As most knowledgeable climbers will be aware natural erosion gradually affects the composition of any mountain, even though it may take hundreds or even thousands of years to manifest itself in any noticeable form. However, with the millions of people all over the world who share a love of mountaineering and rock climbing, the dangers of erosion are far outweighed by the dangers of human activity on the mountains with regard to the increase in the ecological damage we inflict.
Over recent years, the increase in environmental awareness alongside conservation issues in general has been very much to the fore in terms of both political and popular debate with regards to the impact which climbers themselves are having on mountain ecology which has forced the climbing community to look at alternative climbing methods which will not only provide a safe environment in which to climb but will, simultaneously, reduce the impact of their activities on the natural environment so that the mountains can be preserved and enjoyed by many future generations to come.
Safety and Conservation
We’ve already seen the results of the efforts put in at first hand in terms of the types of anchoring and securing equipment that has come onto the market over recent years, e.g. spring type camming devices, nuts and hexes which are equally secure as other types of bolts and anchors but are not permanent and do far less damage to the rock.
By its very nature, some elements of mountaineering and rock climbing couldn’t be sustained if safety had to be compromised for the sake of the environment and the polarity of these issues has firmly divided many people amongst both the climbing and conservation communities all around the world.
There are, at present, no legislative powers which have been able to reach a satisfactory outcome in order to adopt a world recognised code of ethics but many mountaineering and rock climbing clubs have begun to appreciate the ecological issues for themselves and recognise their importance so that many of them have drawn up their own code of conduct when climbing.
- Climbing clubs should promote the fact that trees on mountainsides should be protected and should not be used as anchors or belay stations wherever possible.
- Climbers may use fixed anchors, including pitons and bolts but they, as individuals, should never replace existing holds or place new holds unless trained to do so and instructed to do so by the authorities in charge of the conservation of a particular mountain or mountain range.
- Any fixed anchors should be camouflaged and new fixed anchors should never be placed when some other removable protection is just as safe and feasible to use. Any removal of fixed anchors and bolts can cause damage to the rock and should only be carried out when there is a general consensus of opinion amongst all interested parties that it is the best option to take.
- Responsible climbing clubs will also promote the ethos that excessive chipping away at rocks and gluing of holds alongside removing or ‘cleaning’ of moss, loose rock and lichen from rocks is not acceptable.
Obviously, safety and the risks presented by different rock formations are always going to have an impact to one degree or another on how much climbers can compromise and balance safety with conservation and ecological issues but an understanding of the impact rock sports can have on the environment and how we can help to keep that to a minimum is something that has to be welcomed.