Keeping walls as clean as Grand Canyon


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Chris McNamara

SuperTopo staff member
Topic Author's Original Post - Nov 20, 2007 - 11:07am PT
just got back from 18 day grand canyon climbing/rafting trip. amazing. will post trip report soon.

one thing that we all noticed: 22000-30000 people raft down the river and camp on the beaches and there is almost no visible impact. we compared that to the few hundred people that climb The Nose every year and what that looks like: trash, crap, and even a few high profile climbers still tossing sh#t bags that pile up at the base. we thought, "wouldn't it be great if The Nose ledges were as clean as these Grand Canyon camp sites"

any ideas out there what we could do to get there?

Trad climber
Lanham MD
Nov 20, 2007 - 11:13am PT
Close all the gyms?
jk Lambone, if you read this :D

I honestly don't know. I pick up bottles and trash every time I go climbing at the local crags out here in Maryland and West Virginia, too. Some people simply have no common sense. Urban environments tend to produce that, I've noticed. With the traffic that the valley sees and the amount of people coming to climb from the cities, you are bound to have more idiots have their first "great outdoors" experience; in NH, where I learned to climb, it was noticably cleaner everywhere. Also more of a small town environment.

So...get rid of all the cities??
Doug Robinson

Trad climber
Santa Cruz
Nov 20, 2007 - 11:31am PT
What you just did is a great start, Chris. Simply to notice, then post it up, say it out loud.

This forum helps a lot to get the word out, to get it heard. It gave great press to the huge scrubbing of Yosemite this fall, and then when a wire story showed up later that leaned unfairly on climber impact, this is where it got debated and this community came up with the effective places to apply pressure and then honed the message.

Ron Kauk gave me a new organic cotton t-shirt that quotes him on the back: "The simplest act of environmental consciousness is RESPECT" I wore it on a hike/run in the redwoods yesterday and everyone I passed got the message.

Every time I go to Manure Pile Buttress I befriend a nOOb or two, do a descreet Safety Monitor sweep, tell a story about how that particular rock really does have slippery patches besides the obvious wear-spots that are some of the scariest in the Valley and recently sent me for a 30-footer out of the blue off a mere 5.8 move, and let them see me scoop up a few random pieces of tat.
Toker Villain

Big Wall climber
Toquerville, Utah
Nov 20, 2007 - 11:33am PT
River runners are more heavily concentrated over a strip-like territory along riparian areas, and their presence makes for downstream septic considerations that affect far larger populations. As such they have compelled governing bodies (mostly rangers) to enact regulations that carry the force of law, and are easier to enforce thanks to the linear concentration.

Give it a little time.
Climbers are headed in the same direction. That said, I think the comment about gym climbers, though painting with a broad brush here, are uncomfortably close to the truth.

So Chris, how do you like the walls below Toroweap?
I'm not the only climber who's checked them out. Kurt Diemberger has been there several times.

In addition I should add that the management of the canyon could be more enlightened. Remember when they tried to "simulate" floods with the dam so as to help restore the beaches by stirring up sediment?
Pretty freaking stupid. All those well paid hydrologists, and apparently none of them pointed out that while we keep running water through the canyon, settling out the sediment beforehand in Glen Canyon means there is little to none to be redistributed downstream.

Social climber
Charlevoix, MI
Nov 20, 2007 - 11:34am PT
I'd say posts like this help a bit, the facelift helps, etc.

Part of the deal with the Grand is that most of the people down there are on guided trips, and most of the guides love the place. A regular montra was "Take only pictures, leave only foot prints" when I guided. Believe me all guides do their share of picking up trash left by other groups, but it is also easy to do as you have a boat to carry it in. Further at the beginning of a private trips the Darkservice (Sorry Jesse) does an orientation with the entire group and discussed waste etc. Then on top of all of that they do down river inspections in which violators are fined. I for one would not like to see this type of permit system/ regulation happen to Yos Walls, but maybe that is what it takes???

the kid

Trad climber
fayetteville, wv
Nov 20, 2007 - 11:36am PT
maybe there should be a ST award for the person who does the most walls and fills up the haul bag with trash..
maybe Hans and Hubers could do a trash ascent of the nose next time instead of speed...
honestly- there is no answer, it starts with each person opening up their eyes to the mess and having a moral thought to make a change...
maybe we treat the haul bag as a trash can instead of beer bucket!
we used to walk the base after each wall and p/u trash... i'm sure some still do...
when i climb in europe it amazes me how much trash and poo is at their crags..
where i live in WV- the old way for locals was to go to the top of the cliff and dump.. many a crag have been cleaned up, but those layers go deep- years of abuse..
but you start somewhere and teach others...

Trad climber
Lanham MD
Nov 20, 2007 - 11:38am PT
I just reread my post, i didn't mean to slag on cities per say. I live in one, haha. But I don't think the same level of awareness is there, which contributes to conditions sometimes being as they are.

Trad climber
Lanham MD
Nov 20, 2007 - 11:41am PT
DR, funny you should mention that. During one of my first years trad climbing @ cathedral, my partner and I got to talking with few more experienced guys in the parking lot, during which one of them picked up some random wrappers, etc. It got me thinking; I've never littered, but I never really picked up random trash either. Nowadays I pick up whatever I see.

So, it works!

Gym climber
Fannie's Crack
Nov 20, 2007 - 11:58am PT
Grand Canyon outfitters are bullwhipped into a clean it up or lose our privelages $$$$$$$$$mentality. Seriously, money is a factor here. Guides have come under much fire by private boaters (and vice versa) to keep this place clean. That being said, the river outfitters bullwhip clients and private boaters associations to keep it clean.

I really enjoyed facelift. I've never been in an organized trash pickup. It was fun, and just the action of picking up trash makes one think. One key concept used in the Grand CAnyon is MICROTRASH.
I see lots of tape and microtrash at climbing sites. I also think by making people focus on microtrash larger forms of trash become more of a no brainer.

That being said I'm putting on the Grand Canyon for 25 days Thurday........Holy $#!T Yippeeeeeeee!
Greg Barnes

Nov 20, 2007 - 12:00pm PT
Yep, lead by example. Make sure to pick up even the smallest "micro-trash" like bits of colored tape. When people see trash on the ground, adding another piece is no big deal. When the base of the crag is spotless, dropping any trash is just out of place.

Multi-day walls are a bit tougher - anyone can drop a wrapper or can lid no matter how hard you try not to litter.

Social climber
Charlevoix, MI
Nov 20, 2007 - 12:05pm PT

Bullwhipped? Potentially the owners of the companies are threatened by the park service, but the guides, for the most part, take great pride in keeping the place clean. Sure I've bullwhipped a few littering clients but that is just my personality.

You are going to have a great time on the Grand. Remember what I said about Crystal?


climber's near nevada...
Nov 20, 2007 - 12:11pm PT
PE said it - Rangers tell people putting in at the Gates of Lodore all about the microtrash, and the macro is a natural after that.
(Have fun, be safe bro)

So did DR -
Education and Respect will go a long way on this one, imho.

Nov 20, 2007 - 12:13pm PT
In general it is very difficult to speak to people about these matters. You all have found the same thing I found. One can only set examples. I did do one thing that I thought added quite a bit and was fun into the bargain. When people walked up and asked for a bag so they could help, we would go climbing together after we had finished cleaning the area. Those same people showed up for trail building and on their own began setting examples. The same thing happens whether you are working along Route 299 or in El Cap Meadow.

Makes your day like nothing else.

Nov 20, 2007 - 01:41pm PT
Love the sentiment here.

I'm always amazed how spotless Tahquitz/Suicide area remains. Same with the entire San Jacinto and San Gorgonio ranges. Not sure why it's that way, but I suspect there is somewhat a collective consciousness at work and also what Greg suggests: "When people see trash on the ground, adding another piece is no big deal."

El Cap and other cliffs' bases are not in horrid shape; there are always a few wankers who blow it. The trailheads (EC in particular) really look like sh#t, though. And the vast majority of that trash isn't caused by climbers IMO.

Thanks to the very many climbers who pick up more than they leave.

Mountain climber
Enron by the Sea
Nov 20, 2007 - 03:03pm PT
You can moan all you want about Park Service this and Park Service that, but consider what the inner Grand Canyon and the river would be like without them. I wasn't all that happy when they began charging for backcountry use permits in GC, so I can imagine how river runners and outfits have felt as regulations tighten, but the bottom line is that, with a bit more advance planning than in the old days, I can still easily (and legally) get a hiking permit that puts me on a pristine beach at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, where I'll see no one save the ocassional boating party that slips past. Would it still be that way without regulation? In the remote, harder to get to areas, sure. But elsewhere? Not a chance.

My take was always that the harder you work to get there, the more respect you have for a place. True to a point, but it doesn't explain commercial raft trip customers who essentially get there by floating in on their wallets. Obviously, respect and care for the place is an individual thing, but the river guides do an amazing job with their clients, in my experience. As much as I hate (and would gladly ban) the biga$$ motorized rafts, I've met plenty of people down there on those trips who instantly smash my pre-conceived notion that they somehow didn't appreciate the place as much as I did because I worked harder to get there.

Uh, what the hell was my point?... Oh, yeah!

Regulation. Sorry, but my guess is that's the biggest difference between what you see in GC and what you see on (and beneath) El Cap. I'm just a backpacker who has climbed damn little (and never led anything), but climbing permits and oversight--at the very least for trade routes in the most popular climbing areas--seems inevitable...and the only real solution. It's just a matter of working out the compromise most equitable to all users.

These halfass point-and-shoot shots were taken last month, about three miles upriver from Tanner Rapids. Can any trout fisherman explain how on earth we got skunked here for the first time in my life (in GC), short of when the river is running chocolate shake brown?


Boulder climber
Alamo, CA
Nov 20, 2007 - 03:16pm PT

Unfortunatley, its not just the clibmers. Last weekend while searching the boulderfields, I found countless bags of garbage that had no relation to any climbing area of any sort. I even found a 12 pack of empty budweisers with pull tops shoved under a boulder, at least 20+ years old..

I guess people just don't care or understand the impact they have on their enviroment, espically when they don't live in the areas they trash and only visit it occationally to abuse it.

The Valley has easier access (paved trails everywhere) by more people in a smaller area that it is difficult to deal with these effects. I personally think they have done a pretty good job at keeping the valley clean considering it is one of the top two national parks in the country.
Tahoe climber

Trad climber
a dark-green forester out west
Nov 20, 2007 - 04:07pm PT
Climbing permits and oversight is the worst idea that I've ever heard. There are so many negative results that would come from that approach.

To answer your question, Chris, I'd say that your post is a great way to work on getting there.
Awareness and education is the best way to accomplish our goals in this issue. And picking up the micro-trash is a great way of making the point. As always, when the climbers we respect are seen making the extra effort to pick up trash, we're likely to follow along. It's good to set an example - I was picking up trash out on the East Side last week, and several climbers in the area that I didn't know pitched in and picked up trash as well. Nothing was said about it - just a look and a nod and an unspoken respect. And the trash disappeared.


Mountain climber
Enron by the Sea
Nov 20, 2007 - 04:19pm PT
Aaron, I have no doubt that you're right, and in ways that will never occur to me, an admitted outsider who will probably never climb on El Capitan...

But with more and more climbers wanting to do El Cap's most famous/accessible routes won't a point come when the demand far outstrips the supply? Maybe I'm way off base here, but if not what's the answer?


(I'm kind of straying from the trash issue, but not entirely)

Boulder climber
Alamo, CA
Nov 20, 2007 - 07:36pm PT
someone else here I work with also pointed out;

less people visit the bottom of the G.C. because you need to hike down.

my friend is compiling a report and found out that the majority of Yosemite visitors only visit the park for 4 hours!

yes, there may be less garbage and impact in the Grand Canyon, but you also need to figure out WHY; is it easy access, logistics, location to major cities, attractions, publicity, etc.

it may be, but isn't always the fact that people leave trash and have impact, sometimes it is because of accessibility or the fact that they are TRYING to get people to visit the park(s) and attracting all the wrong people.

I would speculate there are just as many people who come to CLIMB the nose as there are people that go to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

I am not denying that there is a huge issue regarding garbage, hell I even cleanup on a regular basis when walking around, but there are other things to consider when trying to find a solution.

Nov 20, 2007 - 07:42pm PT
If the climate were normal i would hypothesize that the trash gets swept out periodically by flooding.

In any event, we really need only be thankful for our being re-energized by the sight of a clean place. So much so we all go out and make more places clean.

As to capacity to accommodate the nmber of climbers it really comes down to a choice WE have to make. Should we adapt what we do so that all who wish to participate may, or do we put a lottery in place?

Population control via lottery? Now isn't that a revolutionary concept?
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