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USFS Closure of The Williamson River, My Response
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Dec 26, 2009, 12:06 AM
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Registered: Oct 14, 2003
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USFS Closure of The Williamson River, My Response  (North_America: United_States: Oregon: Southern_Oregon: Williamson_Cliffs)
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Dr. Grover Shipman
1436 Crescent Ave
Klamath Falls, OR

Mr. Ray, Mr. Lawrence and To Whom It May Concern:

Thank you for allowing a time of public comment on Williamson River Cliff Area Project. I would like to discuss my thoughts on the WRCA and suggest some alternatives to partial or complete closure. First, I’d like to begin with a brief history of rock climbing in this area and my personal experiences there. Also, I will attempt to educate those not familiar the basic styles of anchors for rock climbing. Finally, I hope to reassure you, the Federal Administrators of the land, my compliance with any and all restrictions which you place on the land.

It is my understanding that the cliffs above Spring Creek (presently Oax Kanee Overlook, west of Hwy 97) and the Williamson River Cliffs (those along FSR 9734, east of Hwy 97) have been an area for recreational rock climbing enthusiasts since the late 1950s and early 1960s. The first written records of climbing taking place in this remote area are from local Klamath Falls climbers from the early 1970s. Notable ascents at this time include several by the Federal Court Judge, Cam Wogan currently on the bench in Klamath Falls. There, he climbed a wide, 40 foot tall crack, naming it “Cam’s Jam” – a name it still carries today. It is a test-piece for aspiring locals. He and his partners climbed and named nearly 100 routes along the cliffs on each side of Hwy 97. Since the late 1970s and early 1980s, The Boy Scouts of America and private recreationalists from all over the State and beyond come to enjoy the climbing, solitude and serene vistas of the upper Klamath Basin and forested river valleys below.

I first climbed here in the summer of 2003, after I moved from Arkansas. I have been rock climbing for 17 years, climbed in 15 states and 7 countries. While training on these cliffs I’ve participated in published expeditions including 30 day trip to Baffin Island, within the Arctic Circle. These cliffs have become an important part of my growth as a climber and a steward of the outdoors.

Having worked closely with the “Access Fund,” a charitable organization for climbing advocacy, I’ve attempted to sooth tensions between groups (tribes, climbers and Forest Service). Also, I’ve organized clean-ups of the area. I have spearheaded one official “Adopt-A-Crag” clean-up sponsored by the Access Fund, and several un-official clean-up days at the crag. We have removed nearly a ton of garbage from the foot of the cliff including car parts and a big-screen television. We’ve cleaned the graffiti from the cliffs. I made specific recommendations regarding the sensitive vegetation and erosion of the approach gullies on how climber impacts can be mitigated and controlled by use of marked trails and limiting parking.

Regarding the graffiti specifically, I am very disappointed that climbers have been blamed for this. Especially, considering the symbols that were used (circles and other tribal designs) and a stick figure that had a caption reading “White Man.”

In 2005, I felt that the climbing access was being threatened, and invited members of the Klamath Tribe (Mr. Skelton, whom I believe was the Public Relations representative) and Forest Service representatives to speak to local climbers regarding any issues either might have with us climbing there. I hoped that we could foster an understanding between the groups. About 20 climbers attended his presentation, where we were accused of raiding the area for arrow heads and other plunder - which I assure you, we have no interest in. He never specifically mentioned the “vision quest” sites nor showed any pictures so we might avoid them. The Forest Service personnel arrived in uniform and were invited to speak, but did not. In the months following this presentation, tensions mounted. In 2006, a friend, Sgt William Byrnes, was ticketed for placing bolts and building trails. At great expense, I hired an attorney for this case. It became evident that bolting (fixed climbing anchors), were not in any way illegal. The charge for bolting was dropped.

There are several tools available to the modern rock climber to keep him safe. Until adoption of “clean climbing” in the 1960s, rock climbing anchors almost always employed the hammer and piton (a steel spike driven into cracks). These obviously damaged the crack and rock around it. With modern materials (namely aluminum and nylon), other types of removable protection were created. These basically include aluminum chocks of various sizes that can be wedged in cracks for removal at the end of the climb and cams that are placed in parallel-sided cracks. These cams use the mechanical advantage of the lever to stay in place. These devices are also removed at the end of the climb. These are the tools of “clean climbing.”

Sometimes, there is no crack into which a climber may place an anchor. In these circumstances a fixed climbing anchor might be employed. Bolts are by far the most commonly used fixed anchor. Bolts are also sometimes used at the top of a climb when there is no boulder, crack or suitable tree which might serve as a “natural anchor.” In this case, it is considered standard to place the bolts on the vertical cliff face below the top, where one might reach over the edge to place a rope for climbing. Placing them here serves as a means to conceal the bolt from a non-climber – thus, lessening the visual impact. Sometimes bolts are needed in the climb itself to keep it safe. When and where to place these are decided by the first person to climb the route from the ground-up. This means that he or she started from the ground, without the rope going through an anchor to arrest a fall. He or she is called the “Route Author” or “First Ascensionist.” This person is said to have “led” the route. When and where to place a bolt is a hotly debated issue in rock climbing circles.

In general, it is considered unethical to place a new bolt in the following circumstances:
1.) If there is an area nearby in which a piece of removable gear can be used instead.
2.) If the route had originally been “led” by the route author without the use of a bolt.
3.) If the local climbing community, land owner or regulatory body forbids it.

Parking: Of all private uses of public lands, motorized vehicles damage wildlife and disturb the forest more than any other.
• Appropriate limitations of parking with boulders and natural barriers. This has been done with good results.
• Consideration of additional boulders at the first climbers parking area so the “island” of vegetation in the middle of the first pull-out might not be eroded completely.

Trails: The second largest impact on the forest is likely foot traffic. Unfortunately, these cliffs are raked by wind and baked in the summer sun. This makes it very difficult for ground cover to return once it has been trampled down. Too the shifting high desert pumice has little nutrient value to offer new plant life. As a result un-marked trails will turn from narrow paths to wide irregular patches of lifeless sand. My suggestion:
• Establish a trail from all each of the three pull-outs to a cliff-top trail that runs along the “Analysis Area,” parallel to the cliff.
• Signage and rim rocks or railroad ties indicating where trails are located. The signs might read something like: “Restoration In Progress. Stay On Marked Trails” or “Klamath Tribal Spiritual Site. Please Stay on Marked Trail.”
• There are 3 main descent gullies to the base of the cliff. Foot traffic on the eastern two are causing or have the potential to cause lots of erosion. Mitigating erosion on the 3 descent gullies with marked trails, railroad-tie stairs or stone steps and reinforced with re-bar where needed.
• Trail locations should be denoted on a map at the educational kiosk (See Below).

Climbing Permitted Areas: There are options other than arbitrarily closing a cliff (or a portion of it). This entire cliff band has been used for recreation for decades. It is only for lack of education on the impacts of foot traffic and misunderstanding by the Klamath Tribes that this has become a problem. All climbing areas could be opened throughout the cliff area with trail access limited to curtail damage of wildlife areas and promote growth of vegetation. Education of climbers on what is expected is all that should be required. From the map that I was given, I saw that there was a proposed closure area. This seems arbitrary.

Although rare, some crags in the USA do have specific cliff areas that close. Mostly, these closures are seasonal to allow molting and nesting of falcons – the areas north of Medford, OR are good examples. Sometimes it is because of an obvious cultural heritage sites. Noteworthy examples include ancient petroglyph areas of Hueco Tanks, TX and Moab, UT; the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, NM; the National Monument of Mt Rushmore, SD. Too there are seasonal closures for Native American spiritual ceremonies. The most well known of these is Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming. There is a several week window when climbers are requested not to climb. These closures have documented and provable reasons for their closure. Historically, climbers adhere to these closures. An arbitrary closure of cliff without cause targets a specific user group for no good reason. This is unfair. The proposal letter also indicated that you “may remove [bolts] based on input from the public.” These bolts have already been removed without our input. This was very disappointing. The letter also really didn’t give a reason for the closure with the exception of wildlife impacts. Below are lists options for limitations that I think are most reasonable.
• Unrestricted & Self-Policing: This option is viable in a vibrant and authoritative climbing community. Oddly, it works best in areas with high climbing traffic that has a long established ethic regarding climbing chalk, trails, fixed anchors and style of ascent. Yosemite National Park and Smith Rock State Park are good examples here. Placing a new bolt where a route has existed for 50 years is more likely to get you a punch in the face by a fellow climber than a ticket from a ranger. There are great social pressures on climbers to adhere to local ethics. An area in the Czech Republic allows no metal protection and you must climb bare foot! This Unrestricted Plan adheres to the general guidelines that I’ve outline above. Unfortunately, land managers (USFS) have expressed that this is now unacceptable.
• No New Fixed Anchors Without Permission: This option is limiting, but I think it is the best plan for the WRCA. My vision of this is to allow unrestricted climbing along the entire cliff and, to replace the top anchors on classic climbs that have been removed (noted above) in a way to minimalize their visual impact. Some anchors would not be replaced, especially those where natural anchor possibilities exist. This would go hand-in-glove with an educational kiosk about the area as well as a well designed trail system. Any new routes would have to go first through a Climber’s Committee. Then, if OK’d the request could be sent to the USFS with pictures and description for review of cultural and wildlife impact. If the Climbing Committee says “no” or if USFS says “no”, that means “no.”

Educational Kiosk: My vision for this is simple. The classic brown USFS kiosk placed in such a way where vandals will unlikely damage it, and such that it will not impact the scenic beauty of the cliff. The kiosk might highlight the following:
• Geography
• Geology
• Wildlife (Flora and Fauna)
• Klamath Tribal Culture and History
• Rock Climbing opportunities
• Trail Map
• Updates (Fire warnings, restrictions etc)

This area is important for several reasons. It has an ability to provide a significant economic boost to the area as an attraction for Collier Park and the North Basin Area. The geography, a basaltic, south-facing cliff that over-looks a unique desert riparian ecosystem (the Spring and Williamson River confluence), can provide a substantial opportunity for education. It is my understanding that this is a spiritually significant site of the Klamath Natives. Providing a place to explain their beliefs and how to respect their place of worship is crucial to the success of any regulation. Finally, this plan can provide a point of cultural contact between three communities that have the love of land and nature in common: Klamath Tribes, the USFS and rock climbers.

It is my hope that we can keep the entire crag open to climbers, natives and other recreationalists. I wish to leave a legacy of cooperation and good stewardship to the climbers that come after me. Too I hope to be a respectful emissary of the rock climbing community. To demonstrate my willingness to do so, I am prepared to make a substantial donation of time, labor and money to this project to ensure continued access to this area. I will work with the USFS and with the Tribal Leadership as a liaison for the educational kiosk. I will attempt to educate and reassure the USFS and Tribal Leadership on the positive contributions of rock climbing. I will host free climbing clinics at the crag and will disseminate cultural and wildlife educational information to my fellow climbers. I will assist with manual labor and attempt to muster volunteers for trail work and educational content. I pledge at least $1000.00 of my personal money towards the management plan that I have outlined above or its equivalent.

With Respect,

Dr. Grover Shipman MD

I have no financial interest nor do I stand to gain financially in the exploitation of the land, wildlife or Klamath cultural resources. My interest is purely educational and recreational. I am a member of the American Alpine Club and the Access Fund – both are not-for-profit climbing organizations.

Cc: The Access Fund (FORUMS)

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