This week I helped run a pretty intense event. Members of the Jeffco Open Space trail crew, the Boulder Climbing Community trail crew, the Access Fund Conservation Team, and I collaborated/taught/learned for four days. The workshop focused on:
- Servicing/using Griphoists
- Rock shaping
- Placing anchors
- Trail design considerations for climbing access trails
- Rock movement with highlines/dragging/rock nets
- Climbing access considerations
Some of the major takeaways for me:
- Trails should “flow”. In particular – any time you cut a sharp switchback in a trail, you’re asking trail users to make an abrupt turn. I’ve noticed that most of the sharp turns are where hikers shortcut.
I have totally lost interest in trying to obscure/make obstacles/use fences to force trail users to travel to the farthest end of a switchback, execute a 160° turn, and continue onwards. I’m going to expend the energy in building more flowing, natural turns.
- Climbing access trail design should be at least as much top-down as bottom-up. Some examples to elucidate:
- A steep section of trail is built with small stones and irregular treads. Going up, a hiker can comfortably place the front half of their foot on the steps and can see what’s coming next. Ascent is fairly easy. When coming down, those stairs only accommodate a hiker’s heel, and it’s difficult (especially with a 30+ pound pack of “lightweight” climbing gear) to see what the next step entails.
- Climbers usually head up in great weather and frequently return down in icky weather. Treads that slope downwards are horrible – especially with a layer of ice or snow.
- There are climbing trails that are mostly for descent. Climbers start at one place on a cliff, top out and rappel/traverse/scramble to a different section of the crag. The adrenaline and focus that climbers had on the approach has been replaced with hunger, dehydration, and exhaustion (with a hint of bliss on great days). Descending climbers may not be in the best state of mind to pick out and follow a trail.
Personally, I’d like to see a barrista and an alpaca when I alight on a descent trail. (On a tangent – I’m generally against GMOs, but if someone can engineer a pack animal that can make a nice bitter macchiato, I’ll pay)
Until land managers see things my way, a solution is to design descent-only trails to be easily visible, have very regular and flat treads, and flow in the extreme. Lots of gentle curves, lots of trailside “gargoyles” (big rocks) to provide guidance.
- Shaping, shaping, shaping. Besides being more fun than a six year-old with a puppy, shaping is critical to good stone work. Heretofore, my shaping has been limited to smashing off corners with a sledge OR hammer/chisel work to remove high spots. This week we used boulder blasters (epic fun), rifters, feathers and wedges, and such to make rock behave.
A minimal photo collection (I was having too much fun to take a lot of pictures):