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Magic Valley Gear Exchange, Open Climb

Shawn Willsey gets ropes ready for a July 28 open climb organized by Magic Valley Gear Exchange at the Alcove near Dierkes Lake.

Southern Idaho climbers have something sweet they’re anxious not to lose: access to the Snake River Canyon cliffs around Dierkes Lake.

But they’re in a strange situation. One that requires a lot of collective responsibility.

The city of Twin Falls, which owns Dierkes Lake and the land around it, doesn’t have a policy on rock climbing there. As Twin Falls Parks and Recreation Director Wendy Davis has put it: “We neither permit nor prohibit it.”

Some climbers have asked for something formal at Dierkes, like a memorandum of understanding on climbing-route maintenance. But so far, the unofficial access works for climbers.

“We’re fine staying in that kind of gray area right now, because that allows us to pursue the sport,” said College of Southern Idaho climbing instructor Shawn Willsey, chairman of the Southern Idaho Climbing Coalition.

But what if someone messes it up?

In the absence of regulation, what if a climbing-route developer sparks public complaints by installing unsightly shiny-metal hardware? What if someone uses inferior hardware that leads to an accident? Or wrecks the rocks by drilling too many holes too close together?

The coalition, formed in 2015, doesn’t want any outcry that might lead to the city cracking down on Dierkes Lake climbing as the sport grows. So its board in January adopted two documents: bolting standards and route development ethics for the Dierkes Lake area and the Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls.

The former calls for such things as half-inch-diameter stainless steel bolts and hardware camouflaged to match the rock. It admonishes climbers rebolting existing routes to expend the great effort that might be needed to completely remove the old bolt and reuse the same hole.

The development ethics include getting permission from landowners or managers, positioning new routes beyond reach from existing adjacent routes and avoiding areas with known anthropological or historical resources.

The guidelines borrow heavily from national climbing groups, but they aren’t without controversy. And the local coalition — newly named an affiliate of Access Fund, a Colorado-based rock climbing advocacy group — has no power to enforce them.

“The best practice is a high standard that we hope most climbers will shoot for,” Willsey said. “If they shoot lower, well, we did our best.”

Virginia Hutchins is enterprise editor of the Times-News and Magicvalley.com; reach her at vhutchins@magicvalley.com or 208-735-3242.

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