Sep 6, 2016
Given the history (both distant and recent) of this special place, I thought I'd share the following:
Last weekend a friend and I camped and climbed at Natural Bridge after a few days at the Trinity Aretes. I knew about the history of tension between the local Wintu tribe and climbers regarding bolting on the bridge formation, but had understood that climbing on High Rock and the other walls was not frowned upon.
In the morning when my partner and I were gearing up, we heard drumming, singing, and some call and response using ram's horns. Steeped in the dense conifer forest and surrounded by the stunning limestone formations, this created an amazing and surreal atmosphere. We immediately questioned whether we should climb at all that day, but after some deliberation decided to go ahead, based on our understanding that the tribe was accepting of development on the upper cliffs. We roped up at the Tucked-Away Wall, far from where it sounded like the ceremony was taking place. We consciously tried to keep a low profile while doing a few pitches, wanting to be as respectful as possible.
After some time (i.e., a couple of hours), we saw a group of people on the trail leading to underneath the Natural Bridge. They called up to us, said hello, and told us that climbing was not permitted anywhere in the area. Not wanting to cause trouble, my friend and I apologized and told the group that we would promptly leave. We began to go our separate ways when the group leader called out again, asking that we help them. He invited us back to their camp to talk.
My friend and I packed up our gear and drove over to the camp. It turned out that the leader of the group was a council member on the Wintu Educational & Cultural Council of Northern CA. His name is Dave Hayward, and he and some members of his community were not only performing a culturally important ritual, but also spending the day cleaning graffiti off of Natural Bridge. Dave wanted to enlist our help in removing the bolts from all of the formations in the area.
My friend and I tried to explain all of the nuances of the situation from our perspective, including the fact that climbers are often incensed when people chop bolts they have placed. Dave seemed sympathetic to our sport - indeed, he mentioned that if he were a climber, he'd probably love to get on the rock at Natural Bridge. The group also acknowledged that they don't have any legal right to exclude climbers from the area, as the land is federally owned. However, they also were adamant that the cultural heritage of the area should be respected.
I am personally reluctant to remove hardware that another climber took the time to place. I also have been involved in the development of new crags, and in fact have recently spent several weekends scouting, cleaning, drilling, and setting new lines. So I understand the work involved and the joy of the creative process.
Nevertheless, I also think that the wishes of the Wintu tribe should be respected. There's a lot of rock out there, and most of it is not on sensitive land. If you're not familiar with the 1852 massacre of the entire community except for 5 children, you should read about it: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridge_G....
I ask that if you are or were involved in the development of the Natural Bridge / High Rock area, to please send me a PM so that we may begin a dialogue with the Wintu Educational & Cultural Council.
David J. Jefferson
Joined Mar 11, 2011