Issue: Arkansas – Fixed chains on bolted climbs

The link below is to Tony Mayse’s discussion on fixed chain draws in Arkansas. I’m adding my continuation to the discussion…

Fixed chains on bolted climbs. | fixeddraws.

Over the past few years there’s been a growing movement by some route developers to put fixed chain draws on routes in Arkansas.

I remember during my earliest years climbing in Arkansas – the early 90s – which isn’t that far back – Arkansas was approached by climbers as The Natural State. Efforts were made to first attempt the lines using natural gear, and certain areas were strictly off-limits for bolting. In other words, bolting was not the first resort. If a route were to be bolted, every effort was made to camouflage the bolt hangers, so as not to draw attention to the route. If a route had ample gear in a particular spot, that section was not bolted – bolts were only added where necessary for safety. Still, discretion was left up to the developer, with the understanding that the practical aspects of visual impact, continuity, bolt placement, hardware, and overall route quality were taken into consideration.

With the introduction of more climbers to the area via Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, the re-discovery and retro-development of known crags, and the discovery of a few new areas – the approach to climbing in Arkansas appears to have shifted. That shift has resulted in areas with an abundance of fixed chain draws hanging from routes, among other things.

The part of this that concerns me the most is that those who are developing these routes and affixing numerous chain draws seemed to think they are developing in a positive manner and perhaps even doing others a favor.

In fact, the overuse of chain draws have the long-term effect of doing a dis-service to climbers for the following reasons:
1) They draw unnecessary attention to sections of rock which would otherwise go noticed. A single bolt hanger is obviously much less visually intrusive than a chain draw. The long-term ramifications of being less-than-low-profile could result in access issues, restrictions, and ill-will among other user groups like hikers, birders, hunters, etc.
2) They add additional permanent equipment that risks deterioration and must be monitored for safety over time. Types of chain varies, types of quicklinks vary, and the carabiners used on these draws are most often not new to begin with. Check this Black Diamond article for a discussion on over-worn carabiners which appear on fixed draws.
3) They dumb-down the ratings of climbs – everything becomes a pinkpoint rather than a redpoint. When Flying Elvis (a 5.12 at Cave Creek) had chains placed on it, the consensus is that it was clearly easier – perhaps a grade easier – than having to place your own quckdraws and clip them.
4) Coupled with #3, you lose the experience of clipping your own quickdraws to a bolt. For some, this is part of the fun of climbing and clipping chains takes away from that experience.
5) Chain draws will begin to appear on routes of lower and lower grades. Other areas that utilize chain/fixed draws often have them reserved for the top 1-2% of the most difficult routes. Already, in Arkansas we are seeing chain draws appear on moderate routes – routes that have been climbed regularly for well over a decade without the use of chains! Does a 5.12 required fixed draws? What about a 5.11? Why not a 5.10? Is it not true that for those climbing at the grade, they shouldn’t have a problem putting up their own draws? In no location that I have seen, do we have walls like, say Maple Canyon in Utah, where fixed draws are prevalent on 5.13 cave routes. Let’s be realistic, and consider the terrain.

I think the arguments for chains are that it makes it easier to bail at any point on a route (i.e. makes it less committing), it makes it easier to clean (i.e. less work), and it makes it easier than having to clip draws on bolts (i.e. makes it easier). Well, I am arguing in favor of making climbing more committing, more work, and less easy. And, to add some more, less impactful to other users, more conscientious of others, and safer in the long run.

I think the problem wouldn’t garner such attention if there were a measured approach to the use of chains. In other words, if say, the steepest section of a route had a single fixed cable draw (UIAA approved with stainless equipment) that allowed for ease in cleaning, that would be a more balanced approach. Rather, what we see going on, is the use of painted chain with used aluminum biners bound with bailing wire on every single bolt hanger on routes that in most cases do not need any fixed equipment.

The development we are seeing is irresponsible, inconsiderate, and frankly, and selfish approach to the sustainability of climbing on US Forest Land in Arkansas. If we don’t make some changes within our own community we risk bigger problems. It’s something we can change now, and we should.

Fixed chains on bolted climbs. | fixeddraws.

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