Climbers in Colorado seemingly botched an opportunity for access to more routes in Rifle. Some of the finest — and hardest — limestone routes in North America are located in Rifle Mountain Park, which features 200 bolted sport routes, few rated below 5.10, with average grades more like 5.12. But a move submitted to the Colorado Division of Wildlife this past fall by the Rifle Climbers Coalition (RCC), with backing from the Access Fund, to expand routes in the area has just been rejected unanimously by a 14-member panel of the state wildlife commission.
The RCC and the Access Fund commissioned a biological survey of Rifle Falls last summer and in January presented their vision of what climbing might look like in the Rifle Falls area. The commission, however, rejected the petition on multiple grounds:
- Rifle Falls was established as one of only a handful of fish hatcheries in the state — and its existence is funded by a federal excise tax on fishing equipment. Access to fish there is free as a result, but there’s a fee to climb at Rifle Mountain. The commission worried that allowing climbers free access would amount to a misuse of federal funds, since any management of the area as a result of climbing could be deemed as inappropriate by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for oversight of Rifle Falls. It wasn’t willing to jeopardize federal funding.
- The area climbers wanted opened up is an active nesting ground for federally protected golden eagles.
- The final factor was how climbers, climbing, and illegal bolting are perceived — the commission cited a few too many examples of illegal bolted routes already in place at Rifle Falls; the fact that this became known publicly at last week’s hearing rather than last summer didn’t help the cause. Worse, however, is that the 14-member panel clearly weren’t at all aware of what bolted routes look like.
An article in the Grand Junction Sentinel explained how members of the commission toured Rifle Mountain and saw rock “festooned with carabiners, slings, runners and, lengths of chain,” which “certainly raised a few eyebrows among the commissioners, none of whom admitted to ever hanging from a rope more than 10 feet off the ground.”
The article went on to quote commissioner Dorothea Ferris of Carbondale, who was apparently shocked to find that the climbing area “had bolts with things hanging from them.”
And commissioner Mark Smith, a rancher and farmer from the town of Center added, “After seeing what I saw in the canyon, I move we deny the petition.”
Without a solid financial plan, let alone a seasonal approach to avoiding critical raptor nesting, climbing at Rifle Falls may have been doomed before it ever got in front of the commission.
Environmental coverage made possible in part by support from Patagonia. For information on Patagonia and its environmental efforts, visit www.patagonia.com.