The Big Picture
You’ve found a new cliff or a potential new line in between existing climbs, so what next? The urge to buy a drill and get drilling is overwhelming however areas that remain popular need to offer a sufficient quantity of routes at the right grades that are well bolted, cleaned well and enjoyable enough to warrant a repeat visit.
Before development begins, consider the impact that developing routes will have on the ecology and local community. Too often, development occurs first, and then the challenge of retaining access and maintaining fixed protection occurs later when the advantage to negotiate on favourable terms with local authorities or landowners has diminished. Confirm whether there are existing land access agreements in place and for many areas in the Western world, area bolting or new routing policies may exist, which govern fixed protection use and specification. For new regions in places such as Asia, the transition from a small group of climbers developing a new crag to hundreds or even thousands of climbers visiting per annum is a considerable one and can often result in conflict with local communities.
The list below is by no means exhaustive but provides a starting point for the questions to be asking yourself and others!
- Who owns the land?
- Can you gain approval to develop?
- Can you identify and establish access?
- Will the local community get involved and support the cliff development?
- What is the impact of litter and human waste?
- What are the rock fall trajectories?
- Are there any protected fauna and/or wildlife present?
- Is there likely to be any dangerous wildlife (snakes!)?
- Are there existing climbers on the cliffs?
- Is there the potential for gear theft or interference with temporary fixed rigging?
- What is the technical specification of fixed gear (if required)?
- What are the practical work rates (nos of bolts / day vs battery packs or weight carried)?
- What is the impact of polished rock in the future?
- How do you publicise your development?
- What are the needs for long term area maintenance (fixed protection and landowner relationship)?
Right of access is increasingly one of the key challenges behind preventing crag closures and can be particularly sensitive in the case of developing countries, where climbing can be considered a dangerous activity. Unsurprisingly landowners may not share your enthusiasm for the development of their resource.
Equipping new areas requires a cash flow and belief in that the time and expense is worth the investment, whilst being sure that access can be guaranteed to make your contribution a long-lasting one. In China, climbing development has led to disagreements within local communities, crag closures, smashed bolts and money demanded from visiting climbers.
Local communities may only see the potential source of revenue that can lead to unsustainable practices in a bid to make a ‘quick buck’. The key, therefore, is to recognise these potential challenges upfront and have a plan to work with the landowner and local community before problems arise. This can be in the form of toilets constructed at the crag, using locals in the community for transport, food and establishing a business that develops local climbers such that they have and act as a voice for the best interests of climbers. This can also include establishing relations with government departments responsible for tourism and land use.