Browning: Protect our wilderness areas from bolting

Mike Browning
Valley Voices
Mike Browning

I have lived, worked, and advocated for wilderness in Colorado for 45 years. I am also an avid climber, having summited Mount Everest, each of the other Seven Summits, all the Colorado 14ers, and 500 other peaks around the world. So, I am certainly not against climbing, or bolting where appropriate.

However, I am strongly against the misnamed “Protect America’s Rock Climbing Act.” It would allow — or strongly encourage wilderness managers to allow — the placement and use of bolts in wilderness areas throughout the United States. This is clearly contrary to the express language of the 1964 Wilderness Act that prohibits man-made “installations” in wilderness areas.

Bolting would also violate the purpose and intent of the Wilderness Act. Congressionally designated wilderness areas constitute less than 3% of the land in the lower 48 States. Wilderness areas are our “Last Best Places” — a final refuge from the pervasive impacts of modern civilization.

The 1964 Wilderness Act was and remains a rare restraint on human hubris; an acknowledgment of values beyond our own desire to do whatever we want, whenever we want, wherever we want.

Wilderness areas are the only areas of public lands in America where bolting is not currently allowed. Climbers who want to use bolts have all the rest of the federal domain to climb using bolts. There is no need to “Protect America’s Rock Climbing” by allowing bolting in wilderness areas.

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Wilderness areas are not only important to maintain a wilderness experience for people, but they are also some of the last remaining places for bighorn sheep, raptors, and other animals. Turning these areas into popular climbing routes, with the inevitable posting on social media, would spell disaster for our wildlife neighbors that depend on these rock faces for their very survival.

Climbers — including me — look at sheer rock walls and want to climb them. But must we always get what we want just because we want it? Can we not set aside 3% of our lands for true wilderness experiences?

Moreover, wilderness managers already do not have the staff or budget to properly protect wilderness areas from illegal activities. Introducing an entirely new user group in very difficult terrain without additional budget and staff is a recipe for disaster and the further degradation of our wilderness areas. 

A few wilderness areas may have a limited number of rock faces where bolts were placed before the area was designated as wilderness. An argument can be made that these bolts should be grandfathered and allowed to be replaced by a permit when they become unsafe. However, the PARC Act goes way beyond this and would allow the installation of new bolts in areas where they have never before existed.

Humanity needs wilderness to teach us humility and show us the power and beauty of the natural world. Let wilderness stay wild.

Mike Browning lives in East Vail and is on the board of directors of the Eagle Summit Wilderness Alliance, a local all-volunteer nonprofit that works with the U.S. Forest Service to help maintain, preserve, and protect the wilderness areas in Eagle and Summit counties.

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