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7 Low-Impact, Leave No Trace Climbing Tips

Professional mountain guide and Climbing’s Intro to Trad instructor Rob Coppolillo shares seven ways to preserve wild places.

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Climbers love nature. But sometimes, we love it to death, trampling the plants and eroding the soils of our favorite crags, even if inadvertently. Here are a few ways to keep enjoying the outdoors, while minimizing your impact.

Want to learn best practices for trad climbing from an internationally certified mountain guide? Take my online course, Intro to Trad Climbing.

1. For popular routes, keep in mind that you’re in a high-traffic area.

Trash, excessive chalk, and trampling vegetation all take their toll until eventually the base area looks like an abandoned city lot, not the start of a mega-classic. Don’t pee at the base of routes (or on the belay ledges!), pick up your garbage, and minimize impacts when possible. Use poop bags.

2. When in doubt, be cool.

Is the other party at the cliff cool with your dog? Do other climbers want to hear your music? Smell your smoke? We all need to consider how our actions impact others—ask yourself, “Am I making somebody else’s day better or worse?”

3. Keep the base area tight.

Stash your gear in your pack or consider hanging it; make sure others have space to belay.

4. Cowboy-coil your ropes when rappelling in a high-traffic zone.

Throwing a 60-meter rope onto the heads of the climbing party below is a) not that dialed b) kind of uncool, and c) careless. Simply start with your rope ends, lap-coil them, and then hang them in a double-length runner from your belay loop. Feed out a bit as you rappel and the folks below you will thank you, and you’ll look buttoned-up. Double win!

5. Consider shorter pitches.

A 10-minute yelling session at every belay ledge is annoying to others and a potential risk-management problem for you and your partner. If you can’t hear your partner and spend five minutes hollering about being on belay, is it really saving you time to link pitches 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 with an 80-meter cord? Better to break things up and still be in voice and/or sight contact.

6. Careful of the plants.

Ah, the fragile and beautiful Rocky Mountain columbine, Colorado’s state flower! If you’re lucky enough to have a bunch of these at a belay ledge, don’t stack the rope, stand, or pile gear atop them. Belay and transition on durable surfaces (rock!) when possible. Bivy on a slab, too, instead of that pristine tundra, yo!

7. Pick up extra trash.

Pack a small plastic bag and surgical glove when you’re climbing in high-traffic areas. On your way out, pull on the glove, fill the bag, and stash it in the garbage can at the trailhead. You are a model citizen!

Want to learn more about these and other trad climbing skills? Sign up for the online Learn course from Climbing,  Intro to Trad.