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Adirondack Explorer

Friday, January 12, 2018

Bolted climbing routes common in other places

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As mentioned in an earlier post, I recently toured Andalusia in southern Spain with my girlfriend and daughter. On my last two days, I went rock climbing, the first day in El Chorro, one of Spain’s premier climbing destinations, the second day at two nearby locales.

I hired a guide, Victoria Foxwell of the Rock Climbing Company, who showed me a number of climbing routes.

All of them were bolted.

I mention this because bolting has become an issue in the Adirondacks. An article in the current issue of the Adirondack Explorer notes that the state Department of Environmental Conservation intends to set up a task force to study the matter.

DEC spokesman David Winchell says bolting is illegal under the department’s regulations, but climbers say bolts are sometimes needed for safety. Furthermore, they say they pose no harm to the environment and are seen only by climbers.

The fact that DEC is establishing a task force suggests that the climbers have a point.

At a hearing in December at DEC offices in Ray Brook, local climbers noted that DEC has bolted bridges to cliffs at Avalanche Lake and a cable to the open rock on Gothics, both to aid hikers. And then there all those ladders, bridges, lean-tos, signs, and trail markers.

“This is done because we believe that hiking is a legitimate recreation experience and brings economic benefit to the area. It’s time that climbing is recognized in the same way,” Allison Rooney, a longtime climber, said at the hearing.

On so-called “sport routes,” a climber clips his or her rope to bolts while ascending; in case of a fall, the last bolt clipped will catch the rope so the climber won’t hit the ground. On “traditional routes,” there are no bolts. Instead, the climber inserts removable chocks or camming devices into cracks and clips the rope to them. Generally, sport routes are created on rock that lacks cracks.

Bolting is not that common in the Adirondacks, but it is in other parts of the country and the world.

Take El Chorro. The Mountain Project website says the region boasts 140 climbs—96 percent of them bolted. Last fall, I climbed in another part of Spain on a hunk of rock called Penon d’Ifach. It has twenty-two routes, all of them bolted. Last summer, Thacher State Park near Albany was opened to rock climbers. All of the routes there are bolted. And so it goes …

I’m not suggesting the Adirondack Park must follow the example of other places. But it can be argued that the environmental impact of bolting is slight compared with the accommodations made for hiking, snowmobiling, powerboating, and other recreational activities in the Park. It’s appropriate that DEC has promised that climbers will have a seat at the table. The Adirondack Climbers Coalition formed recently to represent climbers’ interests and will elect officers at a meeting in Lake Placid on February 3.

One reason that sport climbing is popular is that it simplifies things. Climbers don’t have to fiddle with chocks and cams; they can focus on the act of climbing and tackle harder routes. It’s also safer.

Victoria turned out to be a great guide. We had a blast climbing at El Chorro. The highlight was a climb called Valentine’s Day, a popular four-pitch route on a cliff far above the tiny village. There were few cracks on the route. Without bolts, it would be unsafe to climb.

On the second day, it rained, but Victoria took me to two places with routes that stay dry. The more dramatic venue was a giant cave called Archidona (the name of a nearby village).

The rock in all three venues is limestone, very different from the anorthosite and gneiss in the Adirondacks. There aren’t many cracks, but there lots of pockets and protuberances that serve as handholds and footholds.

I’ve posted several photos to give you a flavor of my experience.

 

Phil Brown

Phil Brown has been editing the Adirondack Explorer since 1999. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important. You can follow his adventures and his musings on the Adirondacks in the Explorer and on this blog.

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