2014 saw the arrival of a new Rocklands permit system. After months of negotiations, several key landowners in the valley drafted a joint permit agreement. It enables visiting climbers to buy one permit at the start of a trip, granting them access to the majority of the established bouldering areas. Almost one year on, let’s take a look at how the system was received, and how it worked in practice.
Access – Did it work?
Yes. On the ground, the permit system worked, and was surprisingly well received. Most were happy to pay, and understood the benefit of a profit-driven access system in securing access to areas in the long-term. Aside from the odd road-bump and misunderstanding (Tea Garden), the season went very smoothly access-wise.
This was strengthened by fact that climbers paid for one permit to cover their trip rather than several. Not only was this more convenient for all involved, but also much more pleasant psychologically. Being on holiday and having to stop, take out your wallet and pay every time you go climbing does not leave a nice taste in the mouth.
For the local climbing scene the system proved a harder pill to swallow. Although the tiered pricing (cheaper per day for longer trips) made long trips affordable, it gave little quarter to weekend visitors from Cape Town, whose Wildcards are now redundant.
The permit system is in its infancy, and has to cater for the share of the market who contribute the most to the local economy: The international climbers. In the greater scheme of the season’s footfall, this was a minor gripe, but one that will be important to address when the system is stronger and more established. The local weekend warriors are a crucial part of the culture and heritage in Rocklands, bringing a wealth of local knowledge and an important degree of continuity and stability to a constantly changing social landscape. They will ultimately prove key to conservation and impact reduction in the area; To let their custom and favour fall by the way-side would be short-sighted, and an enormous loss to the area. Overall however, and in light of the necessary access objectives, the new permit system was successful:
- Access to the main areas was stabilised for the season, and for the foreseeable future.
- Obtaining permits was made easy, both in person and through the online gateway, and most were happy to pay.
- A precedent of collaboration between landowners (and the MCSA) was established for the future.
- The system is financially viable for the landowners, and therefore sustainable.
Conservation & Impact Reduction
I have purposefully separated this header from its brother, Access, to clarify a point of contention that came up often last season. It was all too often assumed that the money collected from permits was for the benefit of conservation and impact reduction, and that we would see much of it returned to the land. Let’s make no illusions, in buying a permit we are paying for Access with a capital ‘A’. It is not a clean-up service.
Several landowners make up the permit partnership, each with their own agenda. Some do lean towards conservation, and others towards diversification of income. What happens to the income is the landowners’ prerogative, and none of our concern. Cape Nature have an official environmental agenda, and collaborate with MCSA to put measures in place on their land. The other landowners may put basic impact reduction measures in place out of their own environmental conscience, but it is important to understand that this is not their obligation. It falls to us as climbers to take responsibility for our own impact, and for those of our fellow climbers too.
In future matters that require logistical, financial and organisational support, we should turn to the body that represents climbing in South Africa, the Mountain Club of South Africa. The MCSA has so far been terrific in representing us, mediating the permit agreement discussions, and in securing funds for essentials such as ethical guidelines and signage in Rocklands. It equally provides a sound structure and authoritative platform from which to communicate with the wider climbing community.
However, the MCSA does not have bottomless coffers, nor can it tackle these issues single-handedly. It is up to each of us to play our part. In past years groups of seasoned individuals (locals and foreigners alike) have made a point of re-cairning paths at the start of the season, picking up litter, sharing information about protected flora and fauna to newcomers, and motivating others during the season to do so too. These actions are rarely formally publicised, but are an important part of what keeps the climbing areas in shape, and our reputation intact.
So let’s keep involved! There is no need to wait for a call to arms from the MCSA (who have plenty of other areas to deal with too). If you are a local and know your Kliphout from your Yellowwood, then make sure the new guy around the braai knows it too, and show him what’s what. Explain to the uninitiated that the two foot tall orange bush is unique to this biome, and not a useful prop to cushion a crash-pad.
If ever in doubt, there are some extremely knowledgable people living in the valley who will be happy to offer advice on whatever you plan on doing! (including several conservationists). If you are new, then talk to the locals and landowners to find out how you can make yourself useful, and on your next rest day, turn up for work. There is plenty to do.
Enjoy the season, and let’s do our bit!
- Rocklands: Tea Garden Closed
- Rocklands Bouldering Crisis
- Rocklands Permits Update 2014
- Rocklands Bouldering Permit System Online