Do Rock Climbers Leave their Anchors and Ropes Behind?


Rock climbing involves the use of anchors and ropes, but when they are done, they don’t always retrieve those items.

Why do rock climbers leave behind anchors and rope? There are two ways to answer this question and focusing on the anchors, the main reason is for safety. Simply put, it can be rather dangerous to retrieve them in the middle of a descent. As for the rope, among the reasons for leaving them behind are ineptitude and inconvenience.

Wanting to retrieve anchors for whatever reason is a praiseworthy goal, but it can be life-threatening if you try to do so under the wrong circumstances.

Common Reasons for Leaving Gear Behind

While the most ideal scenario for any kind of activity done in a natural setting would be to clean it up, this is unfortunately not always the case. In rock climbing, in particular, there can be a lot of gear left behind. There can be many reasons for why this happens, as well, and not all of them are due to sinister or malicious reasons.

Among the types of gear that you can usually find lying around are:

·         Ropes

·         Anchors

·         Harnesses

·         Slings

·         Tents

Depending on the circumstances, you might also find canteens, portable chairs, and the like. However, none of these will change the fact that they are being left behind in a rather careless manner. So, what justifications are there for potentially polluting the environment? Take a look at the table below:

ReasonsDetails
Future useOther climbers might use the equipment in the future, though, pre-planning should be done
Signal pointsAnchors and slings could indicate safe spots for climbing and descent
EmergencyUnfortunate cases could involve bad weather, predators, injury, time limits
LazinessJust pure laziness
IneptitudeThe climber messed up

Now, it’s worth pointing out that the reasons provided in that table above are generalizing the issue quite a bit. However, you will find when climbers leave gear behind, it is usually any of these that are driving them to do so.

In any case, you can easily understand the first two items on that list as somewhat beneficial because they are actually meant for a practical purpose. Even though the best-case scenario is to always retrieve everything that you bring with you when you go climbing, this is just not always going to be the case. More to the point, climbers might have intended to leave some gear behind.

However, the most unacceptable reason for not cleaning up after yourself when you are rock climbing or just interacting with nature is because you are just too lazy to do so. If you are going to scale a cliff or descend from one, you must always be prepared to deal with the aftermath. Otherwise, just don’t come at all.

More to the point, there is always an argument to be made about being practical with what you are bringing. That is to say, you should only ever take the bare necessities with you when you are going rock climbing. Bringing excessive gear or items will only increase the possibility of you leaving those things behind and not bothering to pick them up again for one reason or another.

Avoiding Leaving Behind Gear

Now, if you are sincere in making sure that you will leave no gear behind, you can take several precautionary measures both before and during your trip to climb. With regard to the time prior to hitting the road, you simply need to make sure that you are planning out your trip properly. Create a list of the things that you might bring and narrow them down to what you need.

Get rid of the items that you will be able to live without. Not only will this basically free you up from the excess weight of these items, but you will also be far less likely to be tempted to just leave them behind. That’s one less thing to worry about.

When you are already on the trip, you need to plan out your route and what exactly you will be doing as you climb. Ideally, you should only ever use as many anchors as you need and if possible, you should find natural formations that you can use to secure your rope. Try not to use roots, branches, or trees, though, since you can’t really be sure about their reliability.

As you descend, try to conserve the number of anchors that you use. If you are climbing with a group, for example, you can use the anchors that they have just placed so that you won’t have to bother with yours. Of course, you still need to make sure that they are secure before you do so. Whatever you do, though, don’t use anchors that were already there before you arrived.

Cleaning Up Rock Climbing Gear

If you are going to rock climb, the decent thing to do would be to clean up after yourselves when you are done. However, while it is certainly not incumbent upon you to clean up after others and you don’t necessarily need to do it, you will be doing nature a favor by taking care of other climber’s garbage too.

This does not just apply to the mess that they may have left lying around on the level ground, either. As you descend, you are likely to come across other anchors, slings, and ropes that were not retrieved. While it may be unwise for you to get rid of your own gear at that moment, there should be nothing stopping you from cleaning up someone else’s gear.

This means either cutting or pulling off anchors or rings that have become rusty or dislodged. Slings and ropes can also be cut so that you can just throw them to the ground. Again, there is nothing compelling you to do this since you’re not the one who left them behind. However, it would simply be better for everyone if you did.

Related Questions

How Do Rock Climbers Use Ropes?

Rock climbers basically use ropes to secure themselves to the side of whatever they are climbing so that they don’t fall. The ropes are also meant to help them get down if they are scaling a particularly tall and dangerous cliffside. Some climbers even use ropes to get some rest while climbing.

How Do Rock Climbers Get Down?

This would depend on the height of the climb, with some climbers simply using their hands and feet to get down the way they came. These are rather extreme cases, though. For most sensible climbers, they use ropes and anchors to rappel down. If there is a path they can take, though, they can walk.

When Rock Climbing Gear Piles Up

As already pointed out in this piece, there are plenty of reasons why rock climbers might leave their stuff behind. However, this still does not make it okay. In fact, there have been many times in which rock climbers have become rather excessive in their lack of respect that the gear would just pile up. There are some truly harrowing stories of this happening.

Aside from the obvious problems with how these kinds of incidents can result in the defacing of natural vistas, there is also the issue of safety. When too many anchors, slings, ropes, and the like are left behind, it can be rather tricky to actually ascend or descend cliffs.

When that happens, the climbers themselves will be putting themselves at risk, especially those who are tempted to use the anchors left behind by others. Those anchors have likely already been weakened and are not in a fit state to be used. When climbing gear piles up, it can just look downright ugly.

Environmental Damage of Rock Climbing

Considering how roc climbing gear is supposed to be used, you would be correct in assuming that every single one of them would be non-biodegradable. This means that the more of them are left behind, the greater the pollution that is caused. This is simply unacceptable, especially if you are concerned about the environment.

More than that, though, these kinds of incidents can result in damaging the reputation of rock climbers. Thanks to those who are basically only doing these kinds of things as a hobby, those who take it seriously are lumped together with the careless crowd. There have been many cases in which rock climbing was banned due to the fact that climbers would pollute the area.

On the flip side, this is why professional rock climbers would often make it a point to clean up after themselves and even other climbers when they can. They want to be able to keep doing what they love to do and they won’t be able to do that if the local government or population does not trust them.

It is also important to point out that the more environmental damage that rock climbers do, the worse their climbing experience will get. One of the best things about rock climbing is being one with nature. It can be hard to do that when you are facing a pile of garbage every which way. 

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