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8 Tips to Minimize Your Bouldering Impact

How to Create Sustainable Bouldering Areas

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Dennis Jackson bouldering at The Maze at Hueco Tanks.

Use common sense and a Leave No Trace ethic to create sustainable bouldering areas.

Photograph by Stewart M. Green
Ian and the gang bouldering on The Cool Cubes at Unaweep Canyon, Colorado.

If you go bouldering with a group of buddies, minimize your impact by following my 8 bouldering impact tips.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green
Lauri Striker at the Ute Pass Boulders in Colorado.

If we want to continue bouldering at our great areas, we need to climb in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green

Bouldering has become one of the most popular disciplines of climbing, particularly since it is easy to go bouldering; boulders are found everywhere; bouldering doesn't require much equipment except rock shoes, chalk bag, and a crash pad; bouldering is a good way to improve both your climbing technique, endurance, and power; and bouldering is a pro-social climbing activity.

Bouldering's Popularity has a Price

But that popularity comes with a price-climbers need to be aware of their impact on bouldering environments and do everything possible to mitigate their impact. The basic truth is that if climbers are unwilling or too lazy or unwilling to change their bouldering behaviors to protect what are often fragile environments, then land managers will protect their lands by restricting bouldering.

Lessen Impact to Keep Bouldering Areas Open

Climbers need to realize that at many areas, particularly those administered by the National Park Service, land managers have to balance and compromise between the dueling purposes of resource protection and recreation, and recreation more often than not loses out. Bouldering and climbing areas can be completely closed or have limitations placed on their use if boulderers are unwilling to step up and reduce their impact. If boulderers don't make the effort to limit their impact at these special climbing areas, they run the risk of ruining the sport for everyone.

Creating Sustainable Bouldering Areas

As climbers we have the obligation and responsibility to show consideration for our bouldering areas, to lessen our environmental impact, and to do everything possible to make the areas sustainable for now and the future. Land managers are watching our actions. If you are not a member of The Access Fund, I suggest you show your support for American climbing areas by joining. The Access Fund works as an interface with land owners and land managers to ensure that they and the climbing community minimize and prevent bouldering impacts on public lands.

8 COMMON SENSE TIPS TO LESSEN BOULDERING IMPACT

Follow these few common sense rules to reduce your bouldering impact:

  1. No chipping or gluing holds. Unfortunately some boulderers lower a problem to their own low standards rather than elevate their ability to climb it. This is often done by modifying the rock surface using a hammer and chisel or a power drill to create handholds and footholds or to enhance and enlarge existing holds. At other times some unethical climbers will use industrial-strength epoxy to reinforce flakes and holds so that they don't break off. These practices, calling chipping and gluing, are condemned by most climbers since alteration of the rock is antithetical to the challenges of our sport and their practice removes bouldering challenges for future climbers that are stronger than the weakling that chips holds. Best to climb with good style and ethics.
     
  2. Follow established trails. Climbers roaming from boulder to boulder, especially in wet ecosystems like those on the East Coast or the South, create social trails. These braided trails significantly alter plant communities and are often slow to grow back since the soil becomes compacted by foot traffic. Follow existing and established trails whenever possible.
     
  3. Use bouldering crash pads sensibly and sensitively to reduce erosion, impacted soils, and damaged vegetation. Most bouldering activity occurs on the ground below a boulder problem. This site, sometimes called a landing zone or staging area, sees lots of foot traffic from both climbers and spotters. It's here too that crash pads are placed on the ground to lessen the impact of falling off a boulder problem. The use of crash pads can lessen damage to the ground surface as well as slow soil impaction by spreading the weight load of a fall over a larger area. Climbers need, however, to place their pad in places where they do not damage vegetation like grass, flowers, and shrubs.
     
  4. Minimize chalk use. Gymnastic chalk or magnesium carbonate is used by boulderers as a hand drying agent and to improve grip. The environmental effects of chalk use are often minimal, depending on the type of rock and an area's climate, but the visual impact of chalk is great. Chalk marks left repeatedly on handholds by climbers create unsightly white blotches, especially on overhanging walls that are never cleansed by rain. You can also lessen chalk impact by using colored chalk that matches the color of the rock surface. Minimize your use of chalk whenever possible and carry extra water to clean excess chalk off holds when you leave. Likewise don't use chalk to tic or mark holds and if you do, be sure to clean the tic marks off. Chalk also can affect plants and insect life on boulders.
     
  5. No grooming, gardening, cleaning, or removing vegetation, rocks, and soil. One of the greatest impacts that climbers have on boulder environments is grooming since climbers usually prefer clean rock surfaces. Leave the forest and ecosystem as you found it. Leave all vegetation in place. Don't saw branches off trees next to problems. Don't cut trees down. Don't move rocks away from the base of the rock. Don't clean vegetation, soil, and moss off the top of boulders, which are usually delicate plant communities, at bouldering areas in places like the Pacific Northwest.
     
  6. No wire brushing of holds. Usually wear from climbing on a boulder problem will clean a handhold or foothold's surface but if you do want to remove a small amount of lichen from a hold, then use a soft-bristle brush like a toothbrush rather than a wire brush which not only removes vegetation but also damages the rock surface.
     
  7. Clean and dry your climbing shoes if you are at a moist area to reduce ground and rock damage. If you're climbing at damp areas like those in the Pacific Northwest or East Coast, then the ground is often muddy. Clean your shoes well before climbing by using an old towel to dry them, then place the towel on the ground to stand on. This practice not only keeps your rock shoes sticking to holds better but you also don't track mud from the ground onto holds or loosen soil on the ground. Likewise, if you carry a square of carpet to stand in the muck on before doing a boulder problem, remember to take the dirty carpet back with you at the end of the day. Don't leave it to fester in the mud below the problem.
     
  8. Take all litter home with you. This includes all litter and trash from your bouldering party and yourself as well as any other litter found. When you are done bouldering, check the area and pick up all litter. Skanky cigarette butts, mylar energy bar wraps, and bits of tape are all trash and need to go home with you. Ditto for food waste like orange peels which don't decompose easily, as well as apple cores, bread crusts, and any other food-pack it in and pack it out. Bring a small plastic bag with you to fill with trash at the boulders and along the trail back to the parking lot.

Follow Leave No Trace Principles

If you follow these few suggestions, you will greatly reduce your bouldering impact, making both land managers and other climbers happy. Follow basic Leave No Trace principles which are, after all, just common sense and remember-your momma isn't here to pick up after you!

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