Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Graffiti at the Crags

I've been climbing since 1992. That's just long enough to really feel like I've been able to watch trends change in both climbing and in outdoor recreation. The biggest change is a growing lack of respect for the land...

I know. I know. It's just another old guy complaining about the kids...get off my lawn and all that...

But it's true. There are more people recreating today than there were a few years ago. Indeed, a report in the Outdoor Foundation estimates that 1.6 percent of the American population participates in climbing either indoors or out. That's a whopping five million people!

Every year there are new climbers moving from the gym to the crag. As such, there have been a number of efforts to educate climbers making this transition. The American Alpine Club and the Access Fund have even built a curriculum around this transition called, Gym to Crag...

But even with these education efforts there are several problems. One of which, is graffiti at the crags. Obviously, a large percentage of those who participate in placing graffiti on crags are not climbers, but there are certainly a fair number who are...

Here is an example of a non-climber disrespecting Mother
Earth by scratching his ironic message onto the rocks in 
Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.

This second example is also from Red Rock Canyon. AAI Guide Andrew
Yasso took this picture on the third pitch of Purblind Pillar on the Angel Food Wall.
This image predicated a long thread on MountainProject.com.

It should be obvious that there is no difference between the first and the second examples. Both are inspriational messages that defaced the natural rock. Now every time someone looks at either spot, they have to deal with some random person's philisophical notions. The appropriate place for this kind of writing is in a summit register, not on the rock. If there's no summit register, then you should keep your philisophical thoughts to yourself...

Shortly after Andrew photographed the graffiti on Purblind Pillar, we posted about it on our facebook page. The following shows a couple of responses. I covered the names with green and red blocks to hide details about these posters:


The green poster understands the problems with graffiti, but points out that there's some hypocrisy when it comes to modern vs. historic graffiti. This isn't a terribly uncommon perspective. The thinking is that if ancient peoples did it, then why can't I...?

The protection of Native artificats is clearly definied in the 1906 Antiquities Act. This law was designed specifically to protect ancient Native American ruins. There was significant fear that people were destroying ancient artifacts by both taking them and by changing them -- often by making marks on them. The Act was further defined by the 1979 Archaeological Resources Protection Act. These laws make it illegal to deface Native petroglyphs and pictographs. And further, they make it illegal to disturb or take Native artifacts off public lands.

These acts do not protect modern rock defacement. Indeed, recently an artist was found guilty of painting pictures on rocks in National Parks thoroughout the west. Casey Nocket of San Diego, traveled across the west painting pictures on rocks in protected areas. In June of 2016, Nocket pled guilty to seven misdemeanor counts for this defacement and was ordered to complete 200 hours of public service. It's not clear if she had to clean graffiti off rocks. 

There is no question about the modern laws as they apply to rock defacement. Nor is there any question about modern ethics in this area. Wilderness travelers are not permitted to deface rocks...

It's not terribly uncommon to find notes scratched into multi-pitch lines. I've found notes like, "No Bolts!" and "No!" scratched into terrain to notify a climber that there were missing bolts on a route or that they were going the wrong way. This type of message belongs on a local climbing forum, like mountainproject.com, supertopo.com or cascadeclimbers.com. It doesn't belong on the rock.

The trail to the 4 Stories Snowy Range Sport Climbing Area 
is marked by spray painted rocks. Such an obvious defacement on 
public lands can easily lead to climbing closures.
Photo Credit: MountainpProject.com

There are some sticky exceptions to the defacing of a rock face...

The world renowned mountain guide, Randall Grandstaff, died in a rappelling accident on the Great Red Book in Las Vegas on June 2, 2002. Shortly after his death, a dedication reading "Our Bro R.G." was scratched into the rock on the route. About two weeks after the dedication was scratched in, someone else tried to scratch it out.

Scratching a dedication into the rock was not really the right way to memorialize this individual. Indeed, it's been argued that Randall would not have liked this kind of memorial. However, Randall was an important person in the history of Red Rock Canyon and there are strong arguements both for the removal of the graffiti and against it. It's clear that something like this is different than the normal graffiti problem. And it's also clear that this type of conversation should take place at a local level and the removal should be weighted heavily by the area's climbers and the local ethic...

Though this last case is sticky now, it wasn't before it happened. It's never acceptable to deface rocks with graffiti. It's just not what real climbers do...

--Jason D. Martin


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