Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Upcoming Events

Just wanted to give everyone a quick heads up about a few fun events coming up later this month (warning: self-promotion ahead):

  • On September 19-20 (Saturday-Sunday), the Access Fund / Black Diamond "Rock Project" tour is coming through town.  There will be all-day trad, sport, and bouldering clinics at Vertical World Seattle on Saturday the 19th, then a stewardship/climbing day in Index on Sunday the 20th, followed by a BBQ.  I'll be leading a much-needed trash pickup in Index in the morning on the 20th, then tromping around with a bouldering group in the afternoon with Pablo Zuleta and apparently some pros (I'm going to show them how to do all the hard problems).  Rock Project is charging $75 to sign up for the clinics and the rest of the weekend, but it seems like it's worth the full day of instruction and two nights of beer.  Here's the link to the registration page - as of the time I write this, there are only 19 spots left.   
  • On September 22 (Tuesday), I'll be giving an informal slideshow at Vertical World Seattle about the Leavenworth Bouldering guidebook.  Here's a link to the Facebook page for the event, which so very flatteringly calls it a "party."  My plan is to talk a bit about the the process of doing the guide and then show some photos from the book and talk about the climber/problem/photographer/crazy story behind them.  I can't promise I will be interesting or funny, but it's free, and there will be beer, which is also free! 
  • On September 30 (Wednesday), which is tentative as of now, myself and other Washington Climbers Coalition board members will be hanging out at the Seattle Bouldering Project with a keg to chat with the community about what issues, or potential issues, they see as specific to bouldering access in Washington.  I'll post more info about this event as it gets closer - it should be a great opportunity to put some names with some faces and get a sense of what we can be doing better.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Gold Bar Access Update

I'm writing this post to provide a long-overdue update on the access situation in Gold Bar, as well as some current information about the "Timber Sale Boundary" signs recent visitors to the area have no doubt seen.  The bottom line is that some pretty big changes are coming to Gold Bar, but they will not be as bad as they might seem as first, and the long-term access situation for the area is stable.

Gold Bar Access
As many of you know, the land on which most of the bouldering in Gold Bar sits used to be owned by a Washington timber company named Manke Lumber Company.  Manke logged the "Clearcut" area (now more like the "Jungle") in 2000 or 2001, and allowed climbing on its property below Zeke's Wall due to the fact that the hillside needs some 40-50 years before it can be harvested again.

Because the Washington State Department of Natural Resources owned the land under the first mile or so of the road up the hill, however, vehicle access to the Manke parcel became collateral damage when DNR closed access to the entire Reiter Foothills area in 2010.  It is through Manke's grace that WCC members were briefly granted vehicular access to the area in 2011 as "permittees" of Manke's that were thus afforded the benefits of Manke's easement over the DNR land; this access was revoked in May 2012 when Manke succumbed to pressure from DNR to end what was perceived as favoritism toward our user group over others, including ORV users.  Under Manke's ownership, pedestrian access to Gold Bar was stable, but not secure.  The company could have posted the area and revoked climbing access at any point, logged other areas of the parcel, or even sold it to a developer, with no need to justify its decisions.

This all changed in early 2015 when DNR acquired the Manke parcel as part of a larger land swap deal with Manke.  DNR wasn't especially interested in the Gold Bar parcel itself, but is reported to have been interested in completing its holdings in the valley (the Manke parcel was something of an island among state and federal land in the Wallace Falls-Reiter Foothills area), as well as gaining a potential access point for a large stand of timber between May Creek and Wallace Falls.

DNR's acqisition of the Manke parcel is both a mild blessing and a mild curse for climbers.  After a boulderer reported on Facebook that they had been harassed by a DNR employee and told the area was off limits to climbing in the fall of 2014, representatives of the WCC, Access Fund, and Seattle Mountaineers met with DNR Cascade District Manager Al McGuire to discuss the district's approach to climbing.  DNR plans mostly to use the Manke parcel as an access point for a stable crossing of May Creek, and the timber beyond.  It plans to build a road that departs from the current logging road at the westernmost switchback, at the beginning of the trail to the Magic Boulders and to retire the upper portions of the existing road.  As a precursor to abandoning the upper portions of the road, it plans to open up a modest amount of timber in the vicinity of the boulders to logging (more about this later).

The main impacts that will come to Gold Bar under DNR's new plan involve the road.  The planned abandonment of the upper sections of the road is a huge setback for the already-remote possibility that full vehicle access would be restored.  DNR has a strict legal duty to manage the state trust lands in its possession so as to maximize their financial return, and is very unlikely to provide the several thousand dollars per mile per year (as quoted by Mr. McGuire) that it costs to maintain a gravel logging road on the wet west side of the Cascades.  There is a slight possibility of establishing an open road to the May Creek switchback after logging operations to the west are concluded, but the road to such a trailhead would likely still have to be mostly privately funded, and under DNR's regulations, it would have to be truly "public" - DNR cannot give preferential treatment to a specific user group.

Of more immediate importance in terms of pedestrian access to Gold Bar, as part of DNR's road-abandonment process, it builds large gravel waterbars every 50 yards or so that will make the hike to the boulders much more awkward and time-consuming.  There is a method of retiring roads so that an easy hiking path is preserved through the waterbars, and WCC and the Access Fund are working with DNR to get an estimate of the cost of preserving easy hiking access from the May Creek switchback to the Green Boulder and the western edge of the Clearcut.  If the cost is within the realm of possibility, the WCC will undertake a fundraising campaign to raise funds from the community to make it happen.  If it doesn't seem feasible, there will be a number of trail days in Gold Bar's future...

The silver lining to all of this, which is not to be overlooked, is that DNR has never closed an area to foot traffic, other than very short term closures for safety reasons around logging operations - Mr. McGuire said something to the effect that DNR is "not in the business of making its land unavailable to the public."  Thus, the Gold Bar boulders are now on land that (a) will be managed as timber land for the foreseeable future, and not privately developed, and (b) cannot be closed at the whim of a private landowner.  While DNR's acquisition of the Gold Bar boulders may be the nail in the coffin for vehicle access to the top of the hill, I believe it is ultimately better that the boulders are now on public land.

Upcoming Timber Sale
As mentioned above, part of DNR's plan for the Manke parcel is to sell a modest amount of timber before abandoning the upper portions of the road.  This fact has become very real in the last two months, when "Timber Sale Boundary" signs began to pop up next to the approach and throughout the Sanctuary area.  Access Fund Northwest Regional Director Joe Sambataro reached out to DNR to discuss the sale, and earlier this week, Joe, myself, WCC board member Truc Allen, and upcoming guidebook author Pablo Zuleta visited the area with three DNR employees, including the timber manager responsible for plotting the proposed sale and posting the sale boundary signs.

The WCC and DNR in the Sanctuary area

To provide a bit of background on this timber sale, DNR is one of the largest owners of timberland in Washington state, but it does not actually log any land directly.  Rather, DNR occupies a unique position as a "trustee" of state trust lands under its control, and has a fiduciary duty to maximize the state's return on its land holdings through timber sales.  The state trust lands benefit individual counties, and any local government agency has standing to sue DNR for not maximizing the revenue it receives from the state trust lands (two decent overviews of the state trust lands picture in Washington can be found here and here).  To fulfill this duty, DNR: (1) identifies suitable parcels of timber within its landholdings for logging; (2) plans the sale of those parcels, which includes two stages of review under the Washington Forest Practices Act and the Washington State Environmental Policy Act; (3) then publicly auctions the timber to the highest bidder, under contracts that typically require the winning bidder to complete their road-building, extraction, and re-seeding and remediation activities within two years.  Each DNR timber sale is given a specific, often whimsical name, and is advertised on DNR's web site.  DNR, and the private lumber companies it sells to, are required by law to leave eight substantial "leave trees" per acre of timber that is clear-cut (nearly all land in Washington is clear-cut, as logging selectively or via helicopter is so expensive as to be virtually cost-prohibitive).

The timber sale DNR is planning near the Gold Bar boulders (which is un-coincidentally called the "Dyno Sale") is currently in the first state outlined above, i.e., DNR is still figuring out the boundaries of the sale, and has yet to submit it to the state Forest Practices Board for public comment and review.  The sale will involve six or seven parcels on the hillside above Reiter Road, including a parcel adjacent to the trail above the Five Star and a 12-acre parcel in and directly northeast of the Sanctuary area.  This is thus a crucial step for climber involvement, and the WCC and Access Fund are privileged to have input at this early stage of the process due to the diligent efforts of Joe Sambataro, Jonah Harrison, and many others in developing a relationship with Mr. McGuire and other DNR representatives before having the relationship became so crucial. 

Showing DNR foresters the Sanctuary in the Central Washington Bouldering guide

As people who have visited the eastern portion of the Gold Bar boulders in the last month have noticed, the Dyno Sale is currently planned to begin near the Scab Boulder and stretch northeast from the small stream between the warmup area and the trail to the Sanctuary area.  The Midnight Lichen and Samurai boulders are within the sale boundary, and the boundary line currently runs through the middle of the Sanctuary area (Jamrock, Appeasing the Gods, and Road to Zion are outside of the sale, while Metroid Prime and the Contra boulder are within the cut area). 

During our walk-through, we stressed to DNR employees the importance of preserving vegetation around, as well as access to, specific boulders currently used for climbing.  The DNR foresters we met with were very receptive to our concerns (one of them being a climber himself), and are more than willing to designate the eight "leave trees" required per acre in the area directly surrounding each boulder.  The DNR foresters were also open to the idea of leaving a certain amount of shade trees to the south of each boulder that is currently climbed on.  In essence, I think we impressed upon DNR the significance of Gold Bar to the Pacific Northwest climbing community, and received their commitment to mitigate the effects of the impending logging on the area's bouldering.  But as noted above, there are limits:  DNR cannot forgo any revenue at the expense of non-paying recreational entities, and it will not generally require timber harvesters to employ non-clearcutting forest practices.

Showing off with a slickfoot warmup...

The bottom line is that the upcoming logging in Gold Bar will bring significant changes to the area, including: increased truck traffic on the road; short-term pedestrian closures for actual logging efforts; increased sun around the Sanctuary boulders; and significant destruction and mayhem around the Sanctuary area that will require substantial trail building efforts.  However, and more importantly, nothing about the DNR's plan for the area poses a permanent threat to the area's bouldering, and the WCC continues to believe that the acquisition of the Manke timber parcel by a public agency is preferable to the continued ownership of the parcel by a private entity.  While there will be significant changes to the area's approach and ambiance in the next few years, and vehicle access remains as remote a possibility as ever (though not something we're writing off), we can at the very least celebrate that pedestrian access to the area will continue to be open in perpetuity. 

If anyone has questions or thoughts about the access situation in Gold Bar, please feel free to contact the WCC or me directly to share them.  The WCC will also be hosting additional meet and greets at the Seattle Vertical World facility in the coming months. and we encourage anyone who is interested to come out and discuss the Gold Bar situation with us.  Thanks for reading this far, and happy climbing!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Leavenworth Bouldering Guide is Dropping!

I'm super excited to announce that the Leavenworth Bouldering guidebook is DONE and was sent to the printer on Friday - woohoo!!  I am very pleased with how the final layout turned out, and I'm proud of how good this thing looks!

The print version of the guide will be available through the Sharp End web site, in most local gyms, and in local gear shops like LMS, Second Ascent, and REI.  While the book will not be available for about a month, if you preorder a copy now through the Sharp End site you can get a digital copy of the book for immediate download (It's called a "2 year subscription"; I'm not sure if it actually expires or not...).  Check it out at the Sharp End website:


I can't say it enough:  THANK YOU to everyone that helped make this book a reality!!  This was truly a community effort, and I can't say enough in thanks to all the people who helped bring this project to fruition.  You know who you are! 


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Leavenworth Bouldering Guide Update

A couple people have asked me about the status of the Leavenworth Bouldering guidebook recently, so I thought I'd provide an update.  I'm proud to announce that the guide is... DONE!!  Well... SORT OF!!

What I mean is that I sent the manuscript to Sharp End Publishing roughly one month ago, and they are in the process of doing the layout and sending the book to print, each of which will take several months.  But the book is, in substance, done:  The text, maps, and photos are all finished, and with the exception of a few minor additions (thanks Jimmy Webb!), my work on it is essentially done.  Fred Knapp, the owner of Sharp End, is really excited about getting the book out to stores by the early spring, and has already lined up a graphic designer in Boulder and a printer.  Though I never really doubted it would, it is really exciting to see this project coming together!

As I've mentioned on this blog and in innumerable conversations before, the Leavenworth Bouldering guide should be a huge improvement over the Central Washington Bouldering book.  For one, the guide will be in full color, will include more action photos and more "topo" photos, and will (according to current plans) be printed on the same nice glossy paper that was used for Jamie Emerson's exemplary Rocky Mountain National Park guide.  The book will also include several innovative elements like GPS coordinates for each boulder and (again, according to current plans), QR codes for certain areas that will direct your smartphone to a Google map for the area.  Whether these are innovations or corruptions of the outdoor experience, only time will tell, but there will definitely be less people getting lost trying to find the Pretty Boulders.  Most importantly, the new book will massively increase the amount of published bouldering in Leavenworth.  The Central Washington Bouldering guide included 548 problems in Leavenworth; the new Leavenworth Bouldering guide will include 1,228 problems, including 87 open projects (assuming Jimmy Webb doesn't continue to create work for me).  The old guide contained beta for 35 areas; the new guide includes beta for 74 areas, 48 in the Icicle alone.  I am so excited for people to climb on all these new, amazing problems, many of which are as good as anything that was publicized in CWB.

I want to take this opportunity to note that nearly all of the credit and goodwill for this book should go to the individuals that have been actively developing new climbs and areas around Leavenworth in the past few years.  This book was definitely a team effort, and as with the last book, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to those guys and girls who demonstrated the motivation to find and develop new areas, and to share them with me, knowing that I would likely turn them over to the masses.  I am also personally proud of the mere fact that I produced this guide while working as a junior associate at a law firm and maintaining an active pro bono practice with the King County Neighborhood Legal Clinic network, the board of the Washington Climbers' Coalition, and as the legal chair for the Blue Ridge Neighborhood Club.  The past year in particular has posed some special challenges as I've struggled to accommodate a 50-80 hour per week work schedule with the demands of wrapping up this book in the evenings.  But I'm extremely pleased that it's more or less done, and I've been honored to have the support of the community up to this point.

As always, feel free to email or Facebook me with questions re: directions to new areas, and don't be shy about spreading the word about Leavenworth.  The next few years should bring great things for the area's bouldering community!