• Sometimes Climbers Aren’t Cool

    I often wear cargo shorts (or cargo pants when it’s cold) to go climbing. This is fairly new for me. Besides the usefulness of always having chapstick at my fingertips, I find that wearing cargo pants makes me a better steward of the environment. Allow me to explain…

    Bouldering in Rocky Mountain National Park is, as I’ve mentioned before, beautiful and relatively remote. I still remember when the Druids in Bishop were too damn far away to bother with. Now, that 45-minute hike at 6,000 feet sounds like a rest day. Upper Chaos involves about 60 minutes of hiking (after 90 minutes of driving, if you live in the Front Range), with an elevation gain of about 800 feet, just to reach Lake Haiyaha. Then there’s half an hour of talus-hopping to get to your project. Suffice it to say, one does not simply saunter up for an evening session after a full day at the office. This is not your roadside crag like Santa Barbara’s Painted Cave or any of the Yosemite boulders that you can see from your car.

    The obvious benefit of this fairly rugged approach, besides stellar cardio conditioning, is that the bouldering areas are near-pristine. Marmots and pikas pop up like prairie dogs, and cavernous holes threaten to swallow brushes, shoes, and climbers. To the north and south are steep, streaked alpine walls containing thousands of unclimbed boulders, a glacier, and some crystal clear alpine lakes. Even without climbing in my life, Moraine Park, Chaos Canyon, and the Emerald Lake boulders are places I would happily visit.

    Although people have been bouldering in the park for well over a decade, it is still quite wild. Except for chalk on the boulders, social trails, and some missing vegetation at the base of popular climbs, one would have a hard time knowing that other people had ever been there. Climbing in the park is special, and fairly obviously so.

    The amount of micro-trash at each of these areas is astounding. This is why I have taken to wearing cargo pants. There shouldn’t be tape on the ground. Garbage needs to go back with whoever brought it, so that it can follow its destined path to end up in some unscenic, stanky-ass landfill to pollute the groundwater like all good trash. I don’t like the trash there, so I pick it up and stick it in my lower left pocket, the “trash” pocket.

    I picked up all this garbage in one day at Emerald Lake. We only visited 5 boulders.

    I don’t think most climbers intend to leave garbage. Only some. For example, at Phobos in Lincoln Lake, there were three pieces of tape left near the start of the climb. The tape was clearly thrown five feet to the left of the start into a small alcove. I can’t believe that anyone accidentally left that there.

    Of course hikers and others dump trash too (I found a maxipad at Moraine Park). This is, obviously, no excuse for anything. If we’re going to march up our climber shortcut trails and give snarky answers to the “what are those pads” questions because we think we’re better than tourist families, then at least we can act like it and PICK UP OUR DAMN GARBAGE. Bob Banks agrees, and even this hiker agrees.

    Another story: sessioning near another party in Upper Chaos, I watched two climbers killing time between attempts by throwing their pistachio shells at each other. Even if they had every intention of picking up after themselves, they would’ve undoubtedly lost many shells to the talus. I found a few shells next to where I was sitting and asked (rhetorically) if it was theirs. “Oh…yeah.” I proceeded to ask if they wouldn’t mind not throwing their trash around the boulders. I must have snapped them out of some kind of daze, because they immediately said “Oh yeah…sorry about that.” There was no argument, which says to me that they knew they were doing something wrong. I don’t like acting like a ranger, but in this case it was apparently needed.

    I don’t think we, as climbers, are special. We are users of the park, just like anyone else. We have to pay our fees. We have to bury our poop. We have to pick up after ourselves. We have to not feed the animals. We have to respect other visitors. All of these are basic outdoor stewardship principles, and when people that I consider my colleagues ignore them, I bristle.

    I once heard that ethics are defined by what you do when there’s no ranger around. Do you use illegal fishing bait (not sure what that would be but I’m sure there are rules)? Leave your TP because nobody’ll find it anyway? Stash a couple of pads because you’re super lazy (The rangers are wising up at Lincoln Lake and access is NOT a sure thing)? Toss some crumbs to the cute little marmot because what’s the harm? Saw tree branches to open up a boulder? What are your ethics? Just something to think about. These areas are special because you can still get that wilderness experience, that sense of exploration. Stumbling upon a wrapper or a piece of tape is a crappy experience.

    I realize that the RV Project is totally spoiled. If this were Stony Point, Flagstaff, Indian Rock, or another such popular crag where non-climbing drinking binges happen often, we couldn’t even walk around barefoot due to the broken glass, used condoms, and lord knows what else. One person picking up trash is a drop in the bucket. But in a place like RMNP, it takes very little to keep an area very close to pristine. Bouldering is only getting more popular, and if we all want the options and opportunities that our forebearers had, then it’s on each of us to internalize an attitude of Leaving No Trace. Pick up trash, pack it out, don’t feed the animals, leave no trace, and I know it’s a lot to ask, but please brush your stupid tick marks when you’re done schralping the proj.

    Spenser Tang-Smith

    I’ve been climbing for about 8 years now. I started out a boulderer and have added sport climbing to the mix. I am currently on a year-long road trip called The RV Project (rvproj.com) with my girlfriend Vikki, and we’re hoping to make it last indefinitely if we can figure out a way to make it meaningful and self-sustaining. In the meantime, we’re enjoying sampling new stone and new friends, and seeing all that this great country of ours has to offer.

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Discussion 5 Responses

  1. August 23, 2012 at 7:38 am

    Good post Spenser.  I pick up trash every time I go out too.  It’s so damn easy to put your trash in your pack or pockets…it’s amazing how many people litter.    

  2. August 26, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Thanks for the shout out! I just hiked at the same spot where I hiked a couple weeks ago and hauled 3 huge trash bags back with us the first time- and luckily there was barely any trash there on our 2nd trip. Although, we still did pack up some trash in a couple bags- definitely not as hefty as the first time. I’m just hoping people are learning to clean up after themselves..or at least take a point from watching us pick up the trash…

  3. August 27, 2012 at 11:25 am

    I have picked up trash almost everywhere i have climbed.  It is unfortunate, but you are right about pristine high alpine climbing areas, they should never have this problem.  While i don’t accept it, places like Rotary and the 420′s around Fort Collins and other extremely accessible areas almost always have some sort of litter, but places like RMNP and Mt. Evans should never have a problem.  It’s a shame.

  4. August 27, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Thanks for the responses guys, I’m glad to hear that there are people out there fighting the good fight!

    On a somewhat funny note, we keep finding pistachio shells underneath hard problems in the Park, and we always blame it on the guy we saw dumping them at Guanella and Upper Chaos. This was the case Saturday at Automator, for example. 

    Bryan, let’s do some trash cleanup on Thursday! 

  5. August 27, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    Sounds good to me Spenser.

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