Greetings, All. Hopefully you’ve been logging some days at the cliffs and enjoying the mostly fine weather we’ve been having lately. We’re looking forward to seeing many of you out this season.
This is an update on activities relating to the bolted anchors on the Mohonk Preserve, centering around the Trapps cliff. Lately there has been an incredible increase in cooperation between the Preserve and the Gunks Climbers’ Coalition, and we think our entire climbing community is benefited by it. Hopefully this post will shed some light on the need and rationale behind these recent efforts.
Clearly the Shawangunk Mountains and its cliffs are loved by many. But the Trapps is in danger of being “loved to death”. Common trouble spots are unsightly faded slings around measly pitch pines, clifftop gullies that send rubble onto climbers below, and fixed pitons that snap when tested. Even healthy rappel trees are dying as the soiled ledges they are anchored to compact and erode away. There’s a picture of TEN people using the Middle Earth P1 tree at once. The trail crew organized by Dick Williams that is rebuilding approach trails and cliff-base has done heroic work over the past several years, but the sensitive ecosystem of the cliff itself continues to degrade due to climber activities. What’s more, many climbers face dangerous situations by being forced to decide between rappelling via an R-rated anchor, or tramping upward through unpleasant and vegetated (with sensitive organisms) terrain.
In February 2014, the Gunks Climbers’ Coalition (GCC) formed the Anchor Evaluation Committee (AEC), to better organize and understand the issues that climbers were seeing on the cliffs. Our initial report to the Preserve came after a ten-year gap since their last Bolting Committee meeting, and detailed some of the issues above and more (link to that report and one from this year below). We outlined safety, environmental and aesthetic issues. Slowly, the Preserve decided to move ahead with resolving our community’s most urgent grievances; many remained. In meetings in board rooms and at the cliff, we agonized over balancing the satisfying adventure of traditional ethics with human impact on rare ecosystems. It became apparent to the Mohonk Preserve that following best practices regarding fixed anchor management was necessary for environmental, user experience and liability reasons. But with no existing standards to follow, a new approach had to be made piecemeal and ground-up.
Today, the Mohonk Preserve is building the strongest fixed anchor management strategy in the country for a privately-owned cliff. In May, the bolt manufacturer Petzl gave the first bolt installation training seminar in the country. Four members each of Mohonk Preserve rangers and the AEC attended; now the Mohonk Preserve has eight qualified individuals to place, remove and maintain bolted anchors. They share access to a spreadsheet recording all work completed on the 71 bolted stations in the Trapps. 2016 begins the transition to full stainless steel hardware on every anchor. Equipment is being donated by Petzl and the American Safe Climbing Association. Just a few days ago, we raised over $7,200 thanks to generous contributions by the Cliffs Climbing + Fitness, Rock & Snow, and over 130 members of our community. Those funds will be used to cover the costs of stainless chain (at $23 per foot), a calibrated pull tester, and a new drill for shared MP and GCC use.
As for the bolted stations themselves: Soon, all will be of full stainless steel construction, thus ridding us of concerns about galvanic corrosion caused by differing metals. The anchors are equipped with hardware designed to handle high traffic volume, with multiple points to rappel from and anchor to. The lifespans of new anchors is projected at 50 years. These anchors will outlive many climbers on the cliff today, at a cost to the community of around $1 per year. When it comes time to replace a bolt, new techniques allow us to remove or drill out the existing bolt and reuse the same original hole.
It has been a struggle to find solutions that satisfy the nuanced issues of fixed anchors on a bastion of tradition climbing. Common criticisms lament a loss of adventure and self-reliance, and perceive the bolts as an invitation to toproping by less qualified parties. It is worth pointing out that every bolted station replaced one on tatty gear or a fragile tree, and that climber convenience is a byproduct rather than the reason behind these anchors. Our community has reevaluated and changed its techniques in the past; let’s remember that the Gunks was one of the earliest places in the nation to abandon damaging piton use and adopt clean climbing practices in the early 70s. Was climbing more “trad” when it left scars in the rock? Is using rare pitch pines for rappelling, and crappy fixed tricam anchors more “trad” if it compromises the health of the environment and climber safety? We must let our environmental ethic come before our contrived climbing ethic.
All of us involved have been thrilled at the growing support and attention finally directed to the health of the Trapps and safety of its visiting climbers. We hope that you, too, will give attention to your impact when climbing in the Trapps. It is our collective obligation to preserve this incredible climbing venue for future generations, as was done by those before us. If the community fails to step up, nobody else will do it in our place; the risk of increased degeneration is loss of access in the future. Please try to travel over durable surfaces, and tread lightly when using trees to belay or walking on ledges. Make a descent plan before leaving the ground that is considerate of fragile ecology – try an enjoyable and easy hike down to the Uberfall descent. Speak up in a friendly tone to offer advice to those climbers that look like they need it. The GCC invites you to share your ideas and expertise to improve everyone’s experience on the Ridge – we can’t do it without you.
Together, our shared concerns and solutions will allow climbers to tread lightly and preserve the Shawangunk Ridge for generations to come. Enjoy your summer and we’ll see you on the cliffs!
Treasurer, Gunks Climbers’ Coalition