Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 31, 2010

Climbing Assessment #1

Filed under: 1 — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 5:48 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Nate and Kathryn at Lomatium Rappel #1

Deep in the Fiery Furnace, climbers and canyoneers have devised routes over the years. Arches National Park has never had an official policy governing these activities, and suddenly one is wanted by a higher-up. Two of the employees who are gathering data for this assessment were heading up into the Furnace today, and took me along for practice with ropes and rappels.

This rope has to be anchored around the large boulder

We were all gratified to see that, other than some rope rubs and grooves at the edges of rappels, there does not appear to be significant resource damage from these activities. What interested me most, however, was that my colleagues — one climber and one canyoneer — had difficulty agreeing on what should be and shouldn’t be permitted in the park. Personal biases are strong forces, and it’s my guess that many policies in place are tainted with these biases. Fortunately, the new policy-makers’ intentions include trying to AVOID bias; several mechanisms are in place to assist with that.

While we’re talking about biases, mine is that the 75 individual permits we’ll allow each day in the Furnace is FAR too high a number. The footprints off-path and through fragile environments caused far more damage than the rope rubs. Rangers who are struggling to give tours on those sold-out 75-permit days report that people are tripping over each other among the fins. That number, apparently, was pulled out of a hat instead of being evidence-based. I would love to see that number slashed to 25; let’s protect that resource, and its rare species!

And yet… (pause) … is 25 evidence-based?!? It’s a number I pulled out of my head. More data is needed.


  1. “It’s my guess that many policies in place are tainted with these biases.” Lets not forget the end of the conversation….”but thats not how I would make policy:)”

    Comment by triciao — March 31, 2010 @ 8:57 pm | Reply

    • I’m going to edit my post right now to add that piece that I forgot! Thanks!

      Comment by kath56ryn — March 31, 2010 @ 10:23 pm | Reply

  2. Since it is certain individuals (and not the species as a whole) who have demonstrated their inability (unwillingness) to care for their environment, would it be possible to incorporate some kind of test of environmental consciousness into the issuing of permits?
    Probably more difficult than it sounds.

    Comment by leroque — April 1, 2010 @ 8:43 am | Reply

    • Every user of the Fiery Furnace must, by regulation, view a 6-min orientation video and be “talked to” by a ranger or staff worker before the individual permits are issued. Sadly, these “talks” will not change the mind of one who intends to disregard instructions, even after s/he signs the permit which means s/he agrees to abide by the regs. I like the idea of a qualifying test, but it would be a logistical nightmare.

      Comment by kath56ryn — April 1, 2010 @ 8:54 am | Reply

  3. I believe that there is an art to low impact high-angle adventure travel. Desert Highlights has provided innovative rope systems and elegant travel routes that provide an experience and level of resource protection that would be nearly impossible for an individual or even park employee to replicate without extensive reconnoiter and all-around canyon travel experience. (I am tooting my own horn here.)

    Comment by Ed Oak — April 1, 2010 @ 8:06 pm | Reply

    • Tooting your own horn is good and necessary. I agree with what you have said. It is my opinion that a WELL-guided tour of any kind is vastly superior to letting individuals go on their own. Tour guides who respect the resource are a treasure in themselves — not only for the art and skill they bring, but for the positive impacts they have as environmental educators. Keep up the wonderful work, Ed, no matter where you are.

      Comment by kath56ryn — April 1, 2010 @ 10:48 pm | Reply

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