If you’re like most climbers, you pore over guidebooks for weeks or even months when planning a climbing trip. You educate yourself on routes, descents, gear, and camping. But what about the local ethics, issues, and challenges at your destination crag? Part of being a responsible climber is knowing how to tread lightly—both socially and environmentally. In the Inside Scoop series, we connect you with local climbing access leaders at some of the country’s top climbing destinations for valuable insight into local ethics and issues.
Destination: HUECO TANKS STATE PARK AND HISTORIC SITE, TEXAS
Local expert: SARAH MARTIN-ONTIVEROS, BOARD MEMBER OF HUECO TANKS COALITION
What challenges does the Hueco climbing community face right now?
One of our biggest challenges is education. Hueco is a sensitive desert environment with some spectacular cultural resources in the form of petroglyphs and sacred sites. We see many climbers from all reaches of the globe, and we work hard to make sure everyone understands how to climb here responsibly.
What does the access situation look like at Hueco?
A Public Use Plan was implemented in 1998, putting certain parameters around park access. Seventy-five percent of the park is accessible only through a guided tour, while the other 25 percent has a limited number of day-use slots. Climbers have to plan ahead to gain entry into the park.
Are there currently any threats to climbing access?
Some local residents have voiced concern that they cannot gain access to the park because it is monopolized by climbers. There are groups who would like to limit all climbing in the park.
How do you address overcrowding?
We help the park monitor impacts and manage traffic to certain areas. Climbing tours tend to bottleneck in certain areas and cause too much impact. We became concerned with the overcrowding and proposed that the park break popular areas into zones and force the guides to be specific about which zones they were visiting. This allowed the park to better manage the traffic, lessen impacts, and create a more pleasant experience for visitors.
How is the relationship between climbers and the land managers?
Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) manages the park. We have a lot of respect for them and keep the lines of communication open.
What are the local ethics at Hueco?
We have a pretty clear code of ethics that we ask all climbers to follow:
• The desert is a fragile environment that does not recover from heavy traffic quickly. Do not place pads on plants and do not drag your pad over dirt areas. This increases erosion. Please pick your pad up and replace it.
• Leave artifacts untouched. Respect closures and avoid climbing at pictograph sites, even if a closure sign is not present.
• Always respect the plant life and under no circumstances remove or prune plant life, even if it gets in the way of a boulder problem.
• No colored chalk, rosins, or pof.
• Leave no trace. Erase tick marks and pack out all trash, especially climbing tape.
• Stick to established trails.
• While on backcountry tours, listen to your guide. Their knowledge of the park and climbing problems is an important link in the climber and park relationship.
• Do not modify holds. Hueco is a huge park; a better problem is right around the corner.
• Respect park staff. Make sure you are outside the park gate or in the campground by closing. That means packing up to leave a half hour before the park closes.
Any words of wisdom for folks visiting Hueco for the first time?
Set aside the “send and crush” mentality, and take a step back and look around. Hueco is anamazing place! Remember to appreciate your environment and treat it with respect.
Photo courtesy of Sam Davis ©