Climbing Ethics Guide: Leave No Trace


It is quite unfortunate, but climbers are often the ones to blame for the degradation of many climbing routes. The impact they leave on the area like eroded soil trampled vegetation, and scraps of garbage stuffed into cracks all go against the essence of climbing ethics and being a responsible climber. So as a reminder, outlined below are some “Leave No Trace” principles that every climber should remember every time they’re out on the route, from proper garbage disposal to rock climbing bolting ethics and more.

Dispose of Waste Properly

Climbing ethics will tell you that you should never leave your trash or garbage lying along the climbing route. Littering will not only make the route dirty and unsightly, but some animals may end up eating your garbage which in turn can harm them. So always bring a trash bag with you and dispose of it when you’re back in the approach area or wherever there’s a trash bin available.

Besides, pick up any pieces of garbage (from granola wrappers to rubber soles torn off from rock climbing shoes and others) that you find along the route even if they’re not yours. 

Respect the Wildlife

Like other outdoor areas, climbing routes are also home to several animal species. It is pretty common to find spiders and insects hiding in cracks or birds nesting in cliff faces and large openings on the rocks.

In any case, never attempt to catch or play with these animals. For one, they may feel threatened and attack you, which can then cause you to lose balance and fall off or swing and smash against the rock face.

Second, wildlife is naturally shy and they tend to leave their habitats once they see people coming. So be careful where you place your hands while climbing to avoid coming in contact with insects and other wildlife.

Use Existing Climbing Routes

Most state parks have dedicated climbing routes in place, but sometimes climbers can get a little adventurous and decide to create a new route for themselves. The problem is that doing so can hurt the environment.

For one, creating a new climbing route will require some clearing. This means removing loose rocks, vegetation, and other obstacles and debris blocking the way. Although this step is necessary to ensure the safety of handholds and footholds, it can disrupt the natural order of the area. If clearing is a must, it should be kept to a minimum to minimize the disruption.

So as part of climbing ethics, climbers are advised to follow existing climbing routes and avoid making new ones unless necessary. And if you really must, consider if the new route can and will be used by other climbers. Along that line, be sure to note and share the new route you created so that other climbers can follow it so they won’t need to create another one.

Avoid Damaging the Vegetation

One of the best things about climbing is that the routes are often peppered with interesting plant species. Taking selfies with these are okay, but you should never give in to the temptation of plucking flowers along the way.

Speaking of selfies, avoid monkeying around and hanging on tree branches for picture taking. This is very unsafe as the branch may break off, not only damaging the tree but causing injuries to you as well.

Along that line, climbing ethics will tell you to never use trees as anchors unless you have no other option available. And if you do, make sure that you do everything possible to minimize the damage to the tree (e.g. don’t tie your climbing rope around the tree since this can damage the bark).

Use Climbing Chalks Responsibly


Good climbing chalk is often essential for a successful climb since it helps to remove excess moisture from the climbers’ fingers and palms and thus allows them to have a better grip on the different types of climbing holds. However, the use of climbing chalk has been shown to have some detrimental effects on climbing routes and nature in general.

For one, white chalk tends to leave unsightly marks and blemishes on the surface of rocks along the climbing route and making them look less and less natural. This is one reason why some climbing parks banned the use of white climbing chalk in their area.

Also, porous rocks like sandstone and limestone tend to absorb chalk, making them difficult to remove. There were also some speculations regarding the negative effects of chalk on vegetation and wildlife, though more studies are needed to confirm this.

In any case, it is important to use climbing chalk properly and responsibly. Use climbing chalk sparingly and only when necessary. You can also go online and look for colored climbing chalks that match the color of the rock you intend to climb. You can also consider using climbing gloves instead of chalk. Consider bringing a soft brush with you during the climb so you can brush off any chalk marks (whether they’re yours or not) along the route. Make sure that your chalk bag is secured so that it doesn’t come off and spill chalk all over the place.

Remove Old Bolts

Seeing old and rusty bolts make many climbers cringe especially when they consider that their safety and their life will be hanging on that little piece of metal. This is why instead of using it they decide to drill a new hole and set up a new bolt. Is this acceptable especially when you consider the requirements of rock climbing bolting ethics?

Unfortunately, no. This practice goes against rock climbing bolting ethics. Instead of leaving an old bolt and drilling a new hole beside it, take out the old bolt and replace it with a new one. Just make sure that the old hole is still usable and safe.

If you need to widen it to make room for a rock-climbing anchor, then feel free to do so. This is a much better alternative to leaving a gaping hole on the face of the rock. And yes, remember to dispose of the old bolt properly as part of rock climbing bolting ethics.

Globo Surf Overview

The “Leave No Trace” principles and climbing ethics were established to ensure that our beloved climbing routes remain clean, attractive, and safe. Practicing responsible rock climbing like rock climbing bolting ethics and others can go a long way in ensuring that we have climbing routes to come back to and for the use of future climbers.

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Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!