Climbing Management Challenges on the Bighorn

Photo by Louie Anderson.

The District Ranger of the Powder River Ranger District spoke at a Rocky Mountaineers (retirees) meeting about a climbing plan they had developed, and their hiring of a climbing ranger. Here’s a news story on what they were up to last summer from the Buffalo Bulletin.  What was interesting to me were the tensions between local and non-local, and or traditional and non-traditional climbers.

Inside the climbing community, there has been tension over the new development, which some local climbers believe has been ill-advised.

“Some of the more traditional climbers got upset (about new routes), and they posted a letter around February, with around 700 signatures, saying that they wanted heavily manufactured development to cease and desist. They also asked the Forest Service to respond,” Weaver said, adding that the seasonal hire and the establishment of a management plan is a part of the Forest Service’s response.

The Ten Sleep Canyon issue has been a topic of conversation for most climbers this season, Nick Flores, a guide with Bighorn Mountain Guides said.

“To put it simply, there have been a few developers (individuals who develop new rock climbing routes) in Ten Sleep Canyon who have gone too far with their development tactics,” he said. “For example (this includes) over-comforting climbing holds, increasing the size of a hold with a drill bit, hammer, screwdriver, and adding glue to pockets to make them feel less sharp and more comfortable.

“These development tactics are not deemed as best practice by most route developers. When a handful of Wyoming local climbers found out about this they were outraged — rightfully so,” Flores said.

A local nonprofit called the Bighorn Climbers’ Coalition was formed with a mission to preserve, protect and promote rock climbing throughout the Bighorn National Forest. The BCC has been working with both route developers and the concerned individuals about the situation in Ten Sleep Canyon, Flores said. The BCC held three meetings to discuss the concerns from the public with the route developers, and as of now, is working with the National Forest on the climbing management plan. The plan will help regulate route development, educate individuals on best practice for developing climbing routes on limestone, development/maintenance of climbing trails, scope out all climbing areas within the Bighorn National Forest and more.

Under federal regulations as it stands, anyone manufacturing or creating new routes with any type of permanent hardware or apparatus, including bolts, glue, manufactured hand holds, or modifying routes through chipping or hammering new or existing holds, will be subject to criminal fines that could be used as restitution to the impacted area.

The Bighorn is currently working on a Forest-wide climbing plan.

Here’s a text of a letter the Bighorn sent out last summer reminding folks of the CFR:

The USDA Forest Service reminds all Forest visitors that constructing new climbing routes or trails on the Bighorn National Forest, including Tensleep Canyon is prohibited.
If an individual or group is manufacturing or creating new routes with any type of permanent hardware or apparatus to include bolts, glue, manufactured hand holds; or modifying routes through chipping or hammering or drilling new or existing holds, they will be subject to criminal prosecution, to include restitution for the impacted area.
Pursuant to 16 USC 551; 36CFR§261.9(a) Damaging any natural feature or other property of the United States.
36CFR§261.10(a) Constructing, placing, or maintain any kind of road, trail, structure, fence, enclosure, communication equipment, or other improvement on National Forest system land or facilities without a special-use authorization, contract, or approved operating plan.
The Bighorn National Forest is in the process of developing a climbing management plan, with the purpose of helping protect from degradation the aesthetic of the canyon and the unique climbing attributes found here on the forest. There will be ample opportunities to participate and comment on this plan as it is developed.
Your cooperation will only enhance and protect the resources that are currently enjoyed, and ensure that Tensleep Canyon and the Bighorn National Forest will remain a special place for sport climbing into the future.

1 thought on “Climbing Management Challenges on the Bighorn”

  1. Contentious issue, might make e bikes seem tame. Here’s a link to the guide to the area. Mountain Project. It looks to be a well developed area. Be aware when discussing access and public lands climbers use the word “anchor” when what they mean is all drilled bolted protection often involving eight to ten or fourteen bolts per route as well as an anchor. “kindly spaced bolts” means close together, no long run outs.

    The area looks like limestone, as such there are almost no natural cracks in which to place removable “clean” protection, so, sport climbing not traditional. Limestone is sharp, it will tear up your fingers, no doubt most, if not all routes have experienced some sort of softening of sharp edges. Wire brushes can yield to hammer taps, and so on.

    It looks like a full on bolt war occurred. Climbers arguing about what sorts of modifications of routes is acceptable, and what isn’t.

    Being a multi use kind of person I hope they get it worked out and they leave the resource as intact as possible. I wish when they do these things they’d get some feedback from other user groups. Birders, ranchers, wildlife biologists, all might bring a different perspective. As a famous climber once said, just don’t wreck the place.


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