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‘Protect America’s Rock Climbing Act’ Lands in Congress

In the first-ever standalone bill that addresses climbing at a national policy level, a bipartisan group of legislators and advocates looks to defend the sport from 'a growing threat.'

the east face of longs peak at sunriseThe east face of Longs Peak, or The Diamond, one of America's best-known wilderness climbing areas; (photo/Shutterstock)
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A recently drafted bipartisan policy would defend bolting on wilderness climbing in the U.S., and bring regimentation to federal management of the sport.

The Protect America’s Rock Climbing Act (H.R. 1380) is making its way through Congress as of Tuesday, March 7. Co-sponsored by Representatives John Curtis (R-Utah) and Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), it seeks to respond to National Park Service (NPS) proposals to ban all bolting in designated Wilderness Areas.

A plethora of the United States’ most famous rock climbing areas exist on wilderness land: El Capitan, The Diamond on Longs Peak, Joshua Tree’s Wonderland of Rocks, and North Carolina’s Linville Gorge. Climbers at all four areas benefit from fixed anchors, which offer varying safety margins as secure attachment points that can function as rappel anchors on descents and retreats. Fixed anchors also help climbers navigate on the wall, by indicating where pitches begin and end.

In a statement, the Access Fund said the Protect America’s Rock Climbing Act would “bring consistency” to the way federal agencies manage wilderness climbing areas across departments. That would include institutional management of fixed anchors, bolts, and other hardware.

The act “enjoys broad support from recreationists and conservationists across the country,” Access Fund said.

“The bipartisan Protect America’s Rock Climbing Act is anchored to the benefits of rock climbing, which is good for our health, rural economies, and our public lands,” said Access Fund Executive Director Chris Winter. “It’s also a testament to the growing power of the climbing advocacy movement, which is dedicated to protecting the land through smart climbing management policy that ensures sustainable access for climbers.”

Protect America’s Rock Climbing Act Specifics

Through its involvement with the bill, Access Fund said it seeks to “allow climbers some level of control” in wilderness anchor placement. It’s especially concerned with protecting that ability where “no other options are available.” That’s pertinent in areas like Indian Creek, where any anchor solution on single-pitch climbs other than a two-bolt setup is often impractical and sometimes impossible.

Access Fund did say the bill looks to let climbers place and replace bolts “sparingly,” with a hand drill only. It does not propose to limit land managers’ current ability to restrict climbing in order to protect natural or cultural resources.

It’s unclear whether the bill would affect some management agencies’ right to require prior authorization for bolt placement in certain areas.

H.R. 1380’s sponsors introduced it in the House of Representatives on March 7. First referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Agriculture, it now awaits a vote.

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