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Arches National Park Taking Input on Proposed Climbing Management Plan


Officials at Arches National Park are working on developing a management plan to guide climbing and canyoneering in their park. NPS photo.

Arches National Park soon could have an official management plan to guide climbing and canyoneering in the park where the geology offers climbers a sprawling playground of options.

In the past, those options have proved too tempting for some. In 2006 noted climber Dean Potter climbed atop Delicate Arch early one morning. That stunt led park officials to revisit the rules for climbing in the park, rules that they had interpreted as stating that no climbing was allowed on named arches.

To eliminate any doubts, Arches officials last year embarked on an effort to formalize climbing regulations for their park.

Last week the park sent out a newsletter discussing these efforts, and pointed to four alternatives currently under consideration. They range from no changes from the current policy and a policy that would revolve around regular monitoring of climbing in the park to a set of specific regulations "to protect park resources and to control climbing and canyoneering activities. It will seek to mitigate climbing and canyoneering-related impacts to the resources by restricting specific climbing and canyoneering activities equally throughout the park."

Anyone who has visited Arches and walked any of its trails can see the enticing opportunities for climbing, bouldering, and canyoneering that abound. And that's the problem. There are so many enticements that some sort of management plan is needed so climbers know the ground rules, so the various arches, outcrops, and cliffs are not damaged by climbing, and so that views enjoyed by other visitors are not dotted with climbers.

Among the "common elements" to each of the three alternatives that would develop a management framework beyond the status quo are:

* All climbing in the park would be free climbing or "clean-aid" climbing in which no permanent aids are installed in the rock walls/faces.

* No pitons would be allowed.

* There would be a proactive education and outreach program for climbers.

* Balanced Rock would remain closed to climbing.

* Any arch or natural bridge named on the USGS 7.5 minute topographical map covering Arches National Park would be closed to climbing.

* Bouldering, slacklining, highlining, BASE jumping, Wingsuit flying, Paragliding, Zip lining, and pendulum swings would be prohibited.

The park's newsletter that addresses the ongoing effort can be found attached below.

Public comment on the proposal is being accepted through March 13 at this site.

If all goes as planned, a draft of the proposed management plan will be released this fall.


I don't know what your understanding of the current regulations are, but the park IS open to climbing, just with regulations such as no new fixed anchors, no white chalk, etc. That being said how many times have you been in the park and seen a climber? Sacred is a relative term, to me a constant traffic of cars in the park is perverse to my notions of sacred (maybe a more important discussion would be a shuttle service into the park, eliminating pollution and the amusement park feel that Arches has taken on) while standing on the summit of a tower and experience the new perspective it gives surrounded by the vastness of the desert is sacred. As a long time local and climber in Arches I can attest to the lack of appeal to climbing in Arches. The Entrada sandstone is NOT the best rock to climb on and subsequently, with the exception of Owl Rock, the traffic on any given formation per year could be counted on your hands.

My park experience is blighted by your car, or did you walk in?

Great Post Adam! Thank you.


You are right about Dean using ropes to rehearse the climb. Further investigation has led me to this discovery. However, in the man's defense he used a system in which the line was "fixed" (not run through an anchors and run back and forth across the rock) and used a mini traxion (a rope ascension device for fixed ropes) as a belay rather than that of a belayer from the ground. This setup should, in theory, not impact the rock to any degree. The only thing that could have left a groove was when he pulled the rope after his final rappel. Also, one cannot necessarily pin the blame of the grooves present on Dean. There have most certainly been a number of undocumented ascents on the arch prior to Deans climb. As has been mentioned across the board, it is unfortunate that he purposefully drew so much media attention to the climb.

Of course, Deans climb is not the issue here. I highlight this event for its witch hunt mentality and misuse by many people as the "last straw" reason the park is creating a management plan. In reality the NPS as a whole is attempting to institutionalize the installation of fixed hardware like bolts, nuts, and slings. One can read the Draft Directors order here -

This order, upon passing, will create an umbrella policy for fixed hardware across the Park Service, so whatever Arches establishes now may be altered upon passing of this umbrella policy. Arches is definitely one of those places where the rock is impacted quickly by climbers. I agree with the need to establish boundaries, but this should be done through outreach programs in conjunction with the Access Fund and climbing community at large and be self policed by climbers. Specific to the Plan, I would have to say that alternate B, Active Management, is what I would choose based on my previous statements and current opinions. In the name of preservation, I would consider a major educational requirement for climbers/canyoneers in this plan, which Im psyched to see is an intent across the board. I am a preservationist first and foremost when it comes to Natural Resources in the Parks, but there is a fine line and a short sitedness that can go on with issues such as this. The nature of the desert is such that rocks erode, plain and simple. The best way to create a lasting change is to educate the public in a grass roots manner that will lead to a pervasive and lasting respect for the resource.

As for folks under 10 and over 60 hiking the delicate arch in the middle of July without water and sunscreen, that is simply bad judgement by the individual/parents. I know of people that are well into their 70's that run the Leadville 100 and this isnt due to their superhuman fitness, but through care for ones self and health. To reward a sedentary population (the folly of youth not included) that has not actively sought out some sort of information about local conditions and hazards with the achievement of this "arduous" hike makes me fear for the future. This may seem somewhat severe, but America didnt become what it is today by the hand of laziness.

Kurt, Thanks for the opportunity for the populace at large to express its opinions and thoughts on this. I write in this longwinded manner such that I hope it will help inform others of what they may not know as well as motivate people to seek out a truth before commenting to the Park about its management plan. Comments beyond the scope of the original article are tangential but not mutually exclusive to the issue at hand. Thanks for your responses as well.

Michelle Fox, please tell me what parks were destroyed do to climbing. That is ridiculous.

Adam Baxter, Great post. I agree with most of it. I do think that first ascentionists should be aloud to drill rappel anchors to get off of climbs. It amazes me that that would even be an issue.

Kurt Repanshek, You are wrong about Dean leaving rope grooves on Delicate Arch. He was very careful about not leaving grooves, unlike the others who have climbed it in the past.
Using Dean Potter as a scape goat is wrong minded. He did nothing destructive to DA. I've seen human feces in the Firey Furnace. Should we close Arches to hikers? Their impact is way larger than climbers. As for slacklining and bouldering, why would that be issue?


As I noted above, I seem to recall photos showing that ropes he used to climb/descend Delicate Arch left grooves in the sandstone. Imagine that multiplied by 10, or 1000.

As for the arduous nature of the hike to the arch, if you are coming from sea level and are not in shape, are under the age, say, of 10 or 11, or over the age of 60, it could indeed be arduous. There is no shade, and if you are hiking it during July or August the temperature could easily be 100 degrees or more. Forget to bring water along and you could really be in trouble.

All that said, this is the time to weigh in on the park's efforts to come up with a reasonable climbing plan.

I am a climber and therefore biased to some degree. I also work for the NPS (not arches) and am all about resource protection. Ive also been an outward bound instructor and climbing guide. Could someone explain to me what was wrong with Deans actions in regards to the Resource? He climbed the Arch without use of a rope (i.e. he free soloed it). He didnt drill any bolts. He didnt impact the state of the Delicate Arch one iota. A single or even a few Rappels would not have caused grooves of a significant nature. The impact that resulted from his climb was on that of the relationship between climbers, other users and the NPS. And now we have the above proposed climbing management plan. So as far as the impact to the Arch is concerned, what was the big deal?

When we as a people and management agency start to dictate whats good for the resource on a basis that is unfounded, such as has occurred in the witch hunt for Dean Potter, we run a fine line with a slippery slope. Some environmentalists forget in their zealous nature that Americas beginnings occurred as a result of abuse of power and unfounded control over our freedoms. When we go so far as to define the line as to how we interact with our natural environment we neuter the individual's freedom of choice. In no other way can we create a responsible people and user group than by offering education and choice.

The Feds blew it by building roads in the first place. The access provided by the building of roads is the number 1 reason why impacts of great magnitude have happened in the parks. 90% of the visitors to the National Parks dont even go a mile or more from their car. In RMNP the first 1/2 mile or so from a trailhead is considered a "compromised zone". Restoration efforts are essentially cosmetic, although important for invasive plant species control. I doubt its much different in Arches.

Climbers as a people are one of the more responsible user groups around. To begin with, we are small in number, so our impacts are minimized by that fact. Secondly, use of hammers and pitons in sandstone is almost universally considered a sin, although admittedly some first ascentionists still use them. There are local climbers in moab that systematically go about climbing the old aid lines in the modern, clean style (pitonless) for the sake creating the precedent that it can and should be done. Thirdly, we want to recreate on the things other folks

As far as I know their is no climber out there that wants to bolt the Delicate Arch or any of the arches in Arches. Ive done a fair amount of climbing in and around Moab, and as far as I can tell Arches is a great big pile for climbing unless you are into cryptic and obscure tower climbing. Canyonlands is right down the road and about ten times better.

Kurt, you mention in your article about Dean climbing the Arch that it could be a disappointment to those making the "3 mile round trip hike" to see the Arch covered in climbers as though this were an arduous journey. (I would also mention here that your preservationist attitude is in conflict here. Is the Arch valuable for the peoples enjoyment or for the natural state of its existence? Interesting that this is also the classic debate with NPS's contradictory mission, i.e. Enjoyment of the People vs. Resource Preservation.) Arduous? Really? The desert and those that live there has long stood as a testament to their Being that it aint so easy to scrape an existence in this landscape. To imply the approach to the Arch is a difficult task is to lower the already compromised sacred nature of the Arch to the level of a lazy, sedentary population and is in direct conflict with the values and hardships that the many generations of Americans that lived there before us have been etched out of the desert landscape. It is a beautiful thing for certain, but the crime upon the Arch does not lay upon Dean Potters head. Rather the guilt lies with those that came before and built the roads and paved trails that allowed access to be so convenient. Some things are indeed better left untouched, but this Arch historically wasnt one of them.

For the record, Ive got no problem with the outlaw of pitons and bolts, except for where the actual anchors occur. The nature of the climbing in the Park means that to ascend and descend a climb some kind of fixed anchor must be left behind, whether that be a sling, bolt, piton, or nut. Most commonly and recently this has come in the form of permanent bolts for rappelling. This is because the bolts, like trails and established campgrounds, concentrate use to a particular location rather than allowing for an unsustainable migration of anchors along the route. It is up to the first ascentionist to determine the best site for these installations. However, if you cant climb a pitch in Arches without placing a bolt or hammering a piton for vertical gain, the route is probably better left unclimbed.

A bit of an idealistic rant, but fairly sound I think. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Just leave it alone. I have a real problem with this sentence: "Anyone who has visited Arches and walked any of its trails can see the enticing opportunities for climbing, bouldering, and canyoneering that abound. And that's the problem." That is NOT a problem. The area has been used for climbing, bouldering, canyoneering and hiking for ages. That is why we appreciate our parks and wild areas, and is as normal an outdoor activity as fishing in a lake or stream. Is this a knee-jerk reaction to one instance by one jerk, Dean Potter?

Think of it this way. I saw a minivan there filled with parents and kids. They were loud. They littered. They got in the way of my view. They disturbed my personal wilderness experience. Therefore they should be banned? You've build roads and outhouses, and would be disturbed by an anchor 50 feet up with a surface area no greater than an couple of inches? You build railings, yet would be bothered by permanent protection for climbers? Outdoor areas attract outdoor activities.

Again I say, please just leave it alone. Ok, no climbing on named arches. Yes, we can live with this.

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