How To Be a Responsible User While Climbing

Published 2024-05-12

By MYSTERY RANCH Outdoor Ambassador, Becky Switzer

It’s that time of year again when rock climbers rejoice. The snow is melting, the sun is growing higher in the sky and the temperatures are rising, ever so slowly. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been training in the climbing gym all winter or if you’ve put climbing on the back burner for a few months, we all can agree that heading outside to your favorite crag with a couple of friends is a great way to grow your climbing skills as well as disconnect from the routine of life.

You’ve probably noticed over the past four or five years that rock climbing has gained unprecedented popularity, partially due to its inclusion in the Olympics. Likewise, visitations and memberships at climbing gyms have increased in that timeframe. As you can imagine, many folks are taking their newfound love of climbing to the great outdoors and away from the comforts and security of an indoor facility. The movement from climbing indoors to outdoors is a big step and I’ll outline some tips below on how to be a responsible steward of the land. Of course, these are also helpful reminders for everyone whether you’ve been climbing for five, ten, or twenty years. There are many points of etiquette, and this article could go for pages and pages, but I’ll give the highlights, so you’re not stuck reading a novel.

Much of outdoor recreation etiquette can be broken down into two major categories. As a climber, there are some major points to remember when you venture outside:

Respect for the Land

The majority of the land in the west that boasts exceptional climbing is public land (USFS, NPS, BLM, etc.). In the eastern part of the country, there are more zones that have been purchased by local climbers’ coalitions and even private parcels that allow climbing. Regardless of whether you’re in the east or the west, it is imperative that as a climber, you respect private land boundaries. It is typically quite obvious where those boundaries exist, but if there’s ever a question, get in touch with the local Forest Service office, climber’s coalition, or gear shop to get started on the right foot. While there ren’t many factors that could put outdoor climbing in jeopardy for the future, recognizing proper access and respecting private property will ensure everyone stays happy.

While we’re on land, there are several easy principles to abide by that will help preserve the integrity of the climbing area for the future. The first is to stay on trails while hiking to the crag. Creating new trails might seem like a good idea, but maximizing the impact of one trail is considered the best practice.

The final land-related etiquette tip is to be mindful of the weather. There are some climbing areas around the US that are primarily sandstone. This type of rock is particularly prone to breaking when it is wet, and it is best to give it time to dry after a rain storm. Granite and limestone are not as sensitive to water, though you may find some limestone has percolating features and seeps and loosens when wet.

Respect for Others

The other major climbing etiquette category involves how to successfully recreate around others. I’ve seen tensions grow high at the crag and sometimes it’s hard to remember that our fellow climbers value the land as much as we do. In order to mitigate any issues that could arise, I like to focus on communication (both with others and within my group). Many climbing areas have a limited amount of routes and this necessitates groups to do an intricate dance around each other. With some frontloading and chatting about plans for the day, much of this dance can be choreographed rather than improvised, thus avoiding conflict. One final helpful nugget with group management is to keep groups on the smaller side. If you are part of a larger party, try to either visit a zone large enough to handle the impact or break into smaller groups and spread out to multiple crags.

While the above items are not an exhaustive list, they are a great starting point for creating an enjoyable climbing experience while being a mindful land user. Taking care of our places, whether it’s for climbing, hiking, hunting or fishing should be on the top of everyone’s list!

Find resources for getting out and experiencing climbing here.
Learn more about Becky here.