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Black Mountain Ethics

[Update: After getting feedback from the first version of this post on Black Mountain Ethics, we've rewitten much of it. If you have any thoughts on it, comment!]

In some areas of moral philosophy, there is a distinction between morals and ethics. Morals are universal norms of right and wrong, while ethics concern norms that apply to a particular ethnic, cultural, or social group.

Climbing “ethics” are ethics in this sense: rules and guidelines that apply specifically to members of the climbing community. Even this isn’t quite right, since there isn’t a single, universal climbing community, but rather a bunch of smaller, loosely connected regional communities. For example, chipping is accepted, even lauded, in parts of France, while is is taboo in much of North America.

What are the ethics of climbing at Black Mountain? Over the years, norms have developed around interacting with the space on Black Mountain and the people who sometimes occupy it. Some of these norms are widespread among the climbing community of California, while others are peculiar to this particular mountain.

We don’t believe in telling people what to do. However, there are consequences for all of our actions. Throw a rock up, watch it come down. Throw a rock at a climber, watch them throw it back at you. Throw a rock at a hunter... you get the point.

We don’t see ourselves as the creators of arbitrators of these informal rules. We’ve tried to distill and articulate the norms that already exist. If you violate them, who knows what will happen. There’s no dad among the climbers on the mountain, so you won’t get grounded. However, you may get dirty looks, be socially shamed, ostracized, or ignored. Maybe nothing will happen at all because the norms have changed or we got them wrong to begin with.

We as a community get to decide what kinds of behaviors are appropriate and what kinds are inappropriate. If something bothers you, start a dialogue to find a solution that everyone respects. If that doesn’t work, figure something else out.

Chipping and Gluing

Do not manufacture or reinforce holds at Black Mountain. You will be socially shamed and ostracized by large segments of the SoCal climbing community if you do, guidebook authors included. The ethic at Black is to do establish problems au natural. This is what climbers have been doing for 40 years. Respect it.

There are some areas where chipping is perfectly acceptable. Many of the best routes on the planet are manufactured out of beautiful Spanish limestone. The Riverside Quarry was once a dump, and through the wonders of manufacturing, has been transmogrified into an enjoyable climbing area. If you have a strong desire to play god with climbing holds, that’s fine, go to one of these other areas. But don’t do it at Black.

There is a fine line between cleaning and manufacturing. When you’re establishing a problem, sometimes you have to make a judgment call on whether or not to remove a lose hold. Leave it on, and perhaps the problem will change from person to person; but remove it and there’s no going back, the problem is forever different. We trust climbers putting up new lines to make this call. We don’t, however, condone anyone else from putting metal to the rock in order to clean, regardless of the purity of their intentions.

Recently, the magnificent Howl’s Moving Castle has been vandalize by a “benevolent” climber who took it upon himself to reinforce the holds with heaps of epoxy. To our knowledge, this is now the only glued problem on the mountain, and it has dearly suffered as a result. The glue sticks out, catching your eye and changing the feeling of the holds.

Pooping and Peeing

Don’t pee on the boulders and don’t poop near them. The mountain has a dry climate, and it takes a long time for things (such as your poop and toilet paper) to decompose. For long periods of the year, it simply doesn’t rain, so if you pee on a boulder you’re forcing others to climb through your urine. Nobody wants that.

Oh yea, if you’re in the Boulder Basin Campground, use the bathrooms. They’re the only ones on the mountain. And, don’t burn your toilet paper. Fires are too great a threat to risk it.

Tick Marks

Some people don’t like seeing tickmarks on boulder problems. We don’t particularly care about tick marks, but out of respect for the people with strong opinions, remove your tickmarks when you’re done with them.


The sites in the Boulder Basin Campground are meant for one group each (one car, a picnic table, and a fire pit). The norms governing the free camping in the group sites farther up the road is are a little more nebulous. Usually there is one group in each group site. However, the group sites are quite large, and can accommodate many groups without being overly intrusive.

If you want to stay in a group site but they’re all full, we suggest you say hello to the inhabitants and ask if you could have some space as well. Gifts of firewood or booze often help your case.


As a general rule, we frown upon music at the boulders. It isn’t the we hate music. Our feelings come from wanting to respect the people who don’t want to hear your beats. We’re all living together on this earth, and the least we can do is not to make life harder or more annoying for each other.

If you’re climbing near others, save the music for later. If you’re alone, play it! If you’re rocking out and someone else shows up, kindly ask if they mind the noise and respect their response if they don’t want to hear what your putting down.


Sometimes life happens like this: you go over to some boulders and discover trash left at the base. It could be wrappers, or tape, or a wine bottle. Here’s how it probably went: end of the day, climbing and drinking while watching the sunset, a little buzzed while packing things up, forgot to grab the leftovers.

So take this as a friendly reminder to pack out your trash. Even if you agree, that agreement doesn’t mean much if you aren’t vigilant and double check your mess after you’ve packed everything up.

And if you discover a mess left by someone else, clean it up for them. Someone else has probably done the same for you in a forgetful moment.

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