How was your Valentine’s Day? Mine was pretty good. I went to Little Rock City and bled on things. It was a great day of trying stuff, making friends, and practicing proper tape technique.
But Sunday was even more exciting because I went to a new crag!
I say “new” mostly because it is new to me, but it really is a pretty new climbing spot. I’m talking about the Hospital Boulders in Gadsden, Alabama.
Located in the middle of a neighborhood and down the street from the eponymous Mountain View Hospital, the area became open to climbers in 2012 through negotiations between the Southeastern Climbers Coalition, the Access Fund, and the (now previous) landowners. It finally became SCC property last year after a lot of fundraising to pay off the AF loan used to secure the area. (Half the boulder field, however, is still on private property — so be careful where you walk!)
I had heard the name a few times, but the Athens climbing folk don’t make their way to Gadsden very often. And I don’t know why not! It’s like a smaller, denser, less developed Rocktown. Admittedly the rock isn’t quite as amazing at in Lafayette, but it is pretty darn awesome. It’s just as close to Athens as any other good climbing, and it doesn’t require a pass. After passing through a dummy-locked gate*, you just park next to a barn, walk 20 feet, and climb on rocks. YAY!
There isn’t a guidebook yet, but there is a topo. Many of the routes are unnamed, and oodles are waiting to be FA’d. It was really fun just climbing on whatever and not worrying about grades.
The important stuff: we climbed lots of things, I am now psyched on roofs**, and Lucy made Evan a hat.
So that was cool. But something has been bothering me about climbing lately.
It started with little plastic corners at Little Rock City. You know what I’m talking about? When you open a Clif bar, or a Lara bar, or a Luna bar, or whatever bar you are eating (because you are probably eating a bar), you rip off the upper right corner (or maybe the left one), and then it disappears.
Well, actually, no, because matter doesn’t do that. You actually just dropped it in the dirt and forgot about it. And now it is just sitting there, not disintegrating because it’s made of film plastic, and film plastic doesn’t do that.
So there are little corners sprinkled all over boulder fields, like malignant sparkles waiting to be picked up by an observant dirtbag or choked on by an animal. And whoever dropped them probably didn’t even realize it. They probably don’t know their trash has taken up residence in an ecosystem which has no use for it and, in fact, is negatively impacted by its presence.
I am not a scientifically minded person. At all. I’ve withdrawn from two logic classes in college, and as fascinating as my geology class was, I barely passed. But I was a Girl Scout for 12 years, and if I learned one thing from Brownies about caring for the earth, it was this: you should always leave a place better than you found it.
Now, that is easy to do when you are at LRC and can stuff somebody’s litter into your pocket on the walk back to the car. But climbers as a group are not doing an excellent job of cleaning up after ourselves, and we are certainly not leaving our crags better than they were before we came along. The fact that we are even interacting with the earth in our bizarre way means we are going to change it. But at the very least, we need to try harder to leave no trace — or at least a smaller one.
I am pretty new to climbing, and really to outdoorsiness in general. Most of what I know about minimizing my impact I’ve learned from the Internet and fellow climbers. So I am definitely not an expert. But I remember how I was when I first started climbing outside a year and a half ago: totally clueless to the impact of my new passion on the environment, but not wanting to be a part of the problem. I know there are others like me out there, and I think it’s a good idea to address some basics of keeping climbing an innocent sport that doesn’t destroy the planet or anger anybody.
The SCC has a nice little “crag minimal impact” flier that you can view here. A lot of it seems pretty intuitive, but there are definitely items climbers tend to overlook. Some problematic behavior I often witness (and some of which I am guilty) on bouldering trips:
1. Not staying on trails. Two words: unnecessary erosion. Another word: bad.
2. Leaving toilet paper everywhere. I know a lot of people have different opinions about what to do with toilet paper, and many folks just bury it. But considering how many people you see at the crag, and incidentally how many people do their business at the crag, the amount of toilet paper we are putting into the ground no longer seems negligible. And honestly, it doesn’t seem like everyone is doing a good job of burying theirs; the fact that it is so easy to find a chossy rock with a bunch of TP wads strewn behind it is a good indicator that we should probably just pack it all away with our bar wrappers and their corners.
3. Leaving cans and bottles in fire pits. I don’t know why this is a thing. A lot of people think that this is an OK thing. Maybe they are trying to make a fuel gift to future campers? But aside from the fact that aluminum and glass need some mega hot flames to burn, and the fact that cans and bottles are recyclable, and the fact that you are probably risking a fine just by bringing glass into a camp site, it seems obvious that glass and metal do not belong sitting out in nature after you have left, getting rained on/rusted/blown away/whatever. Like, they weren’t there before you got there. They shouldn’t be there when you leave. Right? Correct me if I am wrong and this really is a benign practice.
4. Throwing food scraps on the ground. I do this ALL THE TIME. But I recently learned that it really is important to pack everything out; even though things like apple cores are biodegradable, they take a while to break down, so much so that it’s kind of a problem to just leave them in the dirt. According to Leave No Trace Dude, banana peels need a month to disintegrate, and “those bits of orange peel left behind might still be there a few years from now.” Yikes.
Additionally, when lots of people leave food scraps behind, animals become habituated to it. This is a problem — I think — because they can then become dependent on humans’ scraps, and/or they start eating whatever we leave behind instead of getting the nutrients they need from the food they would naturally be eating. So the reasoning here is similar to why you’re not supposed to feed bread to ducks.
5. Not scrubbing off tick marks. This is more of an etiquette issue; it is pretty rude to chalk up a rock with a million lines and then just leave it like that for the next climber. For one thing, they might not want your beta. Also, tick marks are ugly. And again, that chalk wasn’t there before you showed up; at least rub it out a little before you leave. I am definitely guilty of forgetting to clean my projects, but it’s something I think a lot of us could work on.
6. Being obnoxious. Another etiquette issue, but an important one. When an area opens up for climbing, especially an area near civilization like Hospital Boulders or LRC, we want to be good neighbors. We don’t want to have a reputation as the scruffy new kids on the block — leaving trash in the forest, letting our dogs run wild, and playing bad dubstep out of crappy iPod speakers. ‘Cause climbing anywhere is a privilege, and if we are awful neighbors, it will be that much harder to open up new areas. And besides, we’re better than that. Right?
So. Am I on point? Way off point? Did I forget anything super common and terrible? Am I wrong about the cans? Speak up in the comments!
*The gate was dummy-locked on Sunday. In the future, the SCC may implement a code, so make sure to check the website any time you’re planning to go.
**UPDATE 1/4/2016: Just got back from my second trip to Hospital, and it turns out those mega-cool roofs are not on SCC property. Super tragic, but we steepthusiasts must stay away. 😦