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AAC Policy Positions
Fixed Anchors in Wilderness

Access Fund and American Alpine Club Policy on Fixed Anchors
April 27, 2015


The purpose of the following joint Access Fund and American Alpine Club Fixed Anchor Policy is to provide the climbing community, partner organizations, community stakeholders, agency officials, and land managers (public and private) with a clear and consistent policy position regarding the placement, maintenance and management of fixed anchors for technical climbing. The Access Fund and the American Alpine Club collectively represent tens of thousands of individuals throughout all fifty United States who access – for climbing – public and private lands. Therefore, the policy statements herein are intended to have broad application on both private and public lands, and on lands with and without federal wilderness designation.

Fixed Anchors Defined

Fixed anchors are defined as climbing equipment (e.g., bolts, pitons or slings) left in place to facilitate ascent or descent of technical terrain (USDA Forest Service, 1999). These anchors are a critical component of a climber's safety system. Fixed anchors are typically placed by the first ascentionist on technical ascents and descents (rappels) where removable anchor placements are not viable.

Fixed Anchor Policy

Below is the joint Fixed Anchor Policy for the Access Fund and the American Alpine Club. Policy statements are clarified for two land management designations: 1) lands consisting of “all climbing resources," and 2) those climbing resources that are located on lands that are “designated wilderness."

A differentiation of policy statements between lands that are formally designated wilderness and those that are not designated wilderness is necessary to acknowledge that the Access Fund and the American Alpine Club have been working since 1989 with federal land management agencies to resolve the issue of how fixed anchors should be managed, especially on lands that are designated as wilderness. Moreover, Access Fund and American Alpine Club have negotiated directly with individuals and organizations throughout the environmental community to achieve broad support for a national fixed anchor policy that allows, but appropriately limits, the use of fixed anchors in wilderness.

To further clarify, a vast majority of climbers have not placed fixed anchors, opting instead to climb established climbing routes and avoid the burden of the careful deliberation and labor associated with placing a fixed anchor. Moreover, most climbers favor some form of fixed anchor regulation in wilderness in order to preserve wilderness character. In our experience, concerns about fixed anchors are almost never related to measurable resource impacts that may be associated with the physical placement of these traditional climbing tools, but rather to philosophical convictions.

Fixed Anchor Policy for All Climbing Resources

  1. Climbing is an appropriate activity and fixed anchors are necessary tools for climbing.
  2. Some level of fixed anchor use shall be allowed wherever climbing is allowed, and that theappropriate level of use should be established on an area-by-area basis.vi
  3. Fixed anchor maintenance and replacement shall be allowable for existing fixed anchors.
  4. Climbers should bear the responsibility, in accordance with land management regulations, for determining when and where to place and replace fixed anchors, and how to use these tools.
  5. Fixed anchors are a significant tool for resource management. Fixed anchors can be strategically placed to minimize climbing related biophysical impacts that can occur to fragile soils, vegetation, and wildlife. This value is sacrificed if any use of fixed anchors is prohibited.
  6. Fixed Anchors are a significant tool for managing the climbing experience. Fixed anchors can be placed in such a way to improve social conditions, enhance safety, reduce the need for land management restrictions and provide outstanding recreational opportunities.
  7. Public input is critically important for the management of fixed anchors. Climbers need to have a voice in managing key elements of the climbing safety system.
  8. Administrative actions regarding fixed anchors should be well substantiated and noticed to the public. Decisions regarding fixed anchors should be grounded in a firm understanding of resource capacity, associated impacts, and acceptable rates of change to the natural and social environment. Fixed anchor management alternatives should be evaluated before any decisions are made to restrict the use of fixed anchors. All administrative changes to the condition of fixed anchors (e.g., removal) should be well-publicized to help mitigate potential negative impacts to climber safety.

Supplemental Fixed Anchor Policy for Federally Designated Wilderness

9. Power drills shall not be used for placement of fixed anchors in wilderness.
10. Occasional fixed anchors are acceptable in wilderness.

Read the complete AAC policy position including footnotes.

Climbing and Cliff-Nesting Raptors

DSCF3043.jpegClimbers and raptors sometimes share the same cliffs. Land managers are legally obligated to protect the nesting sites of threatened or endangered raptors. The American Alpine Club supports reasonable climbing closures to protect raptor habitat and the timely removal of those restrictions if raptors fail to nest. We provide access to the country's most comprehensive list of raptor restrictions to inform the climbing community. However, some restrictions are inconsistently applied, are not supported by best available science, or lack adequate legal justification resulting in unreasonable public land closures.

The American Alpine Club believes the following:

  • Climbers should respect restrictions to protect nesting raptors. Climbers have a good record of supporting raptor restrictions. Continued compliance is critical in developing and maintaining good relations with resource managers.
  • It is the responsibility of all climbers to stay informed of closures.
  • In areas where climbing is unreasonably restricted, land manages should be challenged so that closures are consistently enforced, designed through best management practices, and supported by applicable laws and policies.
Recreation Fees

Land managers commonly use recreation fees to pay for public land infrastructure and services. However, recreation fees are often unfair, arbitrary, and inconsistently applied. Recreation fees may unfairly target recreational users who desire no administrative support and whose use has negligible impacts on public lands. Fees charged to backcountry users may not benefit the backcountry, but instead pay for front-country facilities such as visitor centers, campgrounds, and picnic areas. The American Alpine Club believes the following:

  • Recreation fees on public lands are appropriate in some situations, such as where services are provided or agency budgets are substantially burdened by recreational users.
  • We oppose charging recreation fees for access to backcountry sites where administrative support is neither required nor desired by recreational users, and where recreation impacts do not significantly impact agency budgets or degrade the environment.
  • The unit that collects recreation fees should retain them, allowing visitors to see their dollars at work.