Inside the Colorado pad-stashing flare-up
DURING COLORADO’S SCORCHER SUMMERS, Centennial State climbers head for the hills. Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), managed by the National Park Service, and Mount Evans Wilderness Area, managed by the US Forest Service, are two high-altitude venues that offer cool temps, alpine scenery, and high-quality granite and gneiss climbing, from four-foot blocs to towering walls. RMNP, since the mid-1990s, has witnessed a hard-bouldering explosion, with unprecedented numbers of double-digit problems going up. Beginning in 2002, Evans, too, has seen a bouldering boom. With their delicate, high-alpine tundra, both areas (as bouldering venues) face similar impact issues, including litter, soil erosion and compaction, and social trails. But today, the biggest hot-button issue seems to be pad stashing.
Both zones boast long, steep approaches. Evans, for example, requires an hour-plus of switchbacks. Even so, a summer weekend at either area can see dozens of boulderers, each toting at least one crashpad. To lighten their loads, some boulderers have taken to the problematic practice of stashing pads beneath boulders and in caves — sometimes for entire seasons — creating potential access issues, as well as strife within the Front Range climbing community.
Message-board discussions on sites like frontrangebouldering.com and mountainproject.com show some locals believe stashing can fl y below land managers’ radar. At times, a tone of elitism has entered the discussion: pro-stashers have suggested those working hard problems — with “dynamic moves over talus,” to paraphrase a now-deleted post — shouldn’t be bound by the regulations against leaving manmade objects in wilderness areas or national parks. Meanwhile, anti-stashing climbers have increasingly threatened to confi scate and even destroy stashed pads, and two voluntary cleanup days in RMNP have only amped tempers on both sides. (The tensions have grown so high that pro-stashers have confronted climbers leaving RMNP with more than one pad, asking if they were carrying out others’ stashed rigs.)
“Whether professional climbers or weekend warriors, boulderers need to be responsible for the areas they use,” says Cameron Cross, president of the Northern Colorado Climbers Coalition (NC3), a climber-based organization that often works directly with land managers . Cross estimates 20-plus pads remained stashed in RMNP as of August.
Analysis At present, boulderers in RMNP and Evans have the rare privilege of resolving matters themselves. RMNP Chief Ranger Mark Magnuson, a climber of 30 years, says the matter is at a crossroads: rangers have seen the pads firsthand and want stashing to stop. However, they’d prefer to let climbers address the situation fi rst, “so the problems don’t get so big that land managers have to come in and regulate,” says Magnuson. “I would hate to see us have to get into that business.” In Evans, there’s no specific anti-stashing regulation, but the management there is “monitoring the situation,” according to Patti Turecek, recreation planner for the Clear Creek Ranger District (and a climber, too). “We do have a regulation we can put in place if we need to,” she says, though like Magnuson, she’d prefer climbers police themselves.
In strictly legal terms, Magnuson points to a regulation on the books in RMNP stating users may not leave unattended “property . . . that presents a threat to park resources.” Such property might be impounded. In Evans, says Turecek, stashing, in theory, can garner hundreds of dollars in fi nes. In aesthetic/eco terms, the sweat-soaked, weatherbeaten foam-and-nylon pads attract rodents, such as mice and marmots, which then chew and scatter foam scraps (see photo at left).
The situations at RMNP and Evans have highlighted an unfortunate rift in the climbing community, as well as the need for us to be as self-policing (and unifi ed) as possible. The solution, however, is simple: don’t cache your pads — or any gear at all. Leave no trace (see lnt.org for more) is the basic standard of comportment at RMNP, Evans . . . and any climbing area. If we can’t wrap our heads around this, we’ll likely wind up bickering even as new access restrictions go on the books.
Access Bulletin Torrent Rides Again: After being closed for more than a year (see Sustained, No. 258), the popular Torrent Falls crag at the Red River Gorge, Kentucky, has reopened. However, despite new, climber-friendly ownership (Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition President Dr. Robert Matheny, Jr.), Torrent still has rules that need to be followed, such as a three-car limit in the parking lot, three days of access per week (Thursday, Friday, Saturday), and required online registration. For more information, visit torrentfallsclimbing.com.
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