Climbers fight for piece of Cave Rock |

Climbers fight for piece of Cave Rock

Andy Bourelle

While the volcanic rock formation on Lake Tahoe’s east shore is a sacred place for the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, that same word also can describe its importance to rock climbers, a South Shore resident said Thursday at a U.S. Forest Service-sponsored workshop.

“As a climber, it is also a sacred place in our realm,” said rock climber Colleen McDownough. “We don’t feel we’re desecrating it.”

The future of Cave Rock has become a controversial issue. Rock climbers love to scale the formation. However, the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California says that the rock is a powerful spiritual place.

An open house was held Thursday, so the Forest Service could gain additional comment on its recently proposed action. The proposal calls for the elimination of about 20 percent of the climbing routes bolted to the rock and a prohibition of any new bolt installation. Maintenance of the existing routes could continue, and the Forest Service would discourage increased public use of the site, whether it is rock climbing or any other type of recreation.

The Washoe Tribe have indicated an unwillingness to compromise, but many rock climbers think the proposal is headed in the right direction.

“I’m for the proposed action. I believe the climbers in the community would be willing to compromise on any level in order to be able to have continued access to the climbing area,” said Larry Sabo, co-owner of Clip-In Climbing in South Lake Tahoe. I think the proposed action offered is one form of compromise, and I think the climbers in the community are certainly open to any suggestions other than a complete ban.”

Cave Rock was once a place where Washoe medicine men communed with spirits. Highway tunnels were bored through the rock in the 1930s and 1950s, and rock climbers in the 1980s paved the floor of the cave.

Before rock climbers started using the rock, the area was filled with litter and graffiti, which the climbers have cleaned up, McDownough said.

Climbers now have offered to remove the floor, remove the routes proposed by the Forest Service and change the rock climbing slings from bright to rock-like colors, said Mike Reeves, a South Shore resident and frequent climber.

“We are willing to do a lot of stuff,” he said. “Throughout all the meetings, we have been saying we are willing to compromise, but we still want to climb.”

A lot of people think there is no room to compromise, however, not only Washoe people either.

“I’m going to recommend they respect the right of the Washoe, that it’s a special site,” Philip Steinberg, a South Lake Tahoe resident who is neither a rock climber or member of the tribe, said at the meeting. “There should be no compromise. There should not be climbing on that rock.”

A series of public workshops were held in early 1998 concerning the management of Cave Rock, and the proposed action marks the beginning of a public scoping process. The public comment period on the proposed action ends on March 1. The public is supposed to have another opportunity to comment on the management direction when a draft environmental impact statement is released later this year. A decision regarding the long-term management of the Cave Rock area is expected by the end of 1999.

A closure order issued at the end of December 1998 is still in effect, which prohibits any activity, including the installation of new climbing bolts, that damages or defaces the surface of the rock. Rock climbing using existing bolted routes is currently allowed.

The meeting was scheduled for 3 to 7 p.m. As of 5 p.m., no members of the Washoe Tribe had attended.

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