Mt Watkins: a question of ethics


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Trad climber
Aug 15, 2006 - 03:49pm PT
garbage is garbage
Ben Rumsen

Social climber
No Name City ( and it sure ain't pretty )
Aug 15, 2006 - 04:18pm PT
If gear and ropes are there more than 1 week, salvage rights should apply to the next party that comes along.

Gym climber
berkeley, ca
Aug 15, 2006 - 04:30pm PT
I don't know about Tilted Mitten bolts or the slings of which you write. Are they bail slings or some kind of "stay off" marker? The only routes that I've put up or been involved in putting up in the area have no fixed gear other than slings around trees (all pre-existing stations, IIRC).

Apparently the rangers did get word of complaints on Watkins over the last couple of years...and that's a problem for all of us. I knew about the ropes 3 summers back, and was surpised to learn that they were still there, although it's possible that they've come and gone in the interval.

A lot of times people don't want to put these things on the Supertopo radar because the people putting the stuff up are friends or friends of frineds, have rockstar clout, or, most importantly, because people don't want to alert the powers that be to the issue.

To me "progress" just isn't interesting enough to justify the garbage.

"...and it was cleaned up. How often does S.Face of Mt Watkins get done? Seems that the fixed lines did not even deter the party that complained."

I know many who have done it. J said that it was his most difficult wall experience (in light of his experience level at the time) because the complications associated with its location where far greater than they anticipated. Had it been fixed, it would have been a whole different experience if for no other reason than that they'd have had the knowledge that in making the choice to continue on their dwindling water supplies wasn't really that much of a commitment. I'm sure missing out on placing their own gear and free climbing the nice 5.10 crack, as happened to the OP, would have been a pisser too. What constitutes an inappropriate level of deterence? Do you actually have to be blockaded from passage by someone's left gear for it to be overly obnoxious?

Jerry Dodrill

Bodega, CA
Aug 15, 2006 - 04:45pm PT
Ed, I appreciate your positive perspective, but feel it may be a bit overly positive.

"So what's the issue if someone wants to work a route for a very long time that rarely gets done as long as the stuff gets cleared."

A very long time in my mind is a season, or a few months, but three years? Let's not forget that this is a wilderness area. On the above logic, it's ok that somebody left all the crap on half dome because in the end it was cleaned up. Never mind that the cleanup crew were rangers concerned about bears who were eating cans of tuna and WD-40. If a trend starts where rangers keep picking up after climbers, or they have to patrol remote walls to make sure messes are cleaned up, climber friendly policies are going to shift and fixed lines will be banned all together.

I understand time slipping away, and also assume the gear wasn't intentionally abandoned, but we have to be responsible for our actions and inaction.

Trad climber
places you shouldn't talk about in polite company
Aug 15, 2006 - 04:57pm PT
ed- i couldn't disagree w/ you more on this, on many levels.

the ditch ain't some garage gym, it's wilderness. whether it's wilderness right by the road and across from the meadow, or wilderness that's out of sight by most people, leaving unused gear hanging on the rock is the same to me as littering it, dumping in/on it, or otherwise disrespecting it.

should there be a fixed slackline on the lost arrow?

what if i can find a route on el cap that hasn't seen traffic for a year or 3, can i fix the whole thing and return in a few more years?

and what about the idea that this sort of behavior can and will diminish the standing of climbers in general, in the eyes of land managers and the NC (non-climbing) public? if we expect to be awarded the right to act as stewards of the land and to make or contribute to decisions that impact wilderness and the conceptual aesthetics therein (and not only in the minds of climbers, but significantly, in the minds of land managers and NC public), we need to collectively demonstrate that we are responsible group that takes those values seriously, rather than some mountain dew drinking BASE jumping Xterra driving teenagers that are out to bolt every buttress and lay perpetual seige to every rock face.

there is an ongoing real-time conversation going on these days about the future of (new) fixed anchors in wilderness areas, and these anticdotes do not further the pro-access agenda.

regardless of access concerns, i just find this crap offensive. what about the ethic of "leave no trace"? what about leaving the park (that we all claim to love so much!) cleaner than it was when we found it? are we comparing ourselves to littering, generator dependent, constantly self propogating RV drivers, or are we measuring ourselves by john muir's standards? this is exactly the same attitude that allows the stuffing of inconvenient trash into defacto garbage pits behind the ledges on el cap, is it not?
Ben Rumsen

Social climber
No Name City ( and it sure ain't pretty )
Aug 15, 2006 - 04:57pm PT
If you aren't actively using the gear, and are going to be gone for more than 1 or 2 weeks, it shouldn't be there. None of us own this real estate. IMO, if you leave gear for more than 2 weeks it should be fair game for anyone to take, unless you had an accident. Quite frankly, it's arrogant to treat public land like you own it. I'm sick of it.

Aug 15, 2006 - 04:57pm PT
If your only reading a few posts, read Jerry Dodrill's a couple above this one. Well written, valuable thoughts.



I think this line is key:

"If a trend starts where rangers keep picking up after climbers, or they have to patrol remote walls to make sure messes are cleaned up, climber friendly policies are going to shift and fixed lines will be banned all together. "
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Oakville, Ontario, Canada, eh?
Aug 15, 2006 - 06:04pm PT
Fixed lines are banned altogether! We just "get away with it" in a few places, like the fixed ropes going up to the base of the Heart on the SW Face of El Cap, and also on the East Ledges descent.

Those ropes are all illegal. It's illegal to leave a rope fixed for more than 24 hours - that's the LETTER of the law. Linc and others have always enforced the SPIRIT of the law, whereby if it was obvious that the route was being worked, or the guys would be back next weekend or whatever, then the gear was left intact.

A few days or possibly even a week is reasonable - what happened on Mt. Watkins [or what Chongo did on Sea of Dreams] was very UNreasonable, and buggers it up for the rest of us.

Who removed the ropes from Mt. Watkins?

Aug 15, 2006 - 06:10pm PT
What Pete says here is completely true. We are walking on the good side of a fine line and only respect can keep us there.

Trad climber
Somewhere, CA
Aug 15, 2006 - 06:19pm PT
Scott Burke did the same sh#t on the Nose - pissed me off big time. I'm trying to lead a pitch and there's a line fixed real tight in front of me. Just bring a sharp serated blade and cut that choss loose.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Aug 16, 2006 - 12:23am PT
fixed lines to Mamoth ledge = good idea
fixed rap lines on the El Cap East ledges = good idea
fixed lines on the "death slabs" approach to Half Dome = good idea
fixed lines on the El Cap West Butt. approach = good idea
fixed lines on the approach to "Absolutely Free" = good idea

all of these are illegal.

mini-traxion ropes at the Cookie = ?

fixed lines on the Middle Brother?
fixed lines on the Lost Brother?

other projects? unknown and far away in places no one has been. In principle, these are all bad ideas. But no one is injured, no climb is compromised, often we fix lines to help a situation, and the lack of fixed lines are seen by the community as a problem.

Melissa, wasn't talking about any of your climbs, but there are a set of climbs over there that are "projects" with red-tape on the first bolts to indicate that they are "under construction" but how long is too long? whose are they? probably not an issue... though the "rules" would indicate that other climbers should stay away. Those lines are claimed.

I'm not advocating that fixing an entire big wall to practice freeing the pitches is "good style" or acceptable to me, just saying that it's a big park and if someone has some idea to do something, it is probably going to get done as most climbs are not climbed in the Valley.

I liked the fact that discussions on the Forum seemed to matter, the initial poster was injured and complained here, and that caused enough noise to have the stuff removed.

Aug 16, 2006 - 12:40am PT
In the old days there were not enough people around where any of this mattered.

Now, ..... there are to many people around who bitch to much about everything ...........

Aug 16, 2006 - 01:10am PT

Too many people enjoy feeling their panties in a bunch.

They just sit at their computers, far away, imagining the mess and inconvenience while getting themselves worked into some big self-righteous-anti-elitist furor; it feels good--like you're doing something--almost.

Jerry Dodrill

Bodega, CA
Aug 16, 2006 - 02:06am PT
Whatever Fruit of the Loom. Believe it or not some of of us actually ARE out climbing AND happen to have some computer time while at work. Crackfiend sure wasn't sitting on his ass when he encountered the ropes/gear in question.

The White-Board Jungle
Aug 16, 2006 - 09:39am PT
whatever -- the favorite riposte of bored/boring/uncreative teenagers

Fruit of the Loom -- a lame/weak/unimaginative insult when it was first used by Jody a long time ago; it hasn't gotten any funnier or less lame. Notice that I'm not doing anything funny with your name, although the temptation is great.

The truth is, that little or no permanent damage is done by this sort of thing. It is more of a style issue than an ethical one. When the mess is as bad as the one on Watkins or HD then it does head over into ethical territory, and could cause the NPS to overreact and punish us all. So get out, find the culprit(s), talk to them directly, or clean it up yourself if you want, but all the endless bitchin' just for bitching's sake--just because you like the sound of yourself bitchin'-blah blah blah blah--it's tiresome, pathetic, divisive . . .


Trad climber
Reno, NV
Aug 16, 2006 - 11:06am PT
I keep gravitating back to supertopo every few days just to read this post.

Simply put everyone chiming in seems to talk of this code of climbing ethics that was broken. Yet no one will reveal the culpret who broke the code.

Who left the gear up?
Who Cleaned it up?

A number of you on this forum know the answers...............

Social climber
Aug 17, 2006 - 09:05pm PT

One more post for this thread...I hope. I went up to Watkins today (I know I said I'd go on Tuesday, but something else came up...slacker) with another Wilderness Ranger to check out the Bivy ledge above the approach slabs. I wanted to make sure the ropes and other stuff had not been stashed or dropped during the shadow clean up.

I only found one short fixed line that is usually fixed to avoid an awkward 5.8 squeeze that is wet early in the season. Sorry guys, I took it down. I also removed lots of old mankey slings that cover the 700-800 feet of the 4th-5th class approach. I left the good anchors, and there is still plenty to do the approach slabs easily. Everything else associated with the fixed ropes was gone as well.

Itís really awesome out there, and you don't have to close your eyes and plug your ears to really feel like you are in wilderness! I think the remote walls like these are arguably the most important to keep clean. Maybe only 10 parties do the route a year, and those guys/gals shouldn't have to bust there asss getting out there only to find a bunch of ropes and other junk.

As Ed mentioned all fixed lines unattended for more than 24 hours are illegal. Of course we (the NPS) don't stand over every fixed line with a stop watch and then race up them to pull them down. Like Link and my boss Mark Fincher have said for years "itís more about the spirit of the law than the letter of the law." The problem is; if climbers start to routinely abuse this law, leaving open projects fixed for months or even seasons and years on end, the NPS may start to be stricter about fixed lines.

I have mentioned it before, and I still think itís a good idea. If you have an open project with a fixed line, put a contact number or something else on it so I know the ropes are actively being used. In that case I'll definitely call you before I remove the rope(s).

Thanks again guys for the concern. Once again, I hope you guys all show up to the Yose Facelift. It will be a great time for all of us to put our money where our mouths have been, and work together for a good solid cause. Ken Yager has been busting his buttt on the event, getting all kinds of cool raffle prizes, a film tour, and a good party as well. or visit the website at

Climb it,



Aug 17, 2006 - 09:13pm PT
good to hear that it is cleaned up. But it sounds like Dean didn't do the cleaning. He just had someone else do it for him? Is this correct?

Social climber
kennewick, wa
Aug 18, 2006 - 05:34am PT
I realize that some of you may find this thread a whole lot of bitching. But having a climber leave a bunch of garbage all over any rock for three years, all for the sake of "advancing" our sport, is pretty messed up. Glad it got cleaned up.
Wild Bill

Apr 27, 2007 - 12:58pm PT
bump on a boring friday
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