New Fixed Rappel Anchors in the Trapps
There are five new fixed rappel anchors in the Trapps. The tree anchors on the Mohonk Preserve climbs No Picnic, Double Chin, Jackie, Betty and Baby were removed and half inch stainless steel bolted rappel anchors were installed in their place in mid-July.
Leading up to the installation of these permanent anchors was a very careful, lengthy review and approval process hammered out between the Gunks Climbers’ Coalition(GCC), the Mohonk Preserve, and the Preserve’s Land Stewardship Committee and the Bolting Sub Committee, according to Jon Ross, Associate Director of Visitor Services, and Dustin Portzline and Jason Beaupre of the GCC.
Prior to this July a total of 72 fixed anchors had been installed by the Preserve along the entire ridge since 1990, according to Ross.
There are as many sides to the issue of mounting fixed anchors as there are people talking about the subject; those involved hold strong opinions on the matter-
One side is, of course, the Preserve.
The Mohonk Preserve
The Preserve is reticent to install many more anchors as they are legally responsible for inspecting and maintaining anything they build.
The tree anchors have been put in place pretty much anonymously and are not under the same legal jurisdiction, according to Ross.
It has been the policy of the Preserve not to alter to the landscape. Replacing aging and unsafe gear on established climbs is permissible. There is also a long standing policy of not bolting climbs.
The current decision to install some fixed anchors was arrived at because of environmental concerns.
In places tree anchors have done damage to the trees. In some instances trees were girdled and in others nylon slings had burned the tree bark. Other materials have been used, like cables inside a rubber hose but the use of different material to create the anchor did not address the erosion concerns.
Traffic at the top of the climbs causes the soil around the trees to erode away- as the photo on the left shows.
The exposed root system of the tree can shorten the life of the tree and affect its integrity as part of an anchor.
There are a lot of tree anchors in the Gunks.
For every bolt station there are probably 5 on trees, according to Portzline.
This is not a new discussion, it has been going on for several years.
“Three or four years ago the GCC approached us and became involved in the process.
There were many meetings and conversations with the GCC and the Preserve’s Stewardship Committee and the anchor sub-committee, made up of Dick Williams, Joe Bridges, and Russ Clune, among others,” Ross said.
The Preserve “moved slowly and carefully on this,” Ross said.
When something is altered, like a stone stairway built, it opens the Preserve up to liability. When someone buys a wrist band or pays their membership it’s a form of a waiver, but it only goes so far to protect the Preserve, Ross explained.
The process involved narrowing down all the potential sites for fixed anchors.
The GCC had a protocol they used to narrow down the climbs that may need anchors. It’s based on a procedure used in Eldorado Canyon in Boulder, CO.
First the GCC solicited suggestions and submitted a list of the most requested to the Preserve
Usage and traffic were the primary criteria for choosing which routes to install fixed anchors. Safety vs convenience were also considered.
“The GCC was the filter but the final decision rests with the Preserve,” Ross explained. “There were discussions about each and every one of these and these five sounded reasonable.”
Gunks Climbers' Coalition
The GCC was looking at the environmental impact of the tree anchors on the top of the ridge and the effect on the trees.
When they approached the Preserve they were advised that one strategy they could take was to narrow down a list of thing they strongly felt needed to be dealt with on the cliff- that was likely to work better.
“If we can hand them a list of things that we think very strongly need to be dealt with on the cliff that’s likely to work better,”Portzline said.
In an online survey last June they asked the climbing community things like: ‘How do you guys feel about the state of things on the cliff?’
The results from the survey gave the GCC 60 or 65 things that the public felt needed to addressed.
The GCC narrowed it down to 20 routes. The Preserve said ‘This is too many, we can give you like 5,’ according to Portzline.
The four criteria the GCC needed to consider before bolts could placed were increase climber safely, prevent of environmental degradation, visual impact or clutter on the cliff, and reduce the existing maintenance cycle.
The final decision was five routes and six anchors.
“Five left to right No Picnic, Double Chin, Jackie pitch 2, Betty p1&2, and Baby p2,” Beaupre said. “Both of the repel trees on Betty, 5.3, were uncomfortable to use and they weren’t in it for the long haul. Both tree anchor would have eventually killed the tree. Double Chin was awkward and now it’s straight in line.”
“What we needed to do here was to give people better choices than they currently have,”Portzline said. “You just have this big blank slate, there are tons of variations and people just repelled anywhere, instead of just walking 100 feet to the side where it’s safer. Now there are bolted rap stations on good rock, and you don’t have to walk over soil that took 1,000 of years to be deposited there.”
He feels that it’s important that the environmental ethic come before the climbing ethic.
“If we take bolts away from ourselves out of some kind of contrived climbing ethic then we damage the environment.”
The anchors were installed on durable rock surfaces and to the left or right to the actual climb so there is no rapping down over climbers on route. There are two sets of rings at each fixed rappel anchor so multiple parties can rappel on the anchor at the same time.
“We did that both on Jackie and Betty. On Betty and Baby we had to close the top of the cliff. The tops of the climbs are very steep and essentially gullies,” Beaupre said.
“This is a testing ground to see what the feedback is. Then maybe we can move forward with other routes.”
The top rope question?
“Yeah, people will probably top rope off them,” Beaupre acknowledged.
Instillation was completed by the Mohonk Preserve and the volunteer efforts of Christian Fracchia, Dustin Portzline, Jason Hurwitz, and Jason Beaupre. All anchor supplies were graciously supplied by the American Safe Climbing Association, Rock and Snow and donations from GCC members.
“The GCC have been incredible partners to us.”
That, of course, is not the end of the story.
Rich Goldstone, a Gunks climber since the 60s with a number of first accents under his belt, as well as the first all-nut ascent in the Gunks, Double Crack, is an opponent of fixed anchors.
For Goldstone “the ideal would be nothing” and by doing so “preserving whatever it is that trad climbing means”.
Goldstone recalled the days when you just arrived at the bottom of the climb and climbed it. “There was no leaving your pack at the bottom rapping down. You walked off and came down the über fall decent”.
The Gunks are kind of a back water where people can experience something that can’t be experienced in many places anymore, but Goldstone fears that fixed rappel anchors will make the terrain accessible to people who aren’t ready.
“If you can’t build an anchor what makes you think your pro is going to hold?” Goldstone wondered.
He sees the problems with bolted rappel anchors as- people being hit by thrown ropes, gear or rocks when climbing under a rap station, top roping- or rappel highways- which is not good land management, and context of the environmental concerns.
“One spring or fall storm will kill more trees than all the climbers in all the Universe for all of recorded time will ever kill,” Goldstone said stridently.
Rich Romano, a long time protector of traditional climbing in the Gunks, feels that bolted rappel anchors take away something of the organic-ness of climbing.
“Something has to be left to adventure,” Romano said.
The beauty of the environment and nature and wildness contribute to the climbing experience. It’s important to tread carefully in order to preserve as much of that as possible.
As alternative to fixed anchors he suggests a good trail system at the top of the Trapps. This would save the trees and remove the danger of ropes being thrown down on ascending parties, Romano suggested. And perhaps a bit more education for gym to crag climbers.
This is one more chapter in an evolving conversation around climbers’ ethics, land management and responsible stewardship.
The GCC reported getting positive responses on both the new rappel anchors and the replaced bolts on the Blackout, Turdland, Never Never Land, J’Accuse, Wonderland, Arrow, Ozone and Carbs and Caffeine.
All existing holes and bolts were removed and filled with epoxy and natural stone to minimize our climber impact, according to the GCC.
The conversation will continue. Peak has tried to give voice to different sides of this discussion. If we’ve left out a perspective let us know.