National Park Service Authorizes Fixed Anchors in Wilderness

5/17/13 - The National Park Service has released a decision regarding fixed anchors in Wilderness. The policy, called Director's Order #41, manages the use of fixed anchors in wilderness areas, including in major climbing areas like Yosemite, Grand Teton, Zion, Joshua Tree, and Canyonlands national parks.

The Access Fund released a statement: "The NPS included many of the specific provisions Access Fund advocated for during our 20+ years of work on this issue, such as programmatic authorizations (which allow new bolts by zone, not just case-by-case permitting for individual routes/bolts) and interim fixed anchor permitting prior to the establishment of dedicated climbing management plans. We are still analyzing the new policy, but first impressions are that this direction is good for both wilderness climbers and NPS managers... Stay tuned for more in-depth analysis in the near future."

A copy of the new policy is available for viewing here.

In Climbing's March issue (no. 313), Jeff Achey wrote about the history of this controversial policy, which dates back to 1964, when Congress passed the Wilderness Act to protect about 110 million acres in the country. In 1988, Arizona briefly banned bolts, which led to the U.S. Forest Service to intervene to study the issue in 1990. Eight years later, the Forest Service expanded the ban, and since, negotiations have amounted to little conclusions about where fixed bolts are acceptable. Read the comprehensive and fascinating account here.


Previous Comments

Carlos, I understand 'modern alpinism' quite well. I have personally never placed a bolt and I never will. I don't consider them part of the alpine 'kit'. At the same time, I've clipped plenty of them in my time at both the mountains and the crags. My view is that bolting in the mountains/wilderness are something that should be avoided and discouraged, but I also am willing to accept an occasional fixed piece of gear (bolt, piton, etc.). I apologize for my sarcasm in the prior post but what I'm getting at is the assertion of "environmental cost" that keeps coming up. If we're willing to accept, for example, 25 fixed rappel anchors used to get off of Fitzroy, then calling a protection or a belay bolt on the same mountain an egregious example of "environmental damage" doesn't stand up very well. Instead, let's just admit that we're talking about "style" and, in your terms, "fair means". I can have that conversation without the borderline hypocritical pretense of environmental degradation. Our very presence on the mountain, our depositing of human waste, our leaving of rappel anchors, are all tangible impacts. My flying 9000 miles to Patagonia to climb the beautiful splitters there uses up an OBSCENE amount of fuel and resources just for me to get there. Once there, I eat the food that also travels from far away to reach Chalten's nice restaurants, and enjoy the lighting and electricity in the hostels and restaurants provided by the diesel generators that roar away 24 hours a day to power this frontier town. The whole infrastructure there is an environmental disaster, actually, comfortable as it is. That the water is still potable there is nothing short of a miracle. So, in the paradigm of 'style', I am comfortable declaring that placing bolts in the mountains is poor style. But in light of all the rest of these realities, opposing even a single protection bolt used to pass a blank section of rock as a "degradation of the environment" seems absurd. The fixed slings, pitons, and even the occasional bolt that I've passed on alpine routes are not necessarily pretty to look at and are an unfortunate reminder that someone was there before me, that this adventure is maybe not as remote as my ego would like to think. To that end, we should all strive to minimize the addition of such things, and leaving fewer traces of our passage, but at the end of the day, a restrained used of such items doesn't ruin the experience for me. In this day and age, where there are increasingly few places man has not visited, it is going to get harder to find undisturbed terrain in the mountains. But not impossible. If I want to see no trace of prior passage, I won't go to Fitzroy, I'll go to the Darwin or somewhere like that. In the meantime, I do support your ethic of discouraging fixed gear if for no other reason than doing more with less elevates us all, in the micro and macrocosmic world in which we live and pass through. Style does matter. Let's just be clear that, while the environment does matter, style is what we are really talking about here, and style is, for better or worse, a matter of opinion for which a unanimous consensus is elusive if not impossible.

John - 05/25/2013 11:00:59

John, today's alpinism paradigm is to do more with less. That means to do more difficult summits or lines with less means. Instead of giving time to ironic comments could you give more time to understand what is as per today the concept of fair means? Fixed anchors for rappels are still fair means but fixed anchors for progression are not. Today's less trained alpinists may try to do better but shouldn't do that at the cost of the environment and against the accepted fair means concept.

Carlos Comesaña - 05/24/2013 2:08:08

Carlos, I get your point but by extending your argument should we ban rappel anchors also so that only those who are capable of down climbing the mountain be allowed passage? I'm sure you downclimbed Fitzroy and didn't despoil the mountain with fixed rappel anchors, right? It seems like your biggest concern isn't so much the mountains but more about making sure that "less capable" climbers don't achieve something undeserved. I am also concerned about wilderness but both sides could use a little nuance here.

John - 05/20/2013 1:47:48

Good on the park service for realizing that bolts are a complete non-issue in the objective of preserving wilderness - bolted anchors are only an issue among the infighting climbing community. Only climbers would say that a big cluster of rotting nylon is more pure than two small bits of stainless steel.

hypebuster - 05/18/2013 9:34:25


Alpinist - 05/18/2013 7:59:31

Many thanks Samuel for giving me the opportunity to expand my comments. No doubt you'll understand my concepts (unless you own stocks of a climbing gear company but I guess your don't you?). After reading the whole of the project we are talking about- which includes large paragraphs of peripherical definitions and very few clear and objective words about the fact of accepting bolts in wilderness -, let me tell you that i.e in Patagonia we are fighting to stop totally the use of bolts, first because unneccessary and second in order to maintain the mountains as pristine as ever and this require a total clean practices commitment from the climbers.. The unethical construction of lines bolting or retrobolting increased very much after the openning of the compressor route in Cerro Torre in the early 70's as climbing communities and the local National Park Agency didn't take any consistent instance against this practice. Since then started a true feast of construction of lines diretissimas and superdiretissimas on the patagonian walls with authors frequently arguing that in this way less accomplished mountaineerings could reach difficult summits. After last year arguments in favor and against the removal of the bolts of the compressor route it was clear for me that - at least in Patagonia - no lines should be open with this particular parafernalia and that the ban should be total and include not only bolts for progression but also those for protection just because less accomplished climbers may need to install bolts where others more capable not. Should I say ...that doing so the firsts are cheating the mountain?.And that because of hundreds of new bolted routes may be openned or repeated by less capable climbers to reach difficult well known summits. Should we agree that in order to provide oportunities to unprepared alpinists we accept to degrade the mountains which belongs to the whole society and not only to the climbing community?. Finally, insn't that more safe and confortable constructed lines mean more climbers circulating (or being lifted) on the walls and tons of more climbing gear are needed for that? That's why I said that this may be an obscure triumph of business against wilderness. With best regards, Carlos,

Carlos Comesaña - 05/18/2013 4:50:59

Carlos, could you please expand on your opinion? It is unclear to which aspect of the plan you refer, or how it is related to bolting or to business.

Samuel Johnson - 05/18/2013 11:21:01

Unacceptable and a poor example for other countries. This is the obscure triumph of business over wilderness. ..

Carlos Comesaña - 05/18/2013 9:33:23

This will almost assuredly be challenged by some wilderness defense group or citizen as a direct violation of the Wilderness Act. My scholarly writing in law school was on this exact issue in 1999 about the same time the Forest Service banned fixed anchors in the Sawtooth Wilderness. In the end, I think the case will be a close call, and will require a comprehensive study and analysis of the legislative intent behind key provisions of the Wilderness Act. NOTE: "Arizona" did not ban bolts, as it says above, but rather it was the land managers for the Tonto National Forest and Superstition Wilderness Area, admittedly in Arizona.

chuffer - 05/17/2013 10:52:55