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Climbers scolded for leaving trash, waste behind at Rocky Mountain National Park
Hidden throughout this mountain vista are pockets of plastic and trash. Even on this recent trip to Lost Lakes I found a few bits of energy-bar wrappers and a floating bottle – but I don’t normally expect the seeds of “trash flowers” to be planted by climbers.
Photo by Tom Boyd 

Climbers scolded for leaving trash, waste behind at Rocky Mountain National Park

By Tom Boyd

September 9, 2008 —  When I come upon a forgotten candy wrapper or aluminum can among the wildflowers, I usually picture the responsible party as some hairy Neanderthal type, grunting and snorting his way through the wilderness, chucking half-empty beers into the bushes, readjusting his diaper, and marching on – probably to bait fish for trout.

I may have to realign the well-worn trails of my own prejudice. The pariahs of the latest rubbish over littering aren't Neanderthals, but Colorado climbers, who suffered a blow to their overall reputation this week when Rangers at Rocky Mountain National Park scolded them for leaving trash, gear, and human waste behind at popular climbing spots in the Park.

Human waste?

I called the Park to hear a bit more about the style of the mess, which I find a kind of anthropological assessment of the messmakers themselves. Just exactly what, I wondered, are climbers leaving behind? Water bottles seem to make up the bulk of America’s current heaving wastes, but one would think climbers would have a little more mountain-sass in their choice of rubbish. Chalk bags, old climbing shoes come to mind. Or perhaps a fashionable set of carabineers or a once-downy, now-forgotten Patagucci jacket?

Unfortunately, the RMNP media-relations staff calls it quits around 4:30 p.m., so all I could get from the operator was confirmation of the fact that climbers, specifically, had been targeted by park rangers in their everlasting war on trash.

I’m also waiting on a callback from David Roetzl of Vail Rock and Ice Guides to hear discover if our local climbing spots here in Eagle County are in similar shape.

My optimistic side hopes that local climbers will report that cleanliness wins the day here in the beautiful Rocky Mountains, but the part of me which hikes, kayaks, hunts, and otherwise roams the mountains knows better.

It’s the law of averages: for every 10 worthy, leave-no-trace apostles there’s at least one bonehead with a very, very wide definition of the term “biodegradable.”

It's good to know, however, that groups like the Northern Colorado Climbers Coalition and the American Alpine Club are helping gather groups to glean the garbage. Oh – and the human waste, too.

Alas, climbers are notorious for their loose definition of the 5 p.m. end-of-day whistle, because the AAC offices were absent and unable to return RealVail’s calls. Check back to this space tomorrow when, no doubt, all my many calls will come in at precisely the same time, and probably right when I’m outside taking out the garbage.



Comment on article  1 Comment on "Climbers scolded for leaving trash, waste behind at Rocky Mountain National Park"


David M. — September 10, 2008

Hi Tom. In reality, when you take a job at the alpine club, it doesn't leave a lot of spare time to go climbing. Many of us devoted a big chunk of our weekend to an AAC conservation planning summit. I was off-site when you called yesterday--in a meeting focused on a new approach for raising awareness and funds for alpine conservation.

We maintain a 100-year-old commitment to protecting the places we climb.

Our human waste management initiatives, or Exit Strategies as we like to call them, can be found in some of the world’s most iconic climbing areas, including RMNP.

The AAC has been a leader in human waste-removal efforts for climbers since 2001, when the club provided seed funding for Denali’s Clean Mountain Can program. Climbers are now required to carry down their waste from Denali’s high camp. Spearheaded by AAC member Roger Robinson, our Clean Mountain Can program was just field tested on Mount Everest as part of last Spring’s successful Eco Everest Expedition.

In 2006 we provided a grant to AAC member Adam French to build a composting toilet in the popular Ishinca Valley of Peru’s Cordillera Blanca.

We also see carry-it-out waste bags as a key part of managing human waste in the wild. We’ve backed waste-bag kiosk programs in Utah’s Castleton Tower and Indian Creek. Through the leadership of Greg Sievers, we’ve built a Restop human waste bag dispenser kiosk program in Rocky Mountain National Park. And now the AAC has championed the use of Restop bags in Grand Teton National Park. Through the efforts of AAC officials Jim McCarthy and Ralph Tingey, and through matching grants from the Teton Conservation District and 1% for the Tetons, Restop bags will be distributed through our Grand Teton Climbers’ Ranch and Lupine Meadows trailhead—the main access point to the Central Tetons—starting in August 2008.

If you or your readers want to lend a hand, the Central Rockies Section of the AAC will be hosting the 8th Annual, Lumpy Trails Day at Lumpy Ridge in Rocky Mountain National Park. This project is in conjunction with the Access Fund 'Adopt-A-Crag' program.

A full day is scheduled on Sunday, October 19th. Interested persons should register early by emailing event organizer Greg Sievers at

The group will meet at 7:30am at the Estes Park Town Hall parking lot on MacGregor Ave (downtown next to the police dept. and behind the library) where coffee and donuts will be provided. National park staff will supply tools and transportation to the trailhead. Volunteers should bring gloves, plenty of water, dress appropriately and are encouraged to stay for the full day (but part day help is very welcome).

All volunteers in attendance at 4pm will be eligible for gifts and raffle items that are sure to please and thrill. A good turnout will prove that climbers are good stewards of the land and considerate users but also proactive about our interaction with one of this countries largest land management agencies.

This year's goals include work on the badly eroded "Batman Rock" approach trail . In 2005 this event won the Access Fund's "Adopt-a-Crag of the year award ". Be part of this energetic proactive event and the beauty of splitter Lumpy granite.

To learn more about the AAC's conservation efforts, visit



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