Friday, February 26, 2010


I was going to do another trip post today but something else came up. Here you go, for what it's worth. I would really appreciate your comments and thoughts on this one.

Access is a very funny thing. I don't think many of us really spend all that much time thinking about it, even though we should. It seems that the only time we think about it is when something goes wrong. When we can't count on it or take it for granted any longer.

The dirty truth is that climbing access is not a "right" but rather a privilege. While this is something that most of us can understand, there are still people out there who don't quite "get it". I prefer to surround myself with the former, rather than the latter but, alas, access is one of those polarizing conversations.

Last night I went back up to my office before leaving for home and found a letter from Rib Mountain State Park on my desk. I waited until I got home to open it as I was somewhat resigned to what was more than likely inside.

Just after Thanksgiving Aaron and Josh took a few of us around the park for a chilly day of bouldering. We had a small run in with the ranger but he eventually let us climb for the day. In the process he let us know that Rock Climbing wasn't actually allowed in the park.

We thanked him and before he left I made sure to get his card. A couple days later I wrote to him and stated the case for access. We had a couple of other correspondences throughout the winter, but nothing of too much importance until yesterday.

I'll spare you of too many details unless you really want to hear them. The basics are this:

1 - From 2003-2005 Rib Mountain State Park underwent a long range planning process.

2 - During that time the main area of the park, where all of the bouldering that we saw was located, was designated a State Natural Area.

3 - Rock Climbing is not permitted in State Natural Areas.

4 - Rib Mountain is working on getting proper signage up informing visitors of the climbing restrictions.

It's not done, but it's certainly not optimistic. I'll be the first to admit that I haven't really contributed anything to the Rib community. Seth, Josh, Dobbe, Aaron and Remo have all invested more time there than I ever will, but it would have been a nice surprise to get a different letter.

The DNR brought up a number of reasons for the closure. In my eyes some were valid and some were a bit off, but that's my opinion and possibly that's why I don't make the rules.

It seems the climbing community is ever growing in the number of climbers but somehow ever shrinking in the number of areas we get to climb at. I can't decide if more people would grow awareness and actually open areas or if it will turn out to be the opposite.

In the relatively tight midwestern community losing open access to an area like this is a big blow. It always scares me that something similar will happen at DL(not too likely) or Dodge(a little more likely). We're amazingly lucky to have these areas so close to us and losing one would be a huge blow.

One of the most precarious things we as climbers tend to do is to take ownership of an area. I know I do it to a certain extent with Devil's Lake and there are many people that do the same with Governor Dodge. We start to think of these areas as our own. As something that we're entitled to or can control. That's when things start to go wrong and we start to lose control.

I'll leave you with a story of two unnamed climbers. Some of you know them, some of you don't. I mean this as no disrespect to either of them but it illustrates what I've been trying to explain better than I ever could.

I came in to Boulders a couple years ago, mid winter, and stumbled upon two climbers pseudo fighting. Obviously I eavesdropped.

We'd just hit a bit of a warm spell and things were just barely climbable. The first unnamed climber, lets call them Sven, drove to Governor Dodge to get on some routes at the Qual Wall. In the process Sven drove around the locked gate that leads to the parking and the climbing. Sven went climbing and upon arriving back at their car Sven found a ticket and some REALLY pissed off rangers.

Apparently climbing on bolts that the rangers don't approve of after driving around a locked gate really got the rangers going. Who knew?

Strike 1.

The second unnamed climber, lets call them Olie, heard about the above story and got rightly pissed. Olie started yelling. In the process Olie yelled something to the effect of "Don't fuck up access for MY crag!!".

What got to me about Olie's comment was two things. First was the ownership idea. Second was that I've known Olie to have climbed a decent amount at Gibraltar since its been closed. Anyone who climbs at an area after its closed only fucks up access that much more.

Strike 2.

So here we have two climbers, Sven and Olie. Sven must have felt some amount of ownership. Instead of walking another 50 yards, Sven drove through the snow, AROUND a locked gate and up an unplowed road. All this to get to some bolts that the park absolutely abhors.

And then we've got Olie who was obviously just looking out for the park. Excuse me, OLIE'S park. Meanwhile Olie was making trips to Gibraltar to climb on closed routes. If Olie ever got caught out at Gibraltar, much like Sven was caught at Dodge, it would all but assure even more permanent closure of the area. I'm not really sure how that area could be anymore closed, but man, that place would get the permanent shutdown so fast we wouldn't know what to do with ourselves.

Strike 3 for both Sven and Olie.

The feeling of ownership can be a very powerful thing if it's used correctly. Taking care of an area because you care about it is a perfect example. Urging others to do the same is another. Unfortunately that's not how most people think. To most people ownership just gives them free reign. That kinda scares me.

I'm done.


  1. Steve, are you saying that Rib is now essentially closed to bouldering? Guess I'll have to scratch the Raptor off my tick list. If that is true, I will update mountainproject. Damn.

    I have been moderately scared about the Dodge the past year and a half. I think that park is a victim of the success of mp. On one hand, info is key. On the other hand, info attracts those who otherwise would not come. Traffic raises eyebrows and rangers notice. I was chastised online by Westby locals in around 2004 for posting it up on 5 years later, it's up on mp and I've heard that bouldering has fallen out of favor with the town. It used to be actually encouraged, for tourism, etc. Not sure exactly what is up there now, but the point remains the same.

    I agree about the DL history of climbing more or less solidifying climbing as an "approved" activity there (though nothing if certain forever). We still need to be overly respectful as a used group. Dodge on the other hand, I think it wouldn't take a whole lot less to get us shut down. I heard about the gate crashing incident. Bummer. Everybody fucks up, so it's hard to get too mad about someone's single episode of a lack of judgement.

    If anyone thinks it would be useful to form some type of WI climber's coalition, GD climber's club or whatever, I would be willing to help or organize some stuff. I know Rhoads has been in contact off and on with the GD rangers and so far they are tolerant of us as a user group. That could be quick to change with a change in leadership or if there are more gate crashing incidents, etc.

    Bummer about Rib. Shows how fragile the relationship can be between climbers and land owners.

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  3. Retyped for spelling errors (what else is new): Oh, and I would like the details Steve. Can you scan the letter and post it? ce

  4. Great, insightful post Steve. I think that climbers, as a whole are still a relatively small and misunderstood user group. As climbers, the responsibility falls on our shoulders to present the most respectful attitude toward the places where we climb.

    I am really sorry to hear about Rib. Lets hope that this raises awareness that these great parks can be taken away from us all too easily.

    Jay Knower

  5. Chris, a local coalition would be excellent. I've talked with Rhoads about this a number of times, and I think it would work. I know Daniel of North of 29 has been in contact with Rib park staff, and is currently working on this issue. It seems like the work he does is very beneficial and helps establish good relationships between climbers and the park rangers. He is one guy in northern Wisconsin, and we are group of motivated individuals that could really get some shit done in the southern half of the state.

    The Rib Mt. issue hits me personally very hard. I have spent more time bouldering and establishing problems there than any other place. I have so many amazing memories shared there with great people, and I love the beauty of being on top of a "mountain" and climbing on amazing stone, it's a special place. With that being said, I'm sad and happy that the state is deciding to preserve it as a State Natural Area(SNA). My girlfriend Kate has worked for the DNR and the SNA's program. She has seen many of these great areas and has convinced me of the importance if saving them, which didn't take much. I volunteered on a couple outings and loved the work we did and the cool areas we went to. For all of us who deeply care about our environment, this is a great thing! It is just a sad fact that we cannot climb at these areas. Anyway I rant, but we should look into starting up an access club. We need to be a proactive user group and establish positive relationships with the state. Issues like Rib are very sad and scary, I would really hate to lose access to any other Wisconsin area. Just my 2 pennies.

  6. Remo, good to hear from the "other side". What is the distinction of SNA versus SP? Is it supposed to be lower-impact? Just curious. I'm pro-conservation just like anyone else, but on the other hand public lands should be just that. But I would be interested to hear the distinction, and if padding the ground is considered destructive, or whatever. ce

  7. Thanks guys, I appreciate the feedback.

    Just for further clarification, bouldering/rock climbing is not allowed at the quarry and hasn't been allowed since 2005.

    Also, bouldering at the main area of Rib Mountain, at the overlook where all of the current bouldering is located, is not allowed and hasn't been allowed since 2005. This is the area that is designated as a state natural area, very similar to Quincy Bluff, Parfrey's glen, etc...

    It's always sad to have an area close up and especially sad when friends helped develop it. Remo, I really appreciate your thoughts on this. It holds weight.

    Chris, please put up a notice on mountain project.

  8. This is devastating. My experience at rib has shown be that the climbing community there has been extremely respectful of the land as well as the other user groups and I feel that over time has also brought the park a fair amount of income. This makes me very nervous for the dodge where the rangers already appear to be biased against the climbers. Thanks Seth/Remo/Dobbe/Aaron/Josh/Clint and many others for developing a great locale


  9. Ryan I completely agree about the Dodge. I feel like we're on thin ice there. I think we should all start thinking about ways to improve climber/park relations there, or at least keep it on an even keel. chris

  10. This is really sad about Rib. We had some awesome times up there too and met a lot of you guys there.

    There were some really awesome lines there, and in my opinion some of the best bouldering in wisconsin. A big loss for WI climbing.

  11. Steve, climbing *is* a right (a traditional outdoor recreation), at least in Wisconsin, on State lands.

    The State Natural Areas exception was meant to apply to areas that do not already have a history of climbing. Turning part of Rib Mtn into a SNA (without involving climbers in the process), and *then* disallowing climbing gets it backwards.

    I think we need to go to the Natural Resources Board and discuss Rib Mtn and Gibralter, and reevaluate the whole SNA climbing ban. Looking forward, it seems reasonable to suppose that most of the cliffs and rocks now locked up on private land that eventually become public property will do so as SNAs. I can't imagine hunters or snowmobilers saying "we will stay off of any new State lands." We want the State to consider our needs when they contemplate acquiring new land.

  12. This saddens me greatly. I went to school at uwsp from 96-00 and we (Matt Z, Mason Werner, Ben Ogren, and many others) spent a lot of time exploring and establishing problems at Rib. Even though the stones are small I hold a great amount of nostalgia for the area. Friendships were formed for a lifetime and it helped me develop "the eye" for seeing lines. Those were good times and there are even a few gems there. Good luck trying to overturn this, I hope it works out.

    Ken Etzel

  13. Thanks again for all of your comments. I truly appreciate them.

    Doug, you and I differ greatly in how we look at climbing access. I believe, with 100% of my body and mind, that climbing is none other than a privilege. To say it is a right is very dangerous. It's nothing of the sort. If it was then Rib and Gibraltar would be open and we'd be allowed to bolt at Dodge.

    Tomorrow morning the park superintendent of Governor Dodge could wake up and tell herself that she didn't want climbers in her park. She'd have no problem convincing the DNR otherwise and climbing would be shut down. It's as simple as that.

    If we do the slightest thing wrong like make a new trail (which seems to happen each season), or add a brand new bolt (again, various climbers have threatened to do this each of the last 4 seasons), climbing there WILL be shut down. No questions asked.

    We're on VERY thin ice with them and the more parks that get shut down, the greater chance other parks have of doing the same.

    We're an incredibly small user group that does something not many people understand. It's not exactly a 'power' position.

    Jut my thoughts on the topic.

  14. "If we do the slightest thing wrong ... climbing there WILL be shut down. No questions asked."

    I think that's unnecessarily alarmist. We do have some rights to use public lands, just as hunters do.

    NR 1:
    "Rock climbing is a traditional recreational activity that may occur on non-designated use areas on department lands, and is consistent with the department’s mission to provide recreational opportunities to the public. Rock climbing should be considered in master planning for department properties which contain areas where rock climbing
    may occur."

    Our rights are not unlimited. But the last time someone walked up to me and said "it's illegal to climb here", I politely told him he was wrong ... and he was.