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Ten Sleep Update: Vigilante Climbers Remove Manufactured Routes

An anonymous group of climbers has removed around 30 routes from Ten Sleep Canyon and padlocked the first bolts of dozens more in protest against some developers' "blatant disregard for the ethics of the landscape."

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Following months of controversy over manufactured routes in Ten Sleep Canyon, Wyoming, a group of 18 climbers has stripped bolts and hangers from about 30 routes that they determined to be manufactured, in addition to filling in drilled and chiseled holds. They attached red-painted padlocks to the first bolts of about 30 other manufactured routes, to inform climbers that the routes have manufactured holds and to discourage them from trafficking those climbs.

Photo: Corey Zukie.

After removing routes from ten different walls on July 1 and 2, the  unidentified group of 18 climbers released a statement on Reddit. They wrote, “The routes that were removed were not a case of one or two drilled pockets but sometimes up to ten or twelve drilled pockets or deeply chiseled holds. Some routes may have had as many as 20 manufactured holds.”

Their statement acknowledged the perspective of those who disagreed with the removal of the routes, but said, “This conversation is bigger than these routes that were removed, it is bigger than a single crag or even the entire Ten Sleep Canyon. Our message is singular: Manufacturing and chipping is not accepted in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, and it should not be acceptable in the sport of climbing.”

These actions come after several months of public dispute over development tactics—including the use of drills, chisels and glue to manufacture holds—in Ten Sleep. In February, three of the area’s prominent developers—J.B. Haab, Aaron Huey and Charlie Kardaleff—released an open letter that outlined their ethical opposition to the use of such heavy-handed route development tactics in Ten Sleep and called for the removal of manufactured routes, both from the walls and from guidebooks. The letter, which was posted to the Ten Sleep Canyon Facebook page and reprinted on with permission, has received hundreds of signatures to date.

Images of manufactured holds released by the protestors via Reddit.

In early May, three months after the release of the original letter, in another post on the Ten Sleep Canyon Facebook page, Haab, Huey and Kardaleff named Louie Anderson, a climber from California now based in Ten Sleep, as a major perpetrator (though not the only one) of the development of these artificial routes. They claimed to have received reports of over 140 routes—many of which were established by Anderson—that appeared to have been manufactured. Accusations of manufacturing routes in Ten Sleep and elsewhere have followed Anderson for years, and Haab, Huey and Kardaleff are far from the first to say so: commenters in online forums including SuperTopo and Reddit describe Anderson’s reputation as a “serial driller and chipper” in his former home area in southern California.

Rock and Ice reached out to Anderson for comment but did not receive a response.

Anderson wrote a guidebook, Ten Sleep Canyon Climbing, with “hundreds of new and previously unpublished routes,” which includes many of his own recently developed—allegedly manufactured—climbs. In response to its publication, Haab, Huey and Kardaleff wrote, “We are afraid that the sale of Louie’s book will act as an advertisement, for years to come, of the bad ethics and normalization of chipping that we are trying to stop.”

Separately, Huey released the tenth edition of his own Ten Sleep Canyon Guidebook, which “calls out” the manufactured routes as such. The book is a not-for-profit endeavor, with “all author royalties going to organizations that will replace aging anchors, build sustainable trails and belay areas, provide seasonal port-o-potties, and who will be working with land managers to develop a climbing management plan for the area,” according to the project’s Kickstarter page.

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In response to the ongoing controversy, the Bighorn Climbers’ Coalition announced in May that they would be holding a series of “Route Developer Round Table Meetings” with the goal of connecting Ten Sleep route developers and climbers to create an “action plan” regarding development ethics. The Coalition also released a statement outlining their own position on manufacturing holds, in which they wrote, “It is our position that any manufacturing of holds in Ten Sleep Canyon is an unacceptable practice that is counter to the consensus, culture, and norms around ethical route development in the climbing community.”

More recent conversations surrounding Ten Sleep have centered on the question of what to do about the already existing manufactured routes. The Bighorn Climbers’ Coalition released a summary of the discussion that took place at the Route Developer Round Table on Saturday, June 1, which was attended by eighteen people. According to the statement, the group discussed a number of ideas for holding developers accountable in the future, as well as for combating the “normalization” of routes that have already been manufactured.

The group also discussed the possibility of bolt removal, but, according to the summary, they came to a consensus against it: “Going after one single developer’s routes would not solve this issue, since there have been several developers who have manufactured routes to varying degrees. Removing bolts from a developer’s routes will not be constructive in any form and it will lead to more harm than good.”

Despite this, in early July, a group of 18 climbers went ahead with the removal project.

A red-painted padlock meant to symbolize “non-ethical bolting” on a route in Ten Sleep.

Local climber and gym owner Ace Ashurst, who has been an outspoken critic of manufacturing routes, wrote in a Facebook post on July 8 that he had spoken with Anderson over breakfast about route development ethics in Ten Sleep going forward: “We agreed that those routes needed to be removed, and agreed to placing a hold on removing routes. Louie and myself, will create the ‘ethics guidelines’ for bolting routes in Ten Sleep Canyon and will give it to the BCC.” He also addressed the padlocks, writing that they symbolize “non-ethical bolting (extreme manufacturing)” and that the rest of the bolts on those climbs have not been touched; climbers wishing to attempt them can stick-clip the routes at the second bolt.

Louie Anderson wrote in his own Facebook post, “I have spoken with some of the individuals involved and have a good understanding of their motivations and desires in doing this…. Route removal and these types of actions have been discussed quite extensively in recent months and are not what the local consensus of the community wanted to see happen.”

He wrote that he plans to leave the majority of the removed routes as they are, having no desire to “promote the continuation of negative relations within our community,” although he intends to re-establish a “handful” which “should never have been removed in the first place.” He also describes discussions with other local developers and the plan to create standards for establishing new routes, which will be made available to people looking to bolt in the canyon and will be included in the next edition of his guidebook.

Nate Matthews on “Women vs. The Eternal Masculine” 5.10c at the Radha-Krishna Pillar. Photo: Corey Zukie.

On July 9, both the Bighorn Climbers’ Coalition and the Ten Sleep Canyon Facebook page released statements regarding the route removal. The Coalition condemned the action, stating, “The BCC and our members view this action as a diversion from the productive nature of our previous meetings. Route removal most commonly results in significant damage to the climbing resource and can leave behind dangerous routes.”Similarly, the Ten Sleep Canyon Facebook post reads, “From the perspective of the USFS the removal of bolts and the filling in of human-made pockets is an equal violation of altering our natural resources as bolting and cleaning a route in the first place.”

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The authors of that post also, however, emphasize the sequence of events that led to this action being taken. In particular, they point to the lack of response by route developers to public requests for routes to be taken down. The post says, “This is an example of the climbing community self-policing and trying to do the best that it can to practice our sport and lifestyle responsibly. Our original open letter asked for the routes to be removed by the original bolters and for corrections in guidebooks to be made noting their manufactured nature. That did not happen and denials continued.”

They continue, “It appears that 18 of those climbers felt strongly enough about the lack of response from the manufacturers that they took it into their own hands. We hope that if there will be anymore route removal that it will only be done by the one who did the manufacturing.”

Ashurst, Anderson, the BCC and the Ten Sleep Canyon social media accounts all describe continued meetings and discussions, and the hope for an imminent peaceful conclusion to the matter.