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Black Canyon Regulations

Proposed Changes to Climbing Regulations in the Black Canyon

The management of the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park, near Montrose, CO, is being reevaluated. Since 2004 climbing in the park has been regulated under the Interim Climbing Management Plan, a temporary set of policies that governed the park’s activities until an environmental assessment was completed. Upon completion of the environmental assessment, the National Park Service has revised the management policies for the entire park, to better fulfill the long-term goals to “restore, protect and enhance” the wilderness character of the park. In the proposed management plan, the Park Service tweaked the Interim Climbing Management Plan slightly to more clearly define guidelines for all climbing and climbing development. The proposed management plan is open for public comment until October 26.

Jason Nelson leading Pitch 3 (5.10) toward the difficulties of Pent Up (5.12c, 7 pitches, ca. 700′), Chillumstone Gully, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado. Jack Jeffries, Cody Sims and Nelson established the line–which also freed the last pitch of the neighboring Count Your Lily Pads (III 5.10 A2) at 5.11–on June 7, 2008. [Photo] Jack Jefferies

Most of the changes in the management of climbing are clarifications of the Interim Climbing Plan’s goals. The new management plan leaves little ambiguity in even simple decisions: fixed ropes can be left hanging for no more than fourteen days, gear caches cannot be left for more than twenty-four hours, and intentional development of approach trails (as well as marking any trail with cairns) is prohibited. Implementing Leave No Trace wilderness ethics is now mandatory.

The new management plan divides the National Park and its surrounding BLM-managed land (East Portal Marrow Point and Curecanti National Recreation Center) into separate zones based on their wilderness merit. All areas are classified as either backcountry, primitive wilderness or pristine wilderness. Regulations for climbing and overnight use vary accordingly.

Most climbing in the Black Canyon occurs in what the new Management Plan defines as the Inner Canyon Primitive Wilderness Subzone. Being defined as a “primitive wilderness” brings new regulations to the climbing area–the most specific of which is the new limit on bolts placed in the canyon per year. The new Management Plan defines a “fixed protection anchor” as a “single piece of hardware that is used as protection on an otherwise unprotectable section of a climbing route” and is left in place on the route after the party is finished climbing. Only fifteen new fixed protection anchors are allowed per year under the new plan, and the Park Service will revise this number if there is any change to the expected rate of climbing development or and unexpected deterioration of the wilderness character of the Black Canyon. The placement of a fixed protection anchor does not need prior written approval, as long the placements meet these three requirements: there have not been more than fifteen placed in the year, they do not constitute a bolt ladder and they are unobtrusive and painted a natural color.

The installation of permanent rappel stations will be similarly regulated. The new plan deems “fixed access rappel stations” as a “configuration of multiple pieces of hardware” that can be reached by non-technical means and are intended solely as a means to reach the base of a climb. No more than three fixed protection anchors may be used in a fixed access rappel stations and no webbing or cord may used in the construction of a new fixed access rappels station. All fixed access rappel stations must have prior written approval. These applications will be reviewed by representatives from the park climbing staff, wilderness staff, visitor protection division and park regulations division.

Another change to current Black Canyon policy is a new ban on commercial guiding in the Inner Canyon. Special Use Permits for commercial guiding will be available in the Curecanti National Recreation Area, but guided climbing will be prohibited in the Inner Canyon in order to “improve opportunities for challenge, self-reliance and adventure that are integral to the wilderness experience.” BASE jumping, hang gliding and paragliding will also be forbidden in the Inner Canyon.

“The Black is a unique place and should be handled creatively.” Local climber Phil Broscovak told The Park Service welcomes public comments and can be contacted here. The Park Service’s goal is to ensure that the Black Canyon remains a wilderness, and though route development may slow with the new limits on fixed anchor placement, as Broscovak says “the Black Canyon itself will always be the best limiter of access and use.”

Sources: Phil Broscovak,