Government Shutdown Puts Climbing on Hold in National Parks

posted by dpm on 10/01/2013

Today marks day one of the US government shutdown provoked by Congressional turmoil regarding the affordable healthcare act. In a nutshell, the shutdown sends home all non-essential government employees. Climbers will most likely feel the effect through the closure of our National Parks. Don't show up today to climb El Capitan in celebration of Yosemite's 123rd anniversary. You'll be turned around at the gate just like when the Griswold family finally made it to Wally World and John Candy cheerily informed them, "Sorry folks! Parks closed!"

Artist's rendering of what you might encounter if you attempt to visit a National Park today. Click the image for video.

According to the National Park Service's contingency plan, the shutdown is a two-phase process. Step one, starting today, "includes all activities to notify the public of the closure, secure government records and property, and begin winding down operations to essential activities only." Looking at Yosemite National Park specifically this means that about 21,379 of the Park's 24,645 employees won't be at work today. A little over 3000 excepted employees remain, mostly EMT's, wildland firefighters, and law enforcement officers. Their job is get everyone out of the Park and the contingency plan says they have a day and a half to do it. Phase two is to shut down all concession facilities and visitor services. This is supposed to all happen within four days. Visitors that are currently camping within the park have two days to get out.

What does it mean for climbers? For now, it means you're out of luck if you planned to climb in Yosemite during the prime conditions this month. That also goes for any gated National Park like Rocky Mountain National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Arches National Park, and all the others. Exceptions would be "un-gated" National Parks like DPM's home crag of the New River Gorge. Though managed by the NPS, there are no entrance fees nor gates in front of parking lots so the climbing areas are still open, though, my guess is that you'll find the doors locked on the pit toilets in the parking lots. Law enforcement will still be on hand at all National Parks and all Park regulations still apply. This is not the time to power drill that 13-bolt sport route you always wanted to establish on the overhanging nose of Abraham Lincoln at Mt. Rushmore.

Hopefully, the government can get its act together quickly, agree on a budget, and get our Parks reopened so that climbers can enjoy the prime season. Until then, climbers will have to adjust their plans accordingly.