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Climber Stupidly Bolts Routes Over Ancient Utah Petroglyphs

It is illegal to add rock climbs to or near archaeological or protected sites

Photo by: Darrin Reay

Last year, a climber added a number of protection bolts and anchors to a wall near Arches National Park which they called Sunshine Slabs. The routes were bolted on a 20-metre slab that has many ancient 1,000-year-old Fremont-style petroglyphs. The route development was illegal and could lead to fines.

It was brought to the attention of climbers by Stewart Green, who shared the news on Facebook saying that Darrin Reay, a guide who appeared on the TV show Naked and Afraid, had found the bolts. Raey looked up the Sunshine Slabs on Mountain Project and discovered the routes were bolted by climbers from Colorado Springs in late March. One of the routes is 5.3. The Mountain Project page has since been removed.

Raey told Green: “I pulled all three of them down. I thought about leaving them up for the sake of reporting them. But I just couldn’t leave them up, religious reasons. It was my duty… I still have the photos of the first time I went out there 14 years ago of that panel. Never would have noticed it if you hadn’t told me to look for it.”

Green went on to say: “As climbers, we need to be aware that it is illegal to climb on or near cultural resources like rock art panels and archaeological sites as mandated by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. These laws provide for the management and protection of cultural resources including historic and prehistoric sites. Climbing routes have been removed and areas and cliffs closed at places like Indian Creek Canyon, Wall Street, and Red Rocks National Conservation Area because they were near rock art sites. Unfortunately, it seems that many new climbers haven’t learned that their negative actions can have big consequences on our future climbing freedoms. It’s important to remember that it’s a privilege to climb at our diverse and beautiful climbing areas across the United States. The fact is that we just can’t do whatever we want as climbers anymore, unlike the Wild West days when I was a young climber and anything went. Placing bolts and climbing by rock art sites is simply unacceptable.”

Reay reported the event to BLM Moab with photos of the damage caused by the bolts. Land managers have a responsibility to not only provide recreational opportunities like climbing, hiking, and mountain biking, but they usually have a greater responsibility to preserve and protect natural areas, unique habitats and environments, and cultural resources and archaeological sites.

The American Access Fund released the following statement: It is essential that climbers understand the significance of petroglyphs, not only as a window into the past but as an ongoing and vital part of Indigenous culture and identity to this day, and are committed to protecting these sacred sites. The cultural and spiritual value of these places cannot be measured, and we firmly support efforts to protect them. We are currently reaching out to our friends and partners in the local and national tribal, climbing, and land management communities to discuss how to best proceed with the current situation and prevent such instances from occurring again.

If you’re new to bolting routes, be sure to check with local access groups before establishing a climb or a crag. Not only are many places in Canada protected, but removing certain types of trees can lead to being charged. Acts like the one in Utah can lead to entire climbing areas being closed. Last year, the world-famous Grampians had crags closed because routes were established near historic sites, read more about it here.

Photo Darrin Reay
Photo Darrin Reay / Stewart Green Facebook
Lead photo: Darrin Reay