Judge tells climbers to keep off Cave Rock - Federal court: Decision upholds a 2003 plan by Forest Service

By Jeff DeLong
The Reno Gazette-Journal

A landmark Lake Tahoe rock formation will be off limits to rock climbers, a
federal judge in Reno ruled.

Friday's decision by U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben upholds a
management plan adopted by the Forest Service in 2003 regarding the future
of Cave Rock. The towering volcanic stone on Tahoe's East Shore is revered
as a holy site by the Washoe Tribe and as a one-of-a-kind climbing
destination in the world.

McKibben rejected a lawsuit filed last year by the Access Fund, a nonprofit
advocacy group for climbers, in response to the government's proposed
climbing ban.

"I am gratified with the decision and for the opportunity to finally put an
effective management strategy into effect for this important historic
resource and Tahoe landmark," said Maribeth Gustafson, supervisor of the
Forest Service's Tahoe unit.

Steve Matuse, executive director of the Colorado-based Access Fund, could
not be reached for comment Monday.

But Dave Schuller, general manager of Reno's RockSport Indoor Climbing
Center, described the ruling as a "huge loss" for the rock climbing
community. Cave Rock's uniquely challenging routes attracted climbers from
around the globe, Schuller said.

"It is an environment for climbing unique anywhere in the West," Schuller
said. "There is no other place like that. Everything about it is unique."

The Forest Service's management plan will allow continued activities such as
hiking and picnicking at Cave Rock but defines rock climbing as a
"noncompatible use" of the site.

Removal of all bolts, anchors and other climbing hardware will be required
under the plan, which will now manage Cave Rock for its "archeological and
historic values," according to a written Forest Service release.

The ruling was welcomed by the Washoe Tribal Chairman Brian Wallace, who
described Cave Rock as "one of the linchpins in the cosmology of the tribe."

"It's very important in our relationship with the whole of existence,"
Wallace said. "Many among us have waited our entire lives for a moment like

Tribal attorney Tim Seward said the ruling upholds a management decision
through which the government is putting tribal cultural resources on the
same level with other historic resources.

"This is a decision we believe is important not just for the Washoe Tribe
but the region and the nation as a whole," Seward said.

Some climbers and other critics have questioned the wisdom of banning
climbing on a formation already so altered by modern humans. Highway tunnels
were blasted through Cave Rock in 1931 and again in 1957.

According to Washoe lore, Cave Rock was a place where tribal elders communed
with powerful spirits. Legend also has it the formation, an eroded throat of
a volcano, was also the site of a fierce battle between the Washoe and


Copyright © 2005 The Reno Gazette-Journal