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September 1, 2015

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BLM seeks input on rules affecting rock climbers at Red Rock

Map of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

1000 Scenic Drive, Las Vegas

Officials at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area are considering rule changes that could open new parts of the park for rock climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts.

The changes revolve around the use of permanent fixed anchors, which climbers use to secure their ropes as they ascend and descend cliff faces. The anchors, usually bolts, are drilled into the rock and left for future climbers.

Climbing routes were installed in Red Rock starting in the 1970s and continued until the use of permanent anchors was banned in the early 2000s in parts of Red Rock designated as wilderness areas. The designation added restrictions and regulations meant to preserve the natural condition of the area and protect wildlife but halted the development of new routes.

Installing new fixed anchors could open more areas of the wilderness area for recreation, prompting the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees Red Rock, to consider rule changes allowing their use, BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner Nick Wolendziak said.

The restriction on fixed anchors has been a hot topic among local climbing groups for years, said Dan Young, a climbing guide and president of the Las Vegas Mountaineers Club.

Currently, the limited number of routes can mean long lines and waits for climbers in some of the most popular areas of Red Rock, he said.

“Red Rock has an incredible amount of rock that’s climbable, but without fixed anchors, you can’t do it safely,” Young said.

Although nonpermanent anchors do exist, their use is limited to specific areas.

“All the conditions have to be just right to be able to do that,” he said. “All the nonpermanent anchors are either around a tree or a super large immovable object, like a boulder.”

Young said fixed anchors were small and well camouflaged, meaning they wouldn’t be visible to hikers using the trails below.

“There are no negatives to the bolting impact that I can think of. I’m glad the (BLM) is opening up the possibility of it,” he said.

The BLM is soliciting public comment on the fixed anchor issue through Nov. 18 and is conducting a series of public workshops for climbers to give feedback.

Once the comment period closes, Walendziak said the BLM would conduct environmental impact assessments to study the effects of allowing fixed anchors in the wilderness areas. New rules could be in place by early 2014, he said.

Any changes would apply only to the La Madre Mountain and Rainbow Mountain areas of the park, which collectively cover more than 48,000 acres.

Walendziak said there were several possible options, including lifting restrictions entirely or instituting a permit system allowing for new anchors on a case-by-case basis.

He said the BLM would work to address the needs of climbers while still preserving the area’s pristine state.

“There are components of wilderness character that we’re required to monitor and make sure we’re protecting,” he said. “These are areas that have great opportunities for solitude that are primitive and undeveloped.”

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