Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Park, Logan


Rock climbing is undergoing unexpectedly rapid growth across the United States and around the world. Industry estimations in the late 1990’s put the number of recreational rock climbers in the United States in the 400,000 range. In 2013, estimates placed the rock climbing population as larger than eleven million active climbers, an apparent expansion of two orders of magnitude in about twenty years. As the number of rock climbers utilizing protected areas to further their recreation goals increases, so goes the associated impacts those recreationists can have on the resources. From what is known about recreation impacts to soil and vegetative cover, these impacts grow non-linearly with the amount of use, but asymptotically compared to the number of users. In an era of difficult resource management budgeting and staffing, this use-impact dynamic can grow unchecked. Therefore, this thesis seeks to map existing climbs in a developed climbing area and combine those spatial data with user attribute data towards generating a predictive suitability map for climbs. As climbing grows in popularity, land managers and climbing advocacy organizations both stand to benefit from clearer understanding of the processes driving climb site location selection and ultimately the characteristics observed about the climbing routes created. Resource management is comparatively slow and hemmed in by regulation and planning requirements. What makes a particular area suitable for rock climbing route development is the end result of an extended career as a technical rock climber. A skilled rock climber would be able to explain why a particular site might be better or less suited for climbing development. However most land managers are not experienced rock climbers, requiring the investigation for indicators that would be discernable by a novice. Therefore, the need to link managers and activity participants is great, considering this knowledge gap we ask the question: “To what extent can onsite and user-defined climb characteristics be used to model location and extent of climbing routes’ development by climbers?” Distances (2-dimensional centroid-to-centroid) between climb sites’ areas of impact, associated approach trail, and ingress/egress points of the canyon area were computed to subsequently determine correlative relationships between number of bolts, as well as horizontal 2-dimensional linear distance between adjacent climbs. Non-spatial attributes of each climb were also assessed for correlations with the above spatial characteristics of each climb. There were statistical correlations found between the difference in climb quality ratings and the distance to nearest climbs as well as correlations between clustering of climbs and their quality rating. This combined with a willingness to travel the farthest distance possible in the area to reach high quality climbs has many resource management implications both for land managers and users.




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