The National Park Service (NPS) released Director’s Order #41 earlier last week, finalizing their fixed anchor policy in designated wilderness areas. Currently, 44 million acres of “wilderness” fall within the boundaries of 47 National Parks. That’s roughly 53 percent of all National Park land. The management plan could allow climbers to establish new fixed anchors in those areas by zone, and not solely on a case-by-case basis. These designated zones are subject to the each parks’ approval.
The policy affects all National Parks, which contain many of the country’s most popular climbing areas: Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Zion, Tetons. In the Director’s Order, the NPS recognizes “that the use of removable anchors may reduce, but does not in every case completely eliminate, the need for fixed anchors. The occasional placement of a fixed anchor for belay, rappel or protection purposes does not necessarily impair the future enjoyment of wilderness or violate the Wilderness Act.” In some National Parks, this interpretation contrasts heavily with current regulations. Arches National Park, in eastern Utah, prohibits any new fixed hardware or webbing, limiting climbers to existing routes or new routes that don’t require fixed gear. In others, like Yosemite, climbers are allowed to place fixed anchors on new routes as long as you’re not killing vegetation, using a power drill, climbing near falcon nesting areas or in banned areas.
While, in some parks, this fixed-anchor policy will be more lenient than existing restrictions, it does not mean climbers will be allowed to drill at will. The NPS believes that the “establishment of bolt-intensive face climbs is considered incompatible with wilderness preservation and management due to the concentration of human activity which they support, and the types and levels of impacts associated with such routes.”
At this time there are still many questions as to what all the new policy means. In the next few weeks, the NPS will release a reference manual to the Director’s Order. Until then, “climbers should be very cautious until we get clear direction in the coming weeks, when establishing a new routes where fixed protection is needed,” says Jason Keith, Access Fund’s Senior Policy Adviser. “I predict there will be some concerned climbers out there in limbo, and we need to figure out how to deal with interim permit authorizations and large-scale authorizations in parks that can be both programmatic and streamlined so they are workable and effective for climbers and land managers.”