As Rock Climbing Grows in Popularity, We Can Do Better…on All Fronts
by Christopher Schafenacker
Climbing has hit its awkward teenager stage. In the last few years, our sport has experienced a growth spurt that has seen it transform into something gangly, unpredictable, and seemingly unable to grasp the consequences of its actions. Climbing is making a mess, and as its stewards, we need to do more to rein it in and channel its growth in a constructive direction.
Between 2012 and 2017 IBISWorld estimates that the indoor climbing wall industry grew at an annual rate of 3.9%—39% faster than the gym, health, and fitness club industries. Indoor climbing’s inclusion in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games pushed this growth even further. Thousands of new climbers are joining our once-cultish sport, and the natural areas we frequent are feeling the impact.
Not every person who starts climbing in the gym is drawn to real rock, but enough are that, this year, Yosemite National Park is requiring all visiting climbers—not just those who overnight on the wall—to register for a permit. The number of permits issued won't exceed 70% of 2019 visitation levels, which the National Park Service explains, is necessary as numerous park attractions remain closed for rehabilitation.
Access limitations are not unique to the birthplace of North American climbing, either. In 2020 the U.S. Forest Service held a virtual town hall to discuss the need to update backcountry camping, trail access, and parking policies at the Red River Gorge. The premier sport climbing destination has likewise suffered from a surge in popularity far beyond what officials had predicted.
With an increasing number of climbers spilling into outdoor areas comes an increased risk of environmental degradation. To ensure the continued health of our outdoor areas—and our continued ability to access them—we all need to adhere to a few basic principles of good stewardship.
5 Keys to Caring for Our Climbing Areas
1. Mind Your Trash
While it may sound elementary, principle number one of not being a doofus in the outdoors is: don’t litter. Climbers seem to struggle with this one. Litter at the crag includes the bits of tape you bite off your fingers mid-burn, the chalk you accidentally spill at the base of your proj., banana peels and other organics, cigarette butts, and anything else you’d be embarrassed to leave on your living room floor.
2. Pick Up After Others
Crag stewardship is like sailing a ship. Yes, it sucks, but when someone else forgets their role you do yourself no favors by looking the other way. If the ship crashes you all sink, just like if access is lost, everyone suffers. Want to climb another day? Pick up that ClifBar wrapper the last doofus left behind.
3. Respect Trail Markers
While you might feel like a kid in a candy shop when at the Red, you shouldn’t act like one. Running amok and disregarding trail markers is a great way to destroy natural areas, and any goodwill climbers may have engendered with locals or landowners.
4. Use Your Inside Voice
Yes, you’re outside, but you’re far from alone. Nearby neighborhoods, local birdwatchers, and families out for a hike don’t understand that, in the age of Ondra, power screaming is a normal part of climbing…so keep it to a minimum. Likewise, expletive-laced rants after blowing a foot one move from the rest jug are about as OK at the crag as they would be in a crowded Starbucks. Lastly, hype music is a hard no (unless, of course, you brought headphones).
5. Park Appropriately
There’s nothing like parking on a local’s lawn to nurture hatred toward all climbers everywhere. Don’t be the person who ruins it for everyone. If the designated crag parking is full, go elsewhere…or suck it up and hike in from wherever you can legally leave your vehicle.
Featured Climbing Training Gear
*NEW* The Rocketeer Wall: our free-standing adjustable solution for those who can’t mount a hangboard anywhere in their home or apartment—or who are limited on space. The Rocketeer gives climbers the additional option to set specific climbing holds. Recreate the crux holds of your proj and get ready to send, bruh.
The Rocket Wall: Available in 6’ and 8’ widths, it’s been tough for us to keep up with the demand for this innovative home climbing wall solution. Slightly overhanging, the Rocket Wall is big enough to set routes on, or to build a systems board.
The Rock-Stah: Our handcrafted version of a traditional hangboard, with curving crimp rails to help alleviate unnecessary strain on your pulleys. Because ain’t no one got time for a finger injury…