Ethical Climbing: How to be a Green Climber

Contributed by Michael Restivo, MikeOffTheMap

As we celebrate Earth Day, we must consider the way that we use our land, and how to cherish and protect it. No matter the sport, or how each of us explores the wild, it’s our responsibility to look over our individual lands. Many climbers falsely believe that they have little to no impact on the environment yet their actions have a big effect on the landscape. In climbing, it’s not important only to respect the land and the route, but to also have considerations for your fellow climbers.

Here are ways to be an ethical and responsible climber:

Respect the Zone 

One of the most important responsibilities a rock climber should have is respecting authorized climbing areas. Parks may impose restrictions due to wildlife habitats, erosion of the rock, or the effect that equipment has on the face or the plant life. Sticking to designated climbing areas will minimize the environmental impact that comes with hands and feet shearing away at the face. Before trying out a new route, inform yourself with guidebooks, other climbers, and local shops to find the areas that are deemed safe.

Stick to your Path

When approaching the route, stay on the marked trail as not to disrupt any local vegetation or animal habitats. If you need to move from one trail to another, backtrack along the last trail instead of cutting across the way. When you arrive at the site, prepare all the gear that you intend to use in advance and dispose of any waste such as food wrappers that you may consume before the climb. It’s generally a good idea to bring along a trash bag to store inside the climb pack. Preparation is key here: take only the equipment that you intend to use, as it not only saves on weight but it also reduces the chance of gear being left during the climb.

Mind the Trees

The actual climb has its own laws and ethics. Don’t use shrubbery or trees as anchors for the ropes; the friction can wear away the bark. If using a tree is necessary, use nylon webbing to feed the rope through so that the lines aren’t rubbing against the branches. Steering clear of rocks that have become loose or crumbly is not only safe for the climber, but it also reduces the risk of erosion. Grab a hold of the solid rock and don’t use overhanging branches or vegetation to pull yourself up. Finally be mindful about animals or birds that make their homes inside the cracks.

Leave no Trace

Just as they respect the face, fellow climbers must also be given consideration. When using chalk, use minimal amounts so that it reduces the visual mark left on the surface. Clean up any gear or material that are inserted into the cracks, and don’t remove fixed bolts that might be disruptive to other climbers who might need to rely on them. Stay away from crowded routes and opt for a blank face. You can always return to the original route. This reduces the chance of dangerously overcrowding the rock and many hands wearing down the face.

Support and Sustain

While climbers are responsible for their individual actions, supporting organizations that protect and conserve climbing areas will ensure that the routes are open and safe to climb. Since 1991, The Access Fund has been providing education and conservation to climbing areas, ensuring that they are safe and ethically maintained. The Access Fund works closely with the Alpine Club of America protecting rock, bouldering, ice, and alpine sites. By implementing fundraisers and banding together popular support for keeping climbing sites open, they have been instrumental in respecting the rights of climbers while also supporting environmental causes. Continued support to organizations such as the Access Fund will protect climbers and environmental habitats, making it safe and ethical.

Explore and Protect 

By minimizing their impact on the environment, climbers are responsible for protecting the fragile ecosystems along the route as well as being respectful and courteous to their companions. By being smart and resourceful, they can reduce the visual markings alongside the face and keep the rock natural and pristine. Using safe practices regarding equipment and waste will reduce erosion and the endangerment of natural habitats.

This Earth Day, I urge all climbers to be safe, respectful and ethical!

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