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Adirondack Explorer

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

DEC responds to climbers’ concerns over access

A climber reaches the top of Bob’s Knob on Chapel Pond Slab. Photo by Phil Brown.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has compiled 132 pages of public comments and responses regarding its proposals in the High Peaks Wilderness and Vanderwhacker Mountain Wild Forest. The Adirondack Park Agency is expected to vote on whether to approve DEC’s proposals this Friday.

About ten pages of comments and responses pertain to concerns raised by rock and ice climbers, many of whom fear that efforts to address overflow parking along Route 73 will shut them out of popular cliffs. Below are all the climbers’ comments, with DEC’s responses in italic. We hope to post comments from other user groups later in the week.

Rock Climbing

Comment: I will let currently active technical climbers comment on these proposals, but I do favor a strict limitation on fixed anchors except where such an anchor is the only way to protect the resource.

Response: Noted.

Comment: Activities allowed at large in the newly acquired areas and the existing areas managed under the Plan presently include, without limitation, hiking/snowshoeing on trails and this concept is integrated by frequent references throughout the Plan. It could be helpful to expressly integrate climbing activities throughout this Plan in the same way, especially as climbing routes are likely to be off trails and so subject to questioning, perhaps by those visitors who do not understand such a use.

Response: Climbing along with hiking to climbing routes is allowed at large in the same way hiking and snowshoeing is.

 Comment: I support the construction of a parking area for Ragged Mountain on Gulf Brook Road. The cliff on Ragged Mountain is sure to become a top destination. However, this road is gated until late in the spring. It would be ideal if there was a new gate installed just beyond this proposed parking area, allowing the outermost gate to be open earlier, providing hiker and climber access to Ragged Mountain earlier in the year.

Response: The longest running slope on Gulf Brook Road and the section that is typically most easily degraded through weather and public motor vehicle use is the ascent from the Blue Ridge Parking Area to the Ragged Mountain Parking Area, therefore this section of Gulf Brook Road will not be opened prior to the rest of the road.

Comment: The high peaks, group limitations are a fact of life, and I see that as a possible reality at the crags as well. Unfortunately, this would impact beginner climbers the most, when they come out in guided groups or with academic institutions. Perhaps the most durable areas could be designated group climbing sites?

Response: Group size limitations have been in regulation in all areas of the Adirondack Park for years and they are used to manage resource protection. Designating specific routes for groups infringes on others rights to access and use the area.

Comment: The pull-off/lot at the Spider’s web trail should be reopened so that climbers can avoid having to cross/walk on the highway.

Response: This location is along Rt 73 and sits on the Giant Mountain Wilderness Area side of the highway and outside the scope of this UMP Amendment. DEC is committed to working with various agencies, local government and user groups to make sure the overall parking situation along Rt 73 in the vicinity of Chapel Pond and Roaring Brook Falls is both safe and suitable for the amazing recreational assets in the area.

Comment: Removing lots will increase the amount of walking along route 73, which is dangerous, especially in winter. All lots should be plowed in the winter to minimize this hazard.

Response: As parking changes happen on Rt 73 there will be education and outreach to help inform users. Roadside parking has been part of the use of the Chapel Pond area for as long as people have been enjoying this area. This UMP Amendment proposes an alternative to the status quo that provides overall net benefits to the area and experience of those traveling through the area. Natural resource protection, safety and aesthetics will all be elevated with this plan. A connecting trail will parallel Rt 73 on the west side of the highway to allow safe, off highway access from parking lots to Chapel Pond, Rocking Climbing and hiking locations. These lots will be plowed in the winter and DEC encourages climbers to snowshoe on the trails in the winter time to gain access.

Comment: Moving the hiking trailhead and limiting the parking there, while providing adequate parking for climbers who are a small, involved group willing to work cooperatively with the DEC and APA seems a more reasonable plan.

Response: DEC is trying to balance safe off highway parking, that enhances the aesthetics along the Chapel Pond corridor with access for all users. Climbing Kiosks being installed will help better track the usage of climbing areas and give more information to help adjust this plan in the future.

Comment: Rock climbing, being confined to a relatively small area, most of which is a cliff, has a much lower environmental impact than hiking. The parking currently around Chapel pond is inadequate and should be increased, not decreased.

Response: The formal parking capacity south of Chapel Pond to Round Pond does not decrease in numbers from what was proposed in the 2004 Giant Mountain and Dix Mountain Wilderness UMPs.

Comment: Chapel Pond remains a primary hub for rock and ice climbers. The climbing resources are close to the road (both sides), span all climbing disciplines (summer rock, ice, mixed, and bouldering), and appeal to beginners and experts alike. Climbers share the roadside parking with hikers, sight-seers, boaters, and swimmers, but without question, the greatest number of cars—and the most problematic parking spots—are for those hiking Giant Mountain.

Response: Noted.

Comment: As a climber, I applaud that climbing is finally being recognized as legitimate recreational pursuit in the high peaks, alongside hiking, skiing, and other recreation.

Response: Noted.

Comment: Climbing has long suffered in the dark, simply because the APSLMP is based on the 1950’s writings of Edward Zahniser. To date, the state’s philosophy has been “If Zahniser didn’t know about an activity, then that activity must be bad, and should be banned.” Thank heavens this benighted era is coming to an end.

Response: Noted.

These climbing areas see a lot of early season climbing rock/ice conditions so incorporating the approach trails into the list of those permanent trails that will be maintained in all seasons, including snowplowing in winter, would makes sense. Some approach trails that are heavily used may warrant more care maintenance to mitigate the damage of using them in muddy seasons (which the Plan notes can cause more damage even on the permanent trails).

Response: The Amendments propose designating and maintaining sustainable approach trails to a Class II or III standard. Parking areas will be designed to allow for multi-season access.

 Comment: It might be helpful for all visitors to understand that climbing is an allowed at large activity for users and therefore perhaps a new icon for signage purposes in the various areas where there is planned to be signage would be an easy way to educate users.

Response: DEC will be working to improve signage and information available via the internet, this is a great point to add.

Comment: I support the stabilization of soils on cliff tops, bases, and approach trails.

Response: Noted.

Comment: Our sport requires that we need access to cliffs. We would like our opinions to be considered before regulations are implemented. All we ask is to be able to practice our sport in a low impact manner which will not negatively impact the land or other land users

Response: The Amendments propose convening a focus group with The Department, climbing groups, and other stakeholders in order to develop park-wide policies for climbing routes.

Comment: The Pages 105-106 description of rock and ice activities could be clarified to include rock, ice and mixed climbing because some climbing area ‘routes’ will show both rock and ice portions in varying degrees in various weather conditions, especially in transition season, and even during in -season climbing periods when melt-freeze cycles are bound to occur that then affect the ratio of rock to ice sections on climbing routes. By including mixed climbing, users will be more educated about what is allowed.

Response: Please take a look at the updated section in Climbing in the HPWC UMP Amendment.

The Plan discussion on the fixed anchors and bolting controversy is well described as a local climbing culture philosophy and its principles and ‘rules of the game’ should be balanced with safety issues for all kinds of climbers. The philosophy is held by many other local climbing groups as well.

Response: Noted.

Please consider installing climber kiosks at climbing area trailheads in the High Peaks Wilderness and Vanderwhacker Wild Forest with Leave No Trace messages and other relevant information for climbers.

Response: DEC will be working to improve educational and informational signage in the climbing areas.

Comment: I support the ongoing efforts by the DEC to work with climbing organizations like Access Fund and Adirondack Climbers Coalition to monitor and protect cliff-nesting species utilizing modern best practices and management strategies.

Response: Noted.

 Comment: I appreciate your plan to work with groups representing technical climbers, such as the Access Fund and the Adirondack Climber’s Coalition. Technical climbing has a long and storied history in the ‘Daks, and efforts should be made to insure that it has a robust spot in the future of these mountains. Robert Marshall, to name one famous Adirondack figure, found his passion for wilderness through adventure, and he would fully appreciate what climbers are seeking.

Response: Noted.

Comment: I do support the size limit for groups to 10. The month of August is terrible with the many school groups invading the Adirondacks with large groups. I know for certain that they do not keep the group size down.

Response: Thank you for your support in this matter.

Comment: What introduced me to the Adirondacks in the first place is the incredible and truly endless recreational opportunities one can have here. This combination of recreational activity with superb natural setting is what fuels my love for these mountains, and what keeps bringing me back here. Most often I engage in climbing at the Adirondacks, and it is extremely important that I and my friends and climbing partners can continue practicing responsible rock and ice climbing here. For this to happen access is the first and foremost need.

Response: Noted.

Comment: Before placing limitations on daily visitation I would like to see more climber education take place using these kiosks and other signage.

Response: Noted.

Comment: I also support the ongoing efforts by the DEC to work with climbing organizations to best use and manage the climbing resource throughout the park and mainly in the High Peaks Wilderness area.

Response: Thank you for your support in this matter.

Comment: I also propose creation of a shuttle service, with the fees collected going towards professional maintenance of the hiking trails. To eliminate negative impact on locals, a parking sticker system could be used to allow priority at existing lots. Similarly, a sticker for “climbers only”, be they rock or ice, might be required for parking along Chapel Pond.

Response: While a shuttle is outside the scope of this UMP Amendment, DEC and a group of stakeholders are discussing overuse issues along the Rt 73 corridor, which include multiple different Forest Preserve Units, other public lands, private lands and business.

Comment: Please move forward with the fixed anchor focus group comprised of Adirondack Park stakeholders, including Access Fund and Adirondack Climbers Coalition. There have been many times when I’ve seen anchor setups that are dangerous to the users or cause unnecessary erosion on cliff tops (if accessible). Stainless steel anchors in certain climbing areas (taking into consideration the opinions of the Adirondack Climbers Coalition members and other Adirondack Climbers) would last a long time and allow climbers to be safe. However, not all areas are suitable for anchors, so much discussion is needed to come to a conclusion on this matter. This important step in the process of determining where fixed anchors should be installed is a direction that can help save areas like the practice wall of the Beer Walls along with other heavily used crags of the Chapel Pond region and Adirondack park.

Response: Noted.

Comment: Climbing is a viable usage wilderness in Yosemite, and it should be considered viable in the Adirondacks. Please consider all these points.

Response: Noted.

Comment: In some areas, small map signs may be helpful to clarify the correct approach trail —over the years, many offshoot trails have been created through the forest and it can be disorienting for a new visitor to stay on the correct path.

Response: DEC will be working to identify the most sustainable routes to climbing locations, maintaining them and taking action to mitigate social trails that develop.

Comment: Eliminating the Pitchoff West TH would result in the loss of parking for Cascade Falls in the winter months. Climbers would need to walk on RT 73 from Pitchoff Walls. This option would be both dangerous and inconvenient for climbers. Winter maintenance of the Lakes Picnic area might address this problem.

Response: Following the relocation of the Cascade Mountain Trailhead 3 of the 5 existing parking lots will be removed from the south side of Route 73. Stage Coach rock and the parking area furthest to the west will remain for access to Pitchoff. In the winter climbers would be able to use these lots to park. Given the steep grade of the access road down to the day use area at Cascade Lakes and the challenges of winter maintenance, there could be considerable safety concerns with winter maintenance.

Comment: Provide fair and equitable access to rock and ice climbing resources.

Response: Noted.

Comment: As a guide and recreational climber, parking has become a significant concern where climber and hiker parking overlap. Climber numbers have not noticeably increased in decades while hiker numbers are increasing at a high rate.

Response: DEC is trying to balance safe off highway parking, that enhances the aesthetics along the Chapel Pond corridor with access for all users. Climbing Kiosks being installed will help better track the usage of climbing areas and give more information to help adjust this plan in the future.

Comment: Manage rock climbing sites to minimize environmental impacts. Climbing is a primitive form of recreation that mostly occurs in low numbers and in dispersed areas. Camping is rarely done while climbing. Herd paths are lightly used.

Response: Noted.

Comment: The use of fixed anchors for this purpose in some areas has fundamentally altered the sport of climbing, resulting in a “climbing gym” atmosphere where numerous bolts are used to create a route where none previously existed. This statement does not accurately reflect the nature of climbing in the HPWA. Although there are several popular cliffs that are appropriate for groups of climbers, they do not resemble indoor climbing walls, i.e gym atmosphere, high density of bolt protected routes, routes artificially created.

Response: Noted.

Comment: Recently rock climbing has seen a gain in popularity throughout the Adirondacks. Mountaineering groups have formed and various publications are describing more local climbing routes. Increased interest in and information on rock climbing can provide new and positive recreational opportunities but could potentially have some negative effects if not handled properly. Currently, informal trails lead to the climbing locations. As popularity increases and climbing routes are published through different media outlets, informal trails may increase in number and impact. Evidence is needed to validate the statements made here. My experience has been the contrary in the HPWA where climber usage has stagnated. Perhaps winter climber numbers have increased somewhat. Although the HPWA has a high density of cliffs, this area is not gaining new routes at a notable rate. Guidebooks have become more detailed and historical, and accurate directions keep climbers on herd paths and help to disperse climbers to other regions of the Park. Mountaineering groups, with the exception of the ADK are small and focused upon stewardship, not outings.

Response: DEC will be working to improve the accuracy of climbing usage within the High Peaks Wilderness and other areas, particularly in the Chapel Pond area. The climbing community is reaching out to DEC to work on issues concerning access, education and other issues, which will improve the overall understanding the complex nature of usage and wilderness management considerations.

Comment: Relocation of the Ridge Trail may negatively impact Jewels and Gems Cliff which already suffers from erosion/overuse. Non-climbers may not be aware of the objective hazards associated with cliffs, may build fires, camp, add garbage and human waste.

Response: When the Work Plan is developed for the relocation of the Giant Ridge Trail, DEC will take into consideration adjacent uses, sustainable routes and access needs. Extensive education and outreach will be associated with any work done in this area to ensure that users are well informed.

Comment: Climber numbers are a small fraction of the number of day users at Chapel Pond. Our climbing resources are centered around the Pond, (i.e. Spiders Web, Creature Wall, Chounards Gully, Chapel Pond Canyon) and these resources are not clustered near the proposed parking areas. If hikers and boaters are getting their parking areas improved, climbers deserve the same.

Response: The parking issues along Rt 73 provide many challenges to the State Agencies, Local governments, highway users and forest preserve users. Safety, aesthetics, backcountry use management and economic considerations are all important aspects of decisions on parking lot development. DEC is committed to trying to put more parking off the highways to provide safe parking that doesn’t impact the wonderful visual resources we have in the Adirondacks.

Comment: Maintain all of the existing parking areas, install trailhead signs and install or replace a privies and kiosks.

Response: Noted.

Comment: Chapel Pond beach needs a privy. The proposed parking area will need a privy. Climber trailhead signs will reduce the number of herd paths.

Response: DEC will work to place a privy at an appropriate location near Chapel Pond Beach. New parking lots will have appropriate methods to deal with human waste.

Comment: If roadside parking become restricted, then these parking areas will need to be plowed and maintained for ice climbers.

Response: Any new parking lots proposed along Rt 73 by DEC will be sited and constructed to allow for year round maintenance and use.

Comment: I hope that you’re able to find a good balance between protecting the Adirondacks for generations to come and providing access to the hiking and climbing enthusiasts that love the area.

Response: Noted.

Comment: There is nothing better than sitting on the shore of chapel pond after a long day in the woods, just enjoying the view and having a quick swim!

Response: Noted.

Comment: Roaring Brook Falls / AMR parking: Used to access backcountry climbs in the High Peaks, as well as popular roadside ice climbs such as Haggis and Roaring Brook Falls. Large parking area, filled to overflowing on busy weekends.

Response: DEC will be working with parties to address this area of access for the High Peaks and Giant Mountain Wilderness Areas.

 Comment: Case Wall and lower Beer Wall Canyon: Used mostly in the summer. Large pullout.

Response: DEC will be working with DOT to stripe parking spots on this lot to facilitate safe and efficient parking.

Comment: Lower Beer Wall and overflow for the regular Beer Walls: Used in both winter and summer. Large pullout.

Response: DEC will be working with DOT to stripe parking spots on this lot to facilitate safe and efficient parking.

Comment: Beer Walls: Used in both winter and summer. Large pullout.

Response: DEC will be working with DOT to stripe parking spots on this lot to facilitate safe and efficient parking.

Comment: Chapel Pond Pullout: Used by sight seers, swimmers, and boaters. In the winter, this is the primary parking for ice climbers, and is usually packed. Used by summer rock climbers only as overflow.

Response: DEC will be working with DOT to stripe parking spots on this lot to facilitate safe and efficient parking.

Comment: Chapel Pond Gully Cliff: Dirt shoulder used by swimmers, and summer climbers.

Response: Noted.

Comment: Giant Mountain Trailhead: Used by summer and winter climbers for access to Chapel Pond Canyon, Gully Cliff, Aquarium, Creature Wall, Upper Washbowl, and Washbowl Pond areas.

Response: Noted.

Comment: Giant Mountain Trailhead: Overflow used for all the same reasons.

Response: Noted.

Comment: Chapel Pond Slab: Dirt shoulder used by climbers, campers (to access the Camp Here sites), and boulders (to access the Chapel Pond Boulders). Other nearby parking spots work also.

Response: Noted.

Comment: Jewels and Gem, King Wall, Emperor Slab: Wide dirt shoulder, used both summer and winter. Room for 10+ cars.

Response: Noted.

Comment: Round Mountain Trailhead: Used by boulderers to access the Round Pond Boulders, summer climbers to access the Bikini Atoll, and winter climbers to access random ice routes on the north side of the road. Usually full to overflowing with hiker vehicles.

Response: DEC will be working with DOT to stripe parking spots on this lot to facilitate safe and efficient parking.

Comment: Spanky’s Area: Large pullout, used by summer and winter climbers.

Response: Noted.

Comment: I am strongly opposed to the closure of any roadside parking, as doing so will put pedestrians in danger. Closing any of these roadside areas will significantly impact climbers, regardless of whether overall parking is increased. The shortest approach always begins from the road, and moving parking further away will require climbers to simply walk on the road. This is especially dangerous in the winter when snowbanks narrow the road.

Response: The shortest distance between two points is a straight line and the first trails in the High Peaks followed that practice. Over a 100 years later we are challenged with managing use on a trail system that wasn’t developed for the long term. Roadside parking has been part of the use of the Chapel Pond area for as long as people have been enjoying this area. This UMP Amendment proposes an alternative to the status quo that provides overall net benefits to the area and experience of those traveling through the area. Natural resource protection, safety and aesthetics will all be elevated with this plan. A connecting trail will parallel Rt 73 on the west side of the highway to allow safe, off highway access from parking lots to Chapel Pond, Rocking Climbing and hiking locations. These lots will be plowed in the winter and DEC encourages climbers to snowshoe on the trails in the winter time to gain access.

Comment: The draft proposal describes adding new parking, and I like this idea, especially if the Giant Mountain Trail can be rerouted to that new lot(s). The positioning of this lot(s) should preserve the unique natural features of the pass, such as the boulder field alongside the road near Chapel Pond Slab or the wetlands near the Round Pond Trailhead.

Response: Noted.

Comment: Adding new lots works for climbers only if the existing roadside parking is maintained.

Response: Noted.

Comment: Addressing rock and ice climbing access at high use sites and setting up a task force to look at the issue of fixed permanent anchors is long overdue and a necessity due to the high visibility and activity focused around these activities. The Council supports UMP recommendations to stabilize soils on cliff tops and bases, provide fair and equitable access to rock and ice climbing resources, the creation of kiosks with Climbing LNT and other relevant information on them, and the closure of certain climbing routes during peregrine falcon nesting season. The Council asks to be a part of any future stakeholder discussion meetings around these issues.

Response: Thank you for your support on this proposal. DEC looks forward to working with the Council on these issues.

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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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