/ NEW ARTICLE: The Nuts and Bolts of Climbing

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UKC Articles - on 17 Dec 2012
THE NUTS & BOLTS OF CLIMBING  #3, 3 kbMichael Burke takes a look at the increasing popularity of sport climbing in the UK, and whether this is of an environmental concern.

"As climbers we have a number of opportunities to protect the venues which deliver us so many great experiences...

Read more at http://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/page.php?id=5164

Alun - on 17 Dec 2012
In reply to UKC Articles:
It's nice to try and get more stats, and I filled in the survey, but several of the questions are restricted in their answers, especially when asking for opinion e.g. "Where are bolts acceptable?" - none of the given possible answers capture my opinion, and there's no box to write 'other'.
Pythonist on 17 Dec 2012
I don't know whether you meant to differentiate more than you did, but...
"A quick number crunch on [] climbing [] conducted by UKC logbook members [...] With usage rising from 14% to 22% in a decade the limited number of sport climbing venues may see increasing levels of environmental impact."

Might not the fact that UKC is now tracking far more climbing *abroad* have something to do with the uptake in record changes in logged climbing? Care is needed when parsing data like this to make sure you're analysing data that states what you think...
The Experiment - on 17 Dec 2012
In reply to Pythonist:

Hi yes there are limitations in the options available to pick apart the inference of the UKC logbook entries. As 87.2% of all climbs entered occur in the UK there is 12.8% which may not be evenly distributed across the decade. A valid comment which will be included in the follow up work.

Thanks

Mick
The Experiment - on 17 Dec 2012
In reply to Alun:

Alun, your right in raising the limitation in the options available and similiar issues where brought up in the pilot of the survey. Unfortunately a lot of the questions where taken, and therefore can be compared to survey's run by other institutions such as the BMC Membership Survey and the DEFRA Environmental Attitudes Survey. If you didn't feel the option was availble you can always add it into the final comments box and it will be picked up in the text analysis.

Thanks for taking the time out.

Cheers

Mick
jonnie3430 - on 17 Dec 2012
In reply to The Experiment:

I really like the idea to find more on the impact of the different types of climbing (Sport= EVIL!!) but I thought that some of the questions were pretty poor and wouldn't expect a clear response to them! I had gripes with at least four of the questions (the one about how you got into climbing, why you like trad climbing and a few others but cannot go and check.)

I also thought it naughty that someone was doing some guidebook market research at the same time! Shame on you.
itsThere on 17 Dec 2012
In reply to UKC Articles: when you take the percentages usage of climbs, is that over the same climbs each year or all climbs as they are added to the logbook.
The Experiment - on 17 Dec 2012
In reply to jonnie3430:

Hi Jonnie,

The question over guidebooks is not market research, the question looks at whether people prefer guidebooks such as Ground Up North Wales, in contrast to the Climbers Club detail guides. If more people use the "selected highlights" style guidebooks then it may infer greater useage of the these sites, leaving less popular sites from the detailed guides being used less.

How this translates to environmental impacts is a bigger question.

Mick
cuppatea on 17 Dec 2012
In reply to UKC Articles:

I just refreshed this page and some of the constructive feedback has disappeared. Where's my tin foil hat?
Michael Ryan - on 17 Dec 2012
In reply to The Experiment:
> (In reply to jonnie3430)
>
> Hi Jonnie,
>
> The question over guidebooks is not market research, the question looks at whether people prefer guidebooks such as Ground Up North Wales, in contrast to the Climbers Club detail guides. If more people use the "selected highlights" style guidebooks then it may infer greater useage of the these sites, leaving less popular sites from the detailed guides being used less.

You need sales figures for that. From the publishers of both selective and definitive guidebooks: BMC, FRCC, Rockfax, CC and Ground Up, and others.

M
Michael Ryan - on 17 Dec 2012
In reply to The Experiment:
> (In reply to jonnie3430)
>
> Hi Jonnie,
>

> How this translates to environmental impacts is a bigger question.

Great quote from a friend of mine, Dave Pegg of Wolverine Publishing ( http://wolverinepublishing.com/ )

It goes something like this and I agree with him partly..

The long term popularity of an area depends on how good that area is....not guidebook or climbing media coverage.

He means, that it depends on ease of access (short approach, near towns), the grade spread (more popular if it appeals to all climbers), and the quality of the rock and routes.

OR: if a crag has easy access, good rock, and grades at the lower end of the spectrum, it will be popular....despite media and guidebook coverage.

Saying that, some areas do get pimped continually because of how good they are, e.g., Kalymnos ....BUT there are areas that are just as good that are off the radar for some reason, they are not in vogue.

But when everything aligns, quality, grade spread, guidebook coverage, media attention, word of mouth...you get a very popular crag...e.g., Stanage and Yosemite

Environmental impact of climbing; what a can of worms that is.

Best


Mick

The Experiment - on 17 Dec 2012
In reply to Mick Ryan - UKC and UKH:

Hi Mick,

Sales figures would be great, however I am sure guidebook companies might see this sort of data as being commercially sensitive and making direct comparisons might not demonstrate trends which they want spelling out to the public.

The popularity of sites, is indeed a complex mix of grades, accessibility and quality which is very hard to quantify. Its one of the great things that I like about climbing is the ability to find hidden gems, sometimes not far from the madding crowd.

Thanks for your feedback.

Mick
Michael Ryan - on 17 Dec 2012
Michael

This assumption..

"With usage rising from 14% to 22% in a decade the limited number of sport climbing venues may see increasing levels of environmental impact."


Can you explain those figures? I mean how you got them.

There has been a significant rise in logbook users, I think it stands at 17,000 climbers at the moment, that rise over time has followed internet useage more than anything.

Do sport climbers use the internet more that trad climbers?

Also why do you start to correlate sport climbing popularity with a inferred increase in environmental damage....all those damn quotes....

What about bouldering and its rise in popularity?

Seems like you are pointing the finger at certain types of climbing? Is that justified?

What are the most popular crags in the UK....trad, sport, bouldering... climbers are climbers after all, we all have a similar effect on the environmentwhatever type of climbing we do at a certain time.

Do you have an agenda here?

Climbers undoubtedly have an impact on the environment; but what is the carrying capacity of particular crags (it differs), what is the usage that has no effect, usage that has an effect, and usage at such a level that no more damage is done.

Just some random thoughts...

Mick
Michael Ryan - on 17 Dec 2012
In reply to The Experiment:
> (In reply to Mick Ryan - UKC and UKH)
>
> Hi Mick,
>
> Sales figures would be great, however I am sure guidebook companies might see this sort of data as being commercially sensitive

Just approach them and ask.
Michael Ryan - on 17 Dec 2012
In reply to The Experiment:
> (In reply to Mick Ryan - UKC and UKH)

> The popularity of sites, is indeed a complex mix of grades, accessibility and quality which is very hard to quantify.

Well, why not try and quantify it.

User figures, apart from logbook stats would be hard to come by.....unless like the Bureau of Land Management in Bishop, CA you have a laser trail counter on the main entry point

They also have photo-points looking at erosion over time..

http://www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/bishop/bouldering/msite1_b.html

M
The Experiment - on 17 Dec 2012
In reply to Mick Ryan - UKC and UKH:
> Michael
>
> This assumption..
>
> "With usage rising from 14% to 22% in a decade the limited number of sport climbing venues may see increasing levels of environmental impact."
>
>
> Can you explain those figures? I mean how you got them.

If you use the data under "show graphs" and then take the number of climbs of each type conducted each year as a percentage of the overall climbs conducted that year it gives the trends shown.
>
> There has been a significant rise in logbook users, I think it stands at 17,000 climbers at the moment, that rise over time has followed internet useage more than anything.
>
> Do sport climbers use the internet more that trad climbers?

From the pilot and the data gathered so far, it appears that sport climbers climb more regularly than trad climbers and when they climb they do more routes per day.
>
> Also why do you start to correlate sport climbing popularity with a inferred increase in environmental damage....all those damn quotes....

Research in Canada and America has illustrated that erosion at the base of sport climbs where three times greater at the base of sport climbs than similiar trad climbs in the same area. This is where the environmental quotes come from...

Camp R & Knight R 1998. Effects of Rock Climbing on Cliff Plant Communities in Joshua Tree Park, California, Conservation Biology, Volume 12 Issue 6, December 1998, Pages 1302 – 1306.

Carr C, 2007. Variation in Environmental Impact at Rock Climbing areas in the Red River Gorge Geological Area and the Adjacent Clifty Wilderness, Daniel Boone National Forest Kentucky. University of Cincinnati

Kuntz K L & Larson D W, 2005. The Relative Influence of Microhabitat Constraints and Rock Climbing Disturbance to Vegetation on Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment. Cliff Ecology Research Group, Dept of Integrative Biology , University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

> What about bouldering and its rise in popularity?

Bouldering isn't being looked at as I am specifically looking at the mountain environment, European wide and not just UK. Although some bouldering does occur in mountainous areas, Cromlech Boluders comes to mind, they tend to be more roadside.
>
> Seems like you are pointing the finger at certain types of climbing? Is that justified?
>
> What are the most popular crags in the UK....trad, sport, bouldering... climbers are climbers after all, we all have a similar effect on the environmentwhatever type of climbing we do at a certain time.

That's the very question that I am looking, do we all have the same impact? I don't have the answer!
>
> Do you have an agenda here?

No I don't have an agenda - I like most climbers enjoy both sport and trad climbing, and like most climbers value the environment and would like to be able to make educated decisions concerning my actions. The research is a way of me improving my knowledge which feeds into my work as an instructor and part of an MSc in Sustainable Mountain Development.
>
> Climbers undoubtedly have an impact on the environment; but what is the carrying capacity of particular crags (it differs), what is the usage that has no effect, usage that has an effect, and usage at such a level that no more damage is done.

Not sure if there is to many variables in this to be able to produce a generic formula to apply to all crags.
>
> Just some random thoughts...
>
> Mick

Well placed questions Mick and as predicted anything that mentions Trad and Sport in the same sentence generates strong opinions, as does survey's.

Thanks Again

M

Michael Ryan - on 17 Dec 2012
In reply to The Experiment:

Thanks Mick. I appreciate your responses.

I'm sure I will have some more questions over the next few days and maybe some info: thanks for the references, I'm famiiar with some of the studies.

Great project.

Mick
Alun - on 18 Dec 2012
In reply to Mick Ryan - UKC and UKH:
> "With usage rising from 14% to 22% in a decade the limited number of sport climbing venues may see increasing levels of environmental impact."

Thinking about this a little more, the study seems to be based around this central tenet - that sport climbing is getting more popular. But as we find out more info, this central stat begins to look flaky. If UKC logbook use has increased, perhaps the 14-22% increase is due to these new members being "sport climbers" i.e. perhaps the original 14% stat was under-representative. Perhaps the newer logbook user had already been sport climbing for years, and the increase is due to them starting to log their routes.

This is the central argument against using voluntary logs as a basis for research - there are so many external factors that you can draw only the vaguest of conclusions.

I particularly like Mick Ryan's anecdote about the popularity of certain crags being due to how 'good' they are (parking, quality of rock, grade spread etc.). In fact - I would extend the hypothesis and say that, as opposed to 'guidebooks attracting people to crags', the truer statement is that the most popular crags attract guidebooks!
jonnie3430 - on 18 Dec 2012
In reply to The Experiment:
> (In reply to jonnie3430)
>
> Hi Jonnie,
>
> The question over guidebooks is not market research, the question looks at whether people prefer guidebooks such as Ground Up North Wales, in contrast to the Climbers Club detail guides.

Ah! That didn't come across. If you'd asked whether I prefer to buy a generic guide or a detailed guide you would have got a different response. (A detailed french guide to a place that I spent a month in this summer.)
davo - on 18 Dec 2012
Hi

Was just wondering about the idea that sport climbing areas suffer from greater erosion due to greater footfall as illustrated below by the quote from your article:

"Studies of the Red River Gorge in Ohio found footfall as much as three times greater on sport routes than comparable trad routes in close proximity. Whilst these examples are taken from the American experience similar impacts are visible in such UK sites, particularly in areas of low to mid grade climbs such as The Cuttings on Portland."

1. I am not sure that the Red River Gorge is a valid example here. RRG is a world class sport climbing area with a wide variety of grades, easy access and a good climbing scene. It has also had loads of publicity. By dint of these features footfall is likely to be much higher than the local trad areas of which I personally have heard little (well, actually nothing). I can't see that you can use this study as an example of how sport climbing encourages/causes more erosion than trad.

For example it would be like me finding a study that showed the trad areas in Yosemite received a larger volume of footfall than the sport climbing areas in Yosemite and then concluding that this showed that trad caused more erosion than sport! I think most people would fairly point out that the trad in Yosemite is amazing and the sport is very average and therefore more people will go trad climbing there.

2. I don't see that it really stacks up when you look at the UK. I do a lot of sport climbing and visit a lot of sport crags and speak from personal experience here (I am aware this is just anecdotal and not a referenced study). In my experience by far the busiest crags I have visited are honeypot crags like Stanage popular end in the peak or some of the trad crags in North Wales. I very much doubt that crags such as Kilnsey or Malham see even half the traffic that Stanage Popular End does at the weekend. Raven's Tor may occasionally be busy and have about 50 climbers there at times (maybe more?) but how many visit Froggatt or Burbage North each weekend?

I look at the photo Burbage North you have on the article and see huge volumes of erosion, I don't see this kind of erosion at Pen Trwyn or most sport areas in the UK.

I guess you could point to the erosion at Malham on the approach but in all honesty climbers make up a small number of the people who walk to the cove. Kilnsey does suffer a bit from erosion under the crag to be fair but certainly nothing like some of the grit crags.

Cheers Dave
a lakeland climber on 18 Dec 2012
In reply to davo:

I think there's an element of "new crag!" here. Look at the Yorkshire low - mid grade sports crags: when they were first bolted up and advertised they saw a lot of traffic and the paths to them along with the areas at the foot of the rock saw a lot of erosion.

However some years down the line usage has settled down and the erosion hasn't continued to the same extent. This does depend on the quality of the crag (Gigg South excepted) but I doubt that some of the lesser crags get much traffic these days once their true quality become apparent.

Of course it happened with trad as well (Grange Crags anyone) but there were fewer climbers then so even the popular crags (away from grit) might only see a couple of teams.

ALC
The Experiment - on 19 Dec 2012
Hi Dave, you have a very valid critique of the references used, but unfortunatley there is very little published work on this subject, in particular from the UK. So you have to work with what you have. The RRG study does take account of the issues you raise and highlights some areas that are predominately sport and as such trad climbs there are completely ignored by the climbers. They identify some generic conclusions which are also matched by the assessment of high profile trad areas.

"the difficulty of a trad climb is a significant predictor of impact. As the difficulty increases, the impact is reduced. Similarly, as the access to the climb gets more difficult, trail quality (for sport climbs)
or length (for trad climbs), the impact is reduced. Better climbs, more quality stars, leads to more impact (for trad climbs). Unexpected results are that climb difficulty, access trail length and road distance are not
important predictors of impact at sport climbs.

> 2. I don't see that it really stacks up when you look at the UK. I do a lot of sport climbing and visit a lot of sport crags and speak from personal experience here (I am aware this is just anecdotal and not a referenced study). In my experience by far the busiest crags I have visited are honeypot crags like Stanage popular end in the peak or some of the trad crags in North Wales. I very much doubt that crags such as Kilnsey or Malham see even half the traffic that Stanage Popular End does at the weekend. Raven's Tor may occasionally be busy and have about 50 climbers there at times (maybe more?) but how many visit Froggatt or Burbage North each weekend?

It appears that your experience of crag popularity underlines the conclusion that only 1 in 5 climbers expresses a preference for sport climbing and therefore you would expect these areas to be quieter. Going back to the RRG Report they identify what they term as "iconic crags" which through an number of factors rises in popularity beyond the quality of the experience offered.. Idwal Slabs may be an example of this which reflects the assumption that the lower the trad grade, the easier the access, the more popular the area.

> I guess you could point to the erosion at Malham on the approach but in all honesty climbers make up a small number of the people who walk to the cove. Kilnsey does suffer a bit from erosion under the crag to be fair but certainly nothing like some of the grit crags.

Sorry Dave but I am not familiar with these sites, but when I looked at the guide for the areas I am not sure if comparing them to the example of the Cuttings at Portland they fit into the "low to mid grades" catergory. But you are right in pointing out that defining what erosion is caused by climbers and what is attributed to tourists is problematic.

Thanks for your comments Dave as these will be included in my assessment of the validity of the survey.

Cheers Mick
The Experiment - on 19 Dec 2012
In reply to a lakeland climber:

Hi Alc,

I hadn't consider this so good comment, could the reverse also be true in that some areas become more popular with age if the quality of the climbing proves to be worthy of lots of stars.

Cheers

Mick

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