Wide Boyz Blog

Friday, 14 October 2016

How to “Climb Clean” in The Canyonlands National Park

Developing areas for climbing - new routes, repeating test-pieces and cleaning boulder problems obviously has its upsides, but there are also a few potential downsides that possibly could affect many of our climbing days out in the future. We’ve been visiting the White Rim in The Canyonlands National Park since 2011 and when you ask many people about our activities, they straight away think of Century Crack. This route however, is just one of a number of incredible lines in the area (unfortunately for most they’re all in the somewhat elite 5.13-14 grade range) and detracts from the amazing efforts that others like Rob Pizem, Peewee, Mason Earle and Matt Lazenby have put into creating a legacy of great routes for desert rats. The downside to this “positive” of amazing routes for crack addicts, is that more people will visit the area and the effect on the environment and park will become greater - especially if certain guidelines aren’t stuck to. 

Modern technology trying to fit into a fragile environment

It’s on these specific rules of park activity that we want to write an informative blog post - mainly because some of them we weren’t entirely sure of ourselves. Hopefully if we have them laid out here, we can all continue to use the White Rim in the best possible manner and ensure that the rock and earth stay in fine shape - I know it’s very hard to argue that climbing is of no effect whatsoever - it’s just about doing things in the right way!

Below are described some of the main areas of concern for us climbers - stuff that we need to be hyper-aware of and rules that cause some significant problems when they’re broken again and again. We’re certainly not paragons of “perfect behaviour” but we would like to help clear up the ambiguity that some of us all feel when it comes to how to operate in this zone. 


In canyon lands national park, there is now a “no bolting” policy. Bolting has been allowed in the past, however there is now a ban. Bolting has been used in the past to, help protect a route, for rappels off the top of towers, or to help access to get to the base of a routes. 

Cams, wires and threads can be found all over the place on the White Rim as there are so many cracks (c) Andrew Burr

As this isn’t allowed, natural anchors should be used, so cams, wires, slings, etc. We've done a lot of exploring, rappelling and jumaring in Canyonlands now and have never felt the need for a bolt. Some times you just have to get a little creative and tie off multiple bushes, use smaller cracks and do duel rappels off the top of towers. We heard that local hero Crusher Barlett, rigged up some wooden lever system that could pulled down from the top of the tower when you were at the ground, preventing the need for a rappel bolt.

Trees and bushes when used properly are much safer than they appear...

If you feel like a bolt would benefit everyone and not cause an impact, you can actually apply through the park service for a bolting permit, which they can then either accept or decline.

Camping and staying on the White Rim

For a good number of years now the few climbers that have visited Canyonlands (and have wanted to stay in the park for longer than a day) have used the backpacking permit system. Climbers have generally used this as the designated camping areas are often pre-booked a year in advance by biking tour companies. Therefore they’ve driven down in their 4x4, parked on the side of the trail then backpacked ‘into the wilderness’ to camp and climb.

Unbeknownst to most climbers (including us, until recently) in the park rules you aren’t actually allowed to have vehicles on The White Rim Road overnight and not in a designated camping areas. In the past this has been glossed over and even missed by the park service but from now the rule can’t slip and unless vehicles are parked on a campsite over night, they are not allowed on The White Rim Trail.

The options are; 

1 You can get day permits and go in and out of the park in 1 day

2 Do real backpacking and walk into Canyonlands, with your supplies from the tarmac roads above, and make sure you camp 1 mile from any dirt road and adhere to normal backpacking/wilderness rules about waste, campfires etc etc. 

Chalk - eco chalk / coloured chalk. 

When we climbed on the White Rim this year we were under the impression that stuff like the Metolius Eco-Chalk was an accepted medium for drying our hands whilst en-route. However, this isn’t quite correct as the chalk might be “eco” but it’s still quite a bright colour against the rock. This means that coloured chalk is necessary for climbing and fortunately is very easy to buy in local climbing shops in Moab like Gearheads and Pagan. 
Coloured chalk and natural protection


So there you have it. A few simple guidelines for climbing clean in the White Rim. Yes, we can all spend hours and days arguing the merits of how these are implemented and decided upon, but for now, it’s good to get a starting place. 

If you’re planning a visit to the area to climb, then we recommend getting in touch with the park service - and in particular if there’s any concern then Jason Ramsdell is the ranger who’ll sort out most issues - he’s a climber and knows the deal. Likewise if you prefer to talk to us, then we’re always happy to answer blog post questions if that helps!