How Much Is Too Much?

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign, Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind, Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?  ~ Signs, Five Man Electrical Band

Last year, Parks put up trail signs for Cedar Mountain. This year COCA will be working on trail and wall signage for KLO Creek and the Boulderfields.

The quandary remains: how to find the balance between providing useful information without detracting from the natural beauty of the climbing environment. After all, nobody wants to get lost, or sandbagged. Here are some suggestions:

Trail Visibility

If we all use the same designated trail on every approach, it will improve its visibility, thus reducing the need for signs.

You can help with trail visibility by keeping the paths clear of debris and overgrowth. Garden clippers and shears are handy for overgrown bushes, but try not to go crazy on the pruning. (And if clipping at belay stations, make sure not to leave tiny, pointy little prongs in the path of the feet of lowering climbers).

When a fallen tree makes a trail or route inaccessible, then it is a good time to bring out the chainsaw. Only remove standing trees (dead or alive) if they are about to crash onto a hiker/climber. Forest ecologist Jerry Franklin said, “A standing dead tree is more alive than a live tree,” referring to the fact that dead trees provide food, shelter and protection to a variety of birds, insects, mammals and reptiles.

Moss and lichen are also an integral part of the ecosystem, but are treacherous when attached to a cold/frosty/wet rock slab on a trail. Remove this foliage thoroughly with hands and a wire brush BUT only on the trail section.

Sometimes chunky rocks on the trails actually help prevent erosion, particularly on slopes, and if this is the case, need to be left in place.

Human Intervention

Often tree branches, rocks borders and cairns are enough to keep hikers en route. Trail tape is also used in remote locations such as the Neverland Trail (Boulderfields), Christie Falls approach and Deeper Creek Trail (Okanagan Mountain Park). Tape was used on the Lair Trail (Johns’ Park) but the birds here have a tendency to steal it for nest building.

I love inuksuit / cairns as directional trail markers, and there are some really good cairn makers out there. Thank you! For the sake of climbers travelling in unfamiliar territory, make sure your artistic inukshuk at the top of a hill is there because the path is leading in that direction, or it is the destination endpoint.

The traditional material for trail signage in our climbing regions is wood, because of its environmental blending properties. Wood signs don’t last forever, but with a 10+ year lifespan, wood signs are a great choice for nature lovers.

Route Signage

When I look at a wall, I want to enjoy the rock appearance and its features. While bolts and hangers are a necessary evil for the sport climber (I like to think of them as shimmery wall bling) numbers and words can be less appealing.

However, there will always be routes that open up after a guidebook is published. So what to do?

Chalking names and grades on a base rock or on the wall is the calmest, quietest, most common method of new route designation at crags all over the world. The chalk lasts a long time, and by the time it fades a new guidebook will have the info discreetly visible within its pages.

Sometimes sheets of wall beta are left in plastic at the base of walls (such as Cougar Canyon in Vernon). This is useful in areas which do not have a recent guidebook. The downside is they can be carried away by people, animals or wind. But generally speaking, these info sheets remain in the wall locale.


Wood route signs are being considered for KLO Creek, with attachment by glue to the rock wall. Hopefully, the placement and construct of these well-intended signs will allow for revisions, will not impinge footwork, or become eyesores that mimic food aisle signage in the grocery store.

When I think of the plaque at Lonely Boy honouring the amazing Todd Guy, I wish it had been placed on a boulder near the belay area. Its lofty spot on the Lonely Boy route is really visible from the road.

I think a discreet ground location would have allowed more climbers to ponder its words and the man. But the plaque is securely fastened to the wall and can’t be easily moved. I bring this up, because at the time I thought it was a great idea.

And so, before we start gluing words and hammering signs to our climbing walls and nearby trees, let’s take a moment to consider the purpose, as well as the lasting visual and environmental impact of our actions.





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