Precarious Lead; Wall Street, UT

This file photo shows how chalk can be left behind on rock climbing routes, especially obvious on popular routes on red rock. Photo Credit: seanrmcdermid (iStock).

As the popularity of rock climbing continues to grow in Colorado, the environmental impact of the sport has become more apparent. From unofficial trails being forged that lead to remote crags to concerns about human presence in cliffside nesting areas of protected birds, the question of whether or not more restrictions are needed continues to rear its head. Another common climbing-related gripe that is often raised is the appearance of the chalk left behind by climbers on rock walls in otherwise untouched terrain.

The Garden of the Gods park in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has taken a major step toward preserving the natural appearance of their iconic rock formations by banning the use of all chalk and chalk substitutes in the park. Chalk use was previously not permitted in the park, though chalk substitutes were allowed. According to the City of Colorado Springs, this change is something that has become necessary due to an uptick in climbers using the area in recent years.

A popular spot for rock climbing, Garden of the Gods is also a major tourist attraction for all thanks to views of the unique sandstone and limestone towers found in the park. The formations are the main draw to the park, with marks left behind by climbers seen by many.

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According to the City, "by eliminating the use of chalk and chalk substitutes, rock climbers at the park will play a role in keeping the Garden's extraordinary rock structures sustainable and stunning for years to come."

Chalk is typically used by climbers to keep their hands dry and free of sweat while climbing. Routes with heavy chalk can also be easier to follow, with chalk-covered holds acting as breadcrumbs that guide the way.

The chalk ban includes all rock formations in the park, including those used for bouldering.

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The City of Colorado Springs also manages the climbing in nearby Red Rock Canyon, Cheyenne Canyon, and Ute Valley Park, in addition to Garden of the Gods. While a permit is required to climb at any location, a chalk substitute is allowed at other locations provided it does not discolor the rock face being climbed. White chalk is prohibited at all spots.

The decision to ban chalk in Garden of the Gods is in accordance with the City's goal to earn a 'Gold Standard Site' designation from Leave No Trace this year. Additional efforts at the location include continued park maintenance, increasing trail sustainability, reclaiming and restoring disturbed land, and noxious weed removal, among other things.

Climbers – it's no secret that not having chalk can be a pain, especially during a long route on a hot day. One other technique often used to dry hands is a quick pat on the back of the pant in lieu of reaching for the chalk bag. It works surprisingly well and keeps the rock wall looking natural.

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Director of Content and Operations

Spencer McKee is OutThere Colorado's Director of Content and Operations. In his spare time, Spencer loves to hike, rock climb, and trail run.


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(3) comments

Mark Rolofson

If the park is going to ban all chalk & substitutes, it must consider the unintended consequences. First, chalk protects the rock from the greasy oils from our hands. Build up of human grease is far harder to remove than chalk that washes off in the rain. Simply wiping your hands on your pants is no solution. Chalk has been in use in the Garden since before I started climbing in there in 1973. The first time the park tried to ban chalk was 1985. This led to colored chalk being required. The first brand of colored chalk left a little pigment behind once the chalk had washed off in the rain. The newer brand "Climbing Addicts" colored chalk is 100% better. There is also Liquid Chalk that is applied before touching the rock. It has an alcohol base that dries your hands. It sticks to your hands much better than regular dry chalk. There are only a few climbs in the Garden that are overhanging, so 99% of the chalk in the area, gets washed off in the rain. Chalk is not a real impact. After catching tourists carving their names in the soft rock, breaking beer bottles & littering, drag racing, etc. I have seen numerous human impacts in the park. Climbers respect the area & want to protect it from harmful impacts. Chalk use in the Garden is a temporary visual impact for those that think the rocks in a busy city park should resemble pristine wilderness, while ignoring roads, large crowds of tourist and the nearby city environment.


I feel like the picture used (not a route in the Garden of the Gods) makes it more difficult for those advocating to maintain access to the park. Those who have climbed in the park know that climbing use and chalk marks have significantly decreased over the past 20 years. While climbing has taken place in the park for over 100 years and is tied the history of climbing in North America, there are groups and individuals that are advocating for an outright ban on climbing in the park. They have made headway with over 25% of the routes in the park now under permanent closure. This rule change in banning non-marking chalk (regular chalk was already banned) is another step towards their goals.

Taco Bell

They're doing this to just further push climbers out without going through the hassle of banning climbing altogether. It's a weasel move.

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