Dry tooling at the Narrows

What’s the Deal with Dry Tooling at the Narrows

In short, don’t do it! Dry tooling is expressingly prohibited at the Narrows for two reasons.

First, the DCNR Rock Climbing, Rappelling, and Bouldering Management Policy and Guidelines actually prohibits all dry tooling on DCNR lands unless permission is given to do so. “Wait..what?” is the reaction that most people are having after reading that statement but it is true. The guidelines read:

“Rock alterations by chipping, chiseling, sculpting, drilling, defacing, trundling, or gluing/epoxying of holds (hand & foot) are not permitted without prior approval of the Department. This also includes the practice of dry tooling which involves using ice climbing tools on rock surfaces.”

Now, the good news. EPAC and other PA LCOs have been working with DCNR on a host of topics to better support climbing in PA. One item currently in process is revising these guidelines to be more inline with best practices and current standards.  The recommendation provided to DCNR was as follows:

“Under “Rock alterations”, the statement regarding dry tooling should be removed or amended. The act of dry tooling can be  part of the activity of an established ice climbing route and not an attempt to manipulate the rock face.

The stance of the LCOs is that rock alterations and dry tooling are two very different things and should not be lumped together. While the guidelines are currently in the mark-up phase, there is no anticipated revision date at this time. However, even if this statement is amended, the Narrows would continue to prohibit dry tooling because….

The second reason that dry tooling is prohibited is because the Narrows is located in a designated “Natural Area”. A Natural Area is an area within a state park of unique scenic, geologic, or ecological value which will be maintained in a natural condition by allowing physical and biological processes to operate usually without direct human intervention. Therefore, there is often little to no right to recreation in these areas. At the Narrows, there are two species of interest currently under protection –  a raptor and a plant. In the case of dry tooling, it is an arctic plant called Roseroot Stonecrop that is of concern. Nockamixon cliffs is the southernmost part on the East Coast that Roseroot continues to exist. 

So why can we ice climb here? Long ago, ice climbers and DCNR officials came to an understanding that ice climbing should not impact the growth of Roseroot for two reasons:

  • Once the cliff is enshrouded in ice, the plant is protected from any impact.
  • Once the ice melts, any evidence of human interaction leaves along with it. Thus, returning the area to its natural state.

The agreement, which is written and referenced in the management plan for the area, allows for ice climbing to continue so long as any impact does not affect the species. Dry tooling is seen as a potential threat to the existence of the plant as well as the overall natural conditions of the area which is why it is prohibited. Human impact is also the reason hiking, scrambling or rock climbing is not allowed in this area.

This area is constantly monitored, especially during raptor season, so any issues of noncompliance will likely force DCNR to restrict access and EPAC will have little recourse to get it back open. DCNR officials have nothing but respect for this arrangement as well as appreciation for our compliance with the raptor closure. We want to keep that relationship intact and the Narrows open for ice climbing but we need your cooperation to do so. 


Further reading:

DCNR website description

Bucks County Natural Areas Inventory (Page 91)

EPAC is seeking a Climbing Area Ambassador for the Narrows. Anyone interested can get more information by contacting us.

Please consider supporting the Access Fund and EPAC who are continuing to put time and resources into the Narrows. We suggest a Joint Membership but there other options as well.