DENVER, COLORADO – In a move that could drastically reshape climbing in America’s wilderness, the National Park Service (NPS) and National Forest Service (NFS) have released draft directives poised to outlaw all fixed anchors in these areas, pending individual review. This announcement, made in late November, has sent shockwaves through the climbing community, igniting a race against time as the public comment period closes on January 30.
Both agencies have recognized climbing as a valid wilderness activity. However, their new directives categorize “fixed anchors” – including bolts, rap rings, slung trees, stuck nuts, and snow pickets – as “installations,” traditionally associated with non-natural structures like roads and buildings. Under the 1964 Wilderness Act, such installations are banned unless approved on a case-by-case basis through a minimum requirement analysis (MRA).
This approach effectively flips the existing paradigm, treating all anchors as illegal unless proven otherwise. Climbing organizations, such as Access Fund, argue that this is a departure from the traditional management where anchors were permissible barring negative impacts.
With the proposed directives, each anchor, even those predating the Wilderness Act, would require MRA approval. This subjective process, based on an anchor’s perceived impact versus its historical significance and public value, could lead to significant inconsistencies in decisions across various wilderness areas.
The feasibility of conducting MRAs on thousands of routes by understaffed and under-resourced land managers raises serious concerns. Furthermore, defining anchors as installations opens the door for legal challenges that could lead to the removal of crucial climbing infrastructure.
In response, the climbing community is rallying support for the Protecting America’s Rock Climb Act (PARC), which seeks to allow regulated use and maintenance of fixed anchors in wilderness areas and prevent federal agencies from banning standard climbing practices.
The NFS’s confusing stance, particularly its comments on rock chipping, underscores the necessity for informed and responsible climbing advocacy. Climbers and outdoor enthusiasts are urged to voice their concerns by submitting public comments on the proposals and contacting congressional representatives to support PARC.
With the deadline looming, the climbing community is called upon to act swiftly. Public comments can be made through designated portals, and support for PARC can be expressed by writing to congressional representatives.