Historical petroglyphs completely broken by a Colorado Springs man Colorado Springs Information

Darrin Reay left his home in southwest Colorado last Friday night to meet friends at a secluded campsite he loved, surrounded by sandstone cliffs in the desert behind Moab, Utah.

When he arrived he was alarmed to hear the suggestion to climb a bolted route. Reay knew that there were no drilling holes or anchors to hold the climbing brackets in place on this particular slab. And that was for the sake of ancient art on top of the rock that the indigenous people had left behind more than 1,000 years ago.

“I’ve started climbing,” Reay recalled, “and I look up and suddenly I’m standing in front of a huge petroglyph with a row of bolts in the middle.”

He was “horrified and angry”. He named his old mentor Stewart Green, the Colorado Springs-based writer and historian who is an authority on American climbing, an attorney who emerged from the emersion of the sport in the West in the 1970s.

Green couldn’t believe it. “What the hell?” he noticed.

This sparked an online storm of outrage that swirled with fear of lost climbing privileges in the legendary desert where, long before them, the Puebloans and Fremont ancestors left their mark – sacred places for descendants today, memories of the culture, which came first in the region.

Since then, the studs have been removed from the outcrop known as the Sunshine Wall north of Arches National Park. But the petroglyphs are forever damaged, said Elizabeth Hora, an archaeologist with the Utah State Historic Preservation Office.

Hora called the damage “shockingly frequent” across the state.

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Courtesy Darrin Reay

A bolted climbing route along petroglyphs on rocks outside Moab, believed to have been abandoned by indigenous peoples more than 1,000 years ago.

“And it’s heartbreaking and a little different every year,” she said. “People are very creative in the way they damage things, which just means we don’t understand very well what driving behavior is all about.

“But we firmly believe that shame and blame are not the way to make change happen.”

She viewed herself and her colleagues as “appalled” by what they read on social media: comments threatening to kill the perpetrator.

Richard Gilbert, 36, of Colorado Springs, was guilty. Along with death threats, he told The Gazette that someone suggested cutting off his hands.

“I deserve it,” he said of the contempt. “I take it.”

Late last month, Gilbert said he posted a description of his bolted route, which he called Peaches, and which was rated 5.3. That description came with his mention of “graffiti”.

When Gilbert read the comments on the post, he said he was convinced late Sunday that he misunderstood the images. Shortly afterwards, he said, he left the sources to report to a ranger at the Moab Bureau of Land Management field office.

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A bolted climbing route along petroglyphs on rocks outside Moab, believed to have been abandoned by indigenous peoples more than 1,000 years ago.

Under the Archaeological Resource Protection Act, first-time violations could result in a fine of up to $ 20,000 and imprisonment for up to a year.

In a statement to The Gazette on Thursday, the BLM declined to provide details “as the location of the climbing bolts is an active, ongoing investigation”. The statement added: “We ask the public to let the appropriate authorities determine the next steps. The BLM does not advocate harassment or threatening behavior.”

On Thursday, Gilbert said he hadn’t heard from the authorities. He said he was getting rid of his outdoor gear.

“A little crazy,” he said. “You’re out there doing some routes for disabled men and young children and then you’re in jail.”

Gilbert said he was medically retired and had been climbing since 2006. He said he traveled to cliffs across the country after taking inspiration Wounded Warrior Project.

In recent years he had screwed routes “so that not only people with disabilities have better access,” he said, “but also people who are learning to climb.” Although it is not illegal in all public areas, bolting for inferior routes is frowned upon in climbing circles.

“Mistakes are made and that doesn’t make it any better, I know,” Gilbert said. “It’s not. I made a mistake.”

They happen more in Utah’s archeologically rich landscape, Hora said. She said there had been “an explosion” in 2020, the pandemic year marked by unprecedented outdoor crowds coinciding with reports of spray paint and deterioration for the fragile geology in the Pikes Peak area as well.

Malicious intentions are rare in Utah’s famous canyonlands and deserts, Hora said.

“We make mistakes,” she said. “And to be completely honest, my hands are not clean here either. As an archaeologist here and someone who loves nature and is interested in archeology and prehistoric rock art, I see that I am the one that people were not equipped with the information and knowledge to make good decisions. “

That is the aim of the new Stop Archeology Vandalism initiative, implemented by several agencies.

And it should be the destination among climbers, said Green.

“Right now, with the number of uses increasing, we really need to put in place a Leave No Trace ethic,” he said. “A lot of people come out of the gym these days, having a blast and not really thinking about everything we need to do to be a responsible group of users.”

In a joint statement condemning the bolts on the Sunshine Wall, some of the country’s leading climbing organizations called archaeological training “essential” and said, “The cultural and spiritual worth of these places cannot be measured.”

Land managers have closed climbing areas due to previous violations. Reay feared this would be another rift in the very core of the sport.

“The story of climbing is that someone did something crazy that no one has done before and risked their life. I don’t want us to have to ask permission to do this,” he said. “But at the same time, if people can’t do it responsibly, we’re regulated and not allowed to do it again.”

Reay was born and raised on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. He considered Gilbert’s act “sacrilegious”. Reay called it “arrogant and ignorant”.

“My main reason for sharing the story is to try to educate other climbers and the public not to repeat these mistakes,” Reay said.

Gilbert said that was his goal too. He said he had connected with stakeholders to get the message across.

“There’s no reason this ever happened,” he said, “and it definitely never has to happen again.”

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