Cover Photo

Cover Photo
Photo by Jeff Lewis

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Rethinking the Bucket System

Last year's stash at The Lookout, growing at an alarming pace.
Is this the image we want to portray?

It’s hard to believe amid today’s snowfall, but the Spring climbing season is slowly getting started in the Bow Valley. Climbers are venturing out to the crags and getting ready to move their climbing gear from their closet to storage in their crag buckets. Now is a good time to rethink the bucket system which has been standard operating procedure in the Bow Valley for as long as I've climbed here.

For those unfamiliar with Bow Valley climbing, our approaches are extreme. One to two hour hikes with 400 to 800 meters of elevation gain and sections of 4th class climbing are standard. I've traveled to many places around the world to rock climb and I haven’t seen anywhere with approaches like the Bow Valley. Nothing even comes close. To increase the difficulty further, the trails tend to be buried in snow and ice in the spring and winter.

To help ease the suffering, climbers tend to stash gear at the crags, typically a rope and set of draws.  Most crags have rats that will eat climbing gear overnight so rat proof paint buckets are standard. Gear is also left hanging on the first bolt of some climbs. The unlucky routes that have their first bolt hijacked tend to fall into obscurity. In the past, only climbers who regularly visited a crag would leave gear, and usually only at a single crag. Climbing wasn't as mainstream and stashed gear stayed at an acceptable limit.

Getting ready for a burn on Leviathan 5.14a in 2009 with the rope nest in the background.

In recent years, climbing has had an enormous increase in popularity, more so indoors, but outdoor traffic has seen a noticeable increase as well. Seeing the standard practice from seasoned climbers, new climbers don’t think twice and promptly visit the hardware store to pick up a bucket of their own and hike it up the next day. 

We constructed a bucket shelter at Acephale in 2013 to remove buckets crowding the base of the wall as a temporary measure while hoping to phase out buckets completely. Instead, the number of buckets has only grown.

Recent attitudes towards stashed gear have changed as well. It is now common for those who don't climb regularly to stash gear, climbers stash gear at multiple crags throughout the Bow Valley to not commit to a certain place, and some will leave multiple ropes at the same crag or multiple ropes at different walls within the same area. Climbers no longer try to keep stashed gear at a minimum and instead take the opposite extreme, with the goal to hike in and out carrying nothing but food and water for the day.  

I admit I've been guilty of many of these offenses, most notably at Acephale. At the time, I was climbing there 6 or 7 days a week, but I've come to realize the excessive nature and the problems it leads to. The way things used to be just isn't going to work anymore.

Adding even more to gear stashes is the fact that people abandon their gear when they are done with it, and the piles of abandoned gear alone is getting excessive, effectively turning crags into a trash bin. Left unchecked the piles of ropes and buckets will only keep growing. 

The gear stash at Planet X. I spent the majority of last summer here and I saw one of these ropes used one time. The owner promptly declared he probably wouldn't be back again until next year and hung his rope back up for storage.

Storing gear at the crag has the sole advantage of rewarding lazy climbers. Cleaning up the crags increases the visual appeal, makes a more enjoyable experience for everyone, creates a better first impression for new climbers to the crag, prolongs the lifespan of gear, leads to more sustainable climbing in the future, and helps promote the Bow Valley as a world class climbing destination.

Ask yourself: Do you want to contribute to the mess or help clean it up? Does carrying a few extra pounds of gear in and out really affect how you ultimately enjoy your day? I for one spent all of last season hiking all my gear in and out of the crag every day, including a 100m rope in and out of Echo Canyon. I see no reason to leave gear at the crag anymore and I actually feel increased enjoyment out of climbing days now.

The Upper Wall at Acephale, devoid of the bucket stashes and rope nests of old.

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