Cliff Development

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 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 exisiting land access agreements in place and for many areas in the Western world, area bolting or new routing policies may exist that 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?
  • Gaining approval to develop
  • Identifying and establishing access
  • Local community involvement and support
  • Impact of litter and human waste
  • Rock fall trajectories
  • Presence of protected fauna and/or wildlife
  • Dangerous wildlife (snakes!)
  • Existing climbers
  • Potential for gear theft or interference with temporary fixed rigging
  • Technical specification of fixed gear (if required)
  • Practical work rates (nos of bolts / day vs battery packs or weight carried)
  • Impact of polished rock in the future
  • Publicising your development
  • 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.