Robinson: Oh yeah. I agree with that. We have built landings. Our conservation teams have built landing zones and pads under boulders, but I just think it’s important to do that the right way, which is often in consultation with land managers. I was more speaking to the person who’s kind of going out there and doing this on their own. Sometimes, Neely, I talk to people who develop boulder problems and routes and they say, “Listen Brady, like, we hear what you guys say and it’s all fine and good, but the vast majority of the climbing world doesn’t really understand what it takes to develop a boulder problem or a route and there are some impacts that are inevitable.” Of course, that’s true, but we’ve just got to be really cautious about how we do develop or how we “enhance” climbing areas. If what we do passes a certain threshold, we’ve got to just formally get permission to do it.
Neely Quinn: Okay, and speaking of that – putting up new routes – if somebody is interested in putting up a new route somewhere, what are the steps that they need to take to figure out if it’s legal?
Brady Robinson: Are we talking boulder problem or are we talking…
Neely Quinn: I’m talking routes.
Brady Robinson: Like putting bolts in the wall?
Neely Quinn: Let’s start with bolts, yeah.
Brady Robinson: You need to figure out whose land it is, who manages the land. You can go to our website. We’ve got a whole section of our website, if you go under ‘For Advocates’ and then ‘Fixed Anchors’ we’ve got a whole section of resources on that. We just, earlier this year, had a conference called the Future of Fixed Anchors Conference on this very subject.
You know, in the past, I think a lot of climbers who were interested in developing routes enjoyed a large degree of anonymity. There were a lot of places where people would put routes up and climb them and a climbing area would slowly emerge and land managers would be none-the-wiser. That era is really coming to a close. Land managers know what climbing is now, there are enough climbers out there now that they are paying attention, and the days where you could just walk out, find the crag, and place bolts at will is/those days are ending.
I think it’s really important to do your research and find out who the land manager is, what are the rules and regulations, and frankly, you can go on our website and email us. That’s one of the reasons that we’re here. Talk to us.
Another thing that I really encourage people to do is get a mentor. I think the best way that you can – if you find something that you think is a great route and you want to develop – find someone else who’s done route development there for maybe a long time and who has a relationship, ideally with the land managers, and ask for that person’s help. It’s a tricky thing. You can’t just go buy a power drill and a bunch of bolts and expect that you’re going to do a good job with it first time. There’s so much nuance to it, it’s not the sort of thing you’re going to learn how to do from a series of YouTube videos.
I guess the last thing I would say is I would ask everyone to spend the extra money and put in, if we are putting in bolts into the rock, let’s put really high quality stainless steel climbing anchors into the rock. The days of going to the hardware store and putting in [unclear] head bolts or plated steel bolts should also be past. We know better as a community. I think making sure that climbing anchors last at least 50 years is a good threshold and the way to ensure that happens is to place stainless steel.
Neely Quinn: So, if somebody had questions about that kind of thing could they email you guys?
Brady Robinson: Sure, yeah, they certainly could. They certainly could. I think one-on-one mentorship is still the best answer, but if anybody ever has a question – and they don’t/it’s not like we’re going to rat anybody out and call the land manager and say, “Hey, this person is thinking of doing this. Did you know that?” No. If you’ve got questions and you’re worried about something, call us and/or send us an email and we’ll put you in touch with the right person. We’ll have a conversation with you. That’s why we’re here. Frankly, I can think of a number of incidents over the years where if someone had slowed down and called us or emailed us and gotten a little information, it would have been a much better outcome than just going forward.
Neely Quinn: Okay, I think that was my last one. I’m sure we could talk about a lot of other things, but do you guys have any final, parting words about any of this?
Travis Herbert: Yeah, real quick. You/we talked about a bunch of different issues and behaviors to deal with the impact of each of those issues, but really this stuff is a learning process. It’s kind of like, whether you’re new to climbing or you’ve been a climber for 20+ years, similarly to working on your project, you learn about the climb as you go and you figure out the nuance there. Putting some of these Leave No Trace behaviors and reducing your impact has a similar learning curve to it. For us, we just want folks to go climb outside, connect with the outdoors, develop an appreciation and value for it, and then in turn, figure out how to put their personal ethic into practice so it protects climbing areas.
How can they share some of that information with their friends and inspire them to want to take care of this and keep that conversation going? So, as much as there are guidelines out there and specific practices, I definitely want folks to feel like any effort towards reducing your impact is valid, no matter where you’re at.
Brady Robinson: I’d like, Neely, I’d like to thank your listeners for listening to this and for being interested in this topic. I think, to sort of echo what Travis said, there’s sort of a lot of climbers coming into the sport, there’s climbing gyms going up all over the place, Dawn Wall got all this press, President Obama was just in Yosemite and talked about climbing.
I just feel like the sport is undoubtedly on the rise and I think we, as a community, have an opportunity to help define what it means to be a climber. That’s going to take all of us. What does it mean to be a climber? Does it mean that you respect the places and there’s an ethic when we go outside? I think a lot of people who get into hunting and fishing, they learn it from their families or maybe close friends of the family, and my experience with that was that a conservation ethic – the importance of making sure that if you’re hunting or fishing, whatever the game may be, that you’re doing the things to ensure that that particular species is going to be around in the future. I really think that there’s some things that we can learn from hunting and angling and the way that they impart a conservation ethic and how that’s imbued in the activity.
I’d like to, personally, see us as climbers do something similar and, really, in our actions and the way that we talk to each other and maybe even the way that pro climbers put videos on the internet, that we kind of reinforce those things that we want to see in the climbing community.
Then the last thing I’ll say is thanks for listening, and if people are so moved, we appreciate their support and membership with the Access Fund.
Neely Quinn: Yes please, give. Alright, well I appreciate you guys, your passion and dedication to this. I really do, and thanks for your time.
Travis Herbert: Thanks, Neely.
Brady Robinson: Our pleasure, see ya.
Neely Quinn: Thanks very much for listening to that interview with Brady Robinson and Travis Herbert of the Access Fund. If you think that what they’re doing is important, you can go to www.accessfund.org and give. They make it super easy to give monthly or one time, whatever you want to do. Thank you to the Access Fund for that great interview.
Coming up on the podcast I have Sam Elias and we’re going to talk about how his training with BD helped his climbing and what he’s doing now. I’m also going to talk with Dan Mirsky coming up soon as well as Jonathan Siegrist. All of those guys have gone through training cycles since the last time that I talked with them and they’ve really improved their climbing. They’ve tweaked some things and they’ve learned some things about what works and what doesn’t, so those should be really interesting conversations.
If you need any other help or advice with your own training, we always have training programs over at www.trainingbeta.com. These are made by Kris Peters and Kris Hampton and other trainers and nutritionists and things like that, to help you have, like, a very focused workout plan so that you can become a better boulderer or better route climber or have more power endurance for both, or whatever you want.
Also, I am doing more nutrition with people right now. I’m taking on more clients. If you want to work with me you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and you can also check out my services over at www.trainingbeta.com/nutritioncoaching. Basically, what I do with people – and I really like working with climbers because I understand you, because I am you – I can help with weight loss or trying to improve recovery, energy levels, things like that, and that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been really enjoying it so I’ve been taking more clients on. Hopefully, I’ll hear from you about that, and thank you very much for listening all the way to the end. I really appreciate it.
Hopefully, I’ll see you out there sometime soon. I’ll talk to you next week.