So much for taking only pictures and leaving only footprints. Some climbers in Rocky Mountain National Park have been leaving behind crash pads so they don't have to haul them in and out of the park every time they want to go bouldering. Tsch, tsch.
Bouldering, for the uninitiated, involves climbing on boulders and making gymnastic-type moves performed close to the ground. Boulders in Chaos Canyon and near Emerald Lake in the park have become frequent destinations for climbers seeking to practice their craft on boulder "problems" where the use of ropes and other hardware aren’t utilized.
To protect themselves, the climbers often use "crash pads," which are nylon-covered foam pads designed to be placed on the ground beneath a bouldering problem to soften a potential fall.
Park officials say that as more and more climbers come to the park to boulder, impacts to the park's natural resources increase. For example, crash pads are frequently left behind so they don’t have to be carried back and forth from the trailhead to the bouldering areas.
Sometimes these pads are chewed by marmots and rodents, resulting in small pieces of foam littering the area and offering up an unhealthy diet for wild animals.
During a patrol last summer, rangers found more than 25 pads hidden in the Chaos Canyon area alone. In late August rangers collected nine pads in one day. Since the park's backcountry is managed as wilderness, leaving these pads behind is illegal.
But crash pads aren't the only items littering the park. Several years ago rangers removed nearly four hundred pounds of trash, old slings, abandoned rope, abandoned food caches, and other items left behind by climbers on the east face of Longs Peak.
If climbers can't haul out their gear and trash, the items will be confiscated by rangers and owners could risk costly fines. According to Chief Ranger Mark Magnuson, “responsible stewardship of public lands is necessary for all user groups, helping to ensure the freest possible access and appropriate recreational use consistent with long-term preservation of park resources. Adhering to the principles of Leave No Trace is one way to help accomplish this.”
American Alpine Club members have taken stewardship seriously in Rocky Mountain by organizing the Lumpy Ridge Trails Day for the past seven years. Members from the Northern Colorado Climbers Coalition have assisted in cleanup of bouldering sites. American Alpine Club has also partnered with the park to help fund human waste bags and distribute them in the Lumpy Ridge area and for use at overnight bivouac sites throughout the park.