Cave Rock Access Alert



The US Forest Service has rejected the Access Fund’s appeal of its decision to shut down climbing at Lake Tahoe’s Cave Rock. The decision was final November 5 and may be implemented as soon as 15 days following that date. The official decision provides for “enforcement of the rock climbing closure at Cave Rock, removal of climbing bolts and other hardware, and removal of the masonry flooring and non-historic graffiti.” The stripping of the crag would erase historic climbing routes including Slayer and Phantom Lord. The late Dan Osman, creator of these routes, also was responsible for Cave Rock’s controversial masonry work, which lent a manicured, rock-garden atmosphere to a cave previously strewn with broken glass and trash. At issue in the ruling is the status of Cave Rock as a site sacred to the Washoe Native American tribe. A key resource impact study showed that climbing activity inflicted “insignificant” physical damage to the site, and that the greater impact of climbing was on the “feeling and association” of the sacred site. Many climbers feel that their impact on the “feeling” at Cave Rock is negligible compared to that of the busy 4-lane highway tunnel blasted through the outcrop mere yards from the namesake alcove. Federal law clearly prohibits closures of public lands on religious grounds, but permits them in special cases to protect cultural resources. Much legal wrangling has taken place between the Access Fund and the USFS over the distinction between culture and religion in the closure of Cave Rock; the alleged impact of climbing activity involves climbers drawing energy out of the rock, and the damaging presence of female climbers in the sacred site. The Access Fund is understandably leery of the bad PR involved in a public showdown with a Native American group, but is even more concerned about the legal precedents set by the ruling. The Cave Rock precedents might generate new threats to climbing access in areas such as Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, where significant cultural value overlaps with climbing sites. The Access Fund board is considering taking their opposition to the next level, which would mean a lawsuit in federal court.