CODY, WYO. — Problems with liability insurance and an impromptu decision to send ice climbing students using specialized gear into a favorite rock climbing area have prompted criticism for the organizer of the Cody Ice Climbing Festival, who says he was only trying to make the best of a bad situation.
Some local rock climbers are unhappy that ice climbers were using ice axes and spiked footwear over the weekend during a hastily convened beginners climbing clinic held near the Buffalo Bill Dam west of Cody.
While the dispute may strike outsiders as an esoteric turf war between overly specialized hobbyists, it reflects some of the same friction seen in other overlapping uses of public lands, and echoes squabbles between climbers in other areas throughout the West.
“What happened is not acceptable in climbing circles, and people get into fistfights over this kind of thing,” said rock climber Mike Snyder, author of The Cody Bouldering Guide.
Snyder said he was upset to learn that ice climbers were using sharp metal hand and foot tools on rock faces where there was no snow or ice in an area of Shoshone Canyon known as The Island. The popular rock climbing spot straddles federal public lands managed by the Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Land Management. There are no agency restrictions on the types of climbing allowed.
But using sharp, metal ice climbing gear on bare rock faces can scar and chip the rocks, changing the layout of established and popular routes used by dozens of rock climbers, Snyder said.
Rock climbers at The Island typically use rubber-soled shoes and their bare hands, secured by a safety rope attached to an established anchor point bolted into the rock, Snyder said.
Metal impact tools “are going to mar the surface of the rock, or worse, start snapping off critical holds on established rock climbing routes, changing them forever,” Snyder said.
Festival organizer Don Foote Jr. said he took ice climbers to The Island as a backup location only after his special-use permit to teach beginner climbing clinics in the South Fork Valley was suspended late Friday evening by the U.S. Forest Service.
Forest Service spokeswoman Kristie Salzmann said Foote never provided the required proof of liability insurance, despite several reminders in the days leading up to the festival. She said concern about avalanches was not the reason for suspending Foote’s permit, and that the Shoshone National Forest typically does not make avalanche forecasts or conduct risk assessments.
The Forest Service never cancelled or revoked the festival’s permit, Salzmann said, but only suspended it until proof of insurance could be provided, which never happened.
Foote said Tuesday that a problem late last week with an automatic bank draft meant that full payment was never received by the Denver company issuing the liability policy. He said separate coverage applied to the educational clinics held elsewhere, including at The Island.
“All I did was try to salvage the festival, take people out and have a good time and do something different,” Foote said.
Foote said he was “at fault for not having the proper insurance,” and that he was “disappointed and embarrassed” about the problem. Some attendees have asked for a refund over the issue.
Foote said that he and other festival volunteers decided to offer some basic climbing instruction at The Island for those still interested in attending a clinic.
While he understood that The Island is a popular rock climbing destination, “that doesn’t mean that only rock climbing is allowed there,” he said.
Foote said the dispute was comparable to how equestrians and four-wheelers sometimes clash over trail use, and that similar disagreements between rock climbers can be found across the country. Some rock climbers at The Island install permanent bolts used for safety ropes, a practice criticized by some other rock climbers, he said.
Foote said he worked hard each year to stage the festival, and would “graciously welcome any volunteers from the local climbing community who might want to help.” He said that greater cooperation is needed between ice climbers and rock climbers in the area.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].