Progressive Climbing Education - Developing Good Stewards

The second of our three tenets of Mountaineers Climbing Education is Developing Good Stewards. This means we want to reach as many climbers as possible - holding our leaders and instructors to high standards for modeling stewardship - while teaching climbers to minimize their impact and promote small party size.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
September 07, 2016

We believe we have a responsibility to teach climbers to be good stewards in the mountains. That's why we embarked on a project called Progressive Climbing Education - an initiative to re-think our program design to better meet the needs of the climbing community and better achieve our mission. The first step involved intensive information-seeking, then we took the feedback to simplify our project goals. One of those goals is to "Develop Good Stewards." 

Responses we received through interviews, surveys, and listening sessions confirmed that our Board, members, and the broader climbing community agree that developing good stewards is one of our primary charges as an organization.


As our mountains and crags become increasingly crowded, the need to take care of our natural resources and preserve them for the enjoyment of others and for future generations becomes ever more important.


We all have personal reasons for loving climbing: enjoying remote landscapes, solitude, a sense of accomplishment, camaraderie with fellow climbers... and it becomes harder to achieve these things when we have to share these spaces with a growing number of climbers. Like it or not, we have to share our favorite places now, and we'll be sharing with more people in the future. More people spending time in the mountains is a good thing - it means more people will work to protect these natural places, but only if we ensure the special experience we seek is available to everyone.

We can protect the outdoor experience for everyone by keeping our parties small, reducing our noise impact, working together with other parties to share routes, giving other parties space, cleaning up after ourselves, and coordinating stewardship projects to take care of climbing areas.


When numbers crowd mountains and crags, often the result is the trampling of fragile terrain, an increase of visible garbage left behind, and pockets of human waste ruining the experience for others and contaminating the ecosystem.

Public Land Managers have a responsibility to ensure the care of our natural areas. When crags are trashed, animals become habituated in remote areas, and social trails overrun slopes, land managers must rethink how they are regulating use of the land. If we do not carefully steward our climbing areas, our access will certainly be limited.


There will always be climbers who learn on their own, maybe from a college buddy or perhaps YouTube. What values these self-taught climbers don't receive through formal education, we need to teach by setting the standard through our own actions. Sharing routes, moving out of others' way, picking up after ourselves, reducing our noise impact, and avoiding trampling fragile plants demonstrates a climbing ethic we want everyone to follow. If we turn away people wanting to take courses from The Mountaineers, we lose the opportunity to create good stewards of our public lands.

The Mountaineers has a responsibility to teach and model good stewardship and climbing ethics to as many aspiring climbers as possible, thereby improving everyone's experience in our mountains and at our crags.  


  • Small party size
  • A friendly ethic of sharing routes
  • Decision-making that minimizes impact
  • Enthusiasm for and commitment to stewarding our climbing areas
  • Low impact practices including low impact travel, being considerate of others, carrying out garbage and human waste, giving space to wildlife


  • Stewardship events - The Mountaineers partners with groups like Washington Climbers Coalition, the Access Fund, and Mountains to Sound Greenway to host crag clean-ups and trail maintenance work parties.  
  • Community Projects - The Mountaineers played a major role in site planning, fund raising and implementation of the vault toilet at Vantage and helped assure the future of climbing at Index.
  • Advocacy - The Mountaineers works to protect our public lands by advocating for both access to, and preservation of, our wild places as central work to our mission. Partnerships like with the Access Fund, and our membership and leadership in the Outdoor Alliance allow us to bring regional issues to the national spotlight, and give capacity to engage on federal issues. 
  • Leave No Trace education - Our Backcountry Impact Series infuses LNT principles into our climbing courses so that students learn to minimize their impact from the beginning. We recently produced a series of low impact videos  funded in part by a KEEN grant to help share these practices more broadly.


  • Party Size - In an effort to meet the demand from climbing students, The Mountaineers attempts to maximize our educational capacity by using land manager guidelines to determine party size. Occasionally, this leads to groups of 8 or 10 on popular alpine rock climbs like The Tooth or Early Winters Spire. While these numbers are under the official maximum party size of 12, it creates huge traffic jams both on the ascent and descent, making the experience for smaller parties unpleasant and sometimes dangerous. 
  • Climbing Ethic - The Mountaineers has a reputation for taking over crags and for blocking smaller, faster parties on popular routes. While some Mountaineers groups are good at sharing routes or letting smaller parties pass, many are focused on the singular success of their party without consideration for others in the area on the same day.
  • Leave No Trace - While The Mountaineers LNT education has improved over the past five years, some climb leaders continue to share their food with wildlife and leave behind human waste.


  • Redesign Party Size Guidelines - A small task force could redesign our party size guidelines based on factors like the type of climb, popularity of the area and time of year. The obvious challenge is our ability to continue serving the same number of students, and our desire to serve more students. This would need to be done in parallel with other key steps to expand our capacity in other ways.
  • Develop a Standard Climbing Ethic - A small task force could develop guidelines for Mountaineers parties for things such as: sharing ropes, pulling ropes at crags when not in use and when to offer other parties to pass.
  • Change Graduation Requirements - Currently, students are required to have three successful summits to graduate the Basic Alpine Climbing course. This causes leaders to prioritize the summit in an effort to help their students, which reinforces habits like not letting other parties pass and not allowing time to travel carefully on fragile terrain. Changing graduation requirements to be based on demonstration of skill and experiencing a variety of conditions and terrain hazards could lead to better prepared students and encourage leaders to prioritize climbing ethic and minimum impact practices. 
  • Teach Leadership Soft Skills - Much of our leader preparation is focused on technical proficiency, but without a focus on soft skills, some of our leaders present themselves as arrogant and rigid. By teaching flexibility and humility, our leaders may be more inclined to adhere to a friendly, cooperative climbing ethic.
  • Develop Alternatives to High-Use Areas - Many of our teaching locations are high-use areas, including Vantage and Leavenworth. By developing alternatives to these areas, we can reduce our impact on popular crags. Alternatives may be changing the seasonality of our programs, developing more urban education options, and finding new areas that suit our educational needs.



North Sound - Tuesday, October 11
South Sound - Wednesday, October 12

In these town hall meetings, we'll seek your input on these ideas and more. Please join us and invite others. We want as much input as possible.

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