Proposal to Regulate Holt’s Ledge Pits Climbers and Neighbors

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/10/2017 12:09:15 AM
Modified: 4/10/2017 10:55:42 AM

Lyme — A proposal to remove climbing aids from one of the Upper Valley’s most popular rock climbing spots has continued to generate resentment between those who live nearby and climbers who use the site.

Neighbors say removing bolts drilled into the rock face will allow Holt’s Ledge to return to its roots as a more quiet recreational climbing destination, while climbers lament what they say would be the loss of protective measures on the cliff.

The Lyme Selectboard will hold a public hearing on Thursday to discuss a proposed ordinance to manage the town-owned portion of Holt’s Ledge.

The area has been closed to the public since last summer, after town officials found trees were cut, fire circles were built and someone had installed bolts — anchors assist climbers in their ascents — into the rock without permission.

Residents near the area also complained about noise and climbers trespassing on private property.

The portion of the ledge owned by Dartmouth College remains open to the public.

“It is important to recognize that since the ‘sport climbing’ routes were illegally installed, the town believes the increased level of use has proven incompatible with other uses of this town property and with the residential nature of the area,” the proposed ordinance states. “… as a result, all fixed protection shall be removed or cut off the rock face.”

The action would be welcomed by Curtis Cote, a resident of Canaan Ledge Lane with more than 30 years of climbing experience. Holt’s Ledge is located about 600 feet behind Cote’s home.

“This is not a climbing issue as it is a land use issue,” Cote said in an email on Sunday.

He said allowing the bolts to stay would set a precedent that anyone could come into Lyme and deface municipal property without recompense. Whoever set the bolts between 2011 and 2015, Cote said, did not ask for permission. Nor did climbers who constructed an access trail and cut down trees through private property, he said.

“I want Holt’s Ledge reopened for traditional and top rope climbing as it has been for decades,” Cote wrote.

That should be done hand-in-hand with a ban on the drilling of holes and cutting of trees.

Traditional climbing, referred to as “trad” or “clean” climbing, is done without permanent bolts and instead utilizes removable protections, while sport climbing requires drills, hammers, expansion bolts and epoxy for fixed anchors in the rock, according to Cote.

Some climbers contend the bolts are a needed safety precaution, especially for new climbers.

“Fixed anchors, defined by the Access Fund as climbing equipment (e.g. bolts, pitons or slings) left in place to facilitate ascent or descent of technical terrain, are a critical component of a climber’s safety system.” the Access Fund, a national rock climbing organization, wrote in an August letter to the Selectboard.

Lyme resident Kristina Fjeld-Sparks, whose family rock climbs on Holt’s Ledge, also lamented the Selectboard decision.

“(The bolts) are already in place. They’re not doing any harm by being in place and to remove a lot of those lines would take a lot of work,” she said.

Climber Tim Chow said Holt’s Ledge will still remain a climbing destination under the proposed ordinance, but the more difficult climb means children and novices might be deterred from taking part.

“(Bolts) basically makes it a less technical climb,” he said. “If you don’t use bolts, you have to use some other protection and you have to install it yourself.”

Chow said several local climbers have formed a group that’s willing to protect and maintain the site. They’ve developed a management plan, he said, and are hoping the Selectboard will be willing to collaborate.

“We just want a chance to be able to help the town manage it and that’s why we’re asking to have the bolts remain,” Chow said.

Climber David Jopp said he’s sad to hear about the removal of bolts, but said he understands neighbors concerns.

Rock climbers tend to be “funny folks” who sometimes think they’re above the law, he said, and that can lead to problems.

“I go on a rock and, given the situation, I’ll drill a hole,” he said in a phone interview on Sunday. He’s also sometimes crosses private property to get to climbs.

“It kind of creates a bad feeling and that’s kind of where we are,” Jopp said, adding he wishes there were still a way the town could make the cliff more available to people.

The draft ordinance being presented on Thursday is similar to one proposed by the Selectboard in January with one exception. It replaces a moratorium on new bolts with orders to remove the existing ones.

It’s not certain why town officials decided to change direction in the last few months. Selectboard Chairman Jay Smith declined to comment on the matter when reached by phone on Sunday.

However, meeting minutes show the board continued to receive complaints from residents after a January hearing. The decision to remove the bolts was made at the board’s March 23 meeting.

“After a lengthy discussion, it was felt the bolts should be disabled,” meeting minutes report. “The board talked about having the person responsible for installing these bolts should be responsible for disabling them.”

The minutes don’t identify who was responsible for installing the bolts or reflect why the board was compelled to remove the fixed protections from the cliff.

The Selectboard will hold a hearing on the proposed ordinance at 9 a.m. on Thursday at the Lyme Town Office Building on High Street.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

Valley News

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