In Ontario where I live and do most of my climbing the routes are not clearly marked. Guide books also lack clear approaches and thus it just turns into a big guessing game of what route you're on and what grade it is. With a new guidebook for Ontario in the works I was thinking I may approach the authors and suggest we mark the routes more clearly.

I have climbed at crags that have numbers written with what appears like black paint or tar on the rock face; another example is at Muir Valley in Red River Gorge, Kentucky they use engraved coins at the base of each route. Some Spanish crags have a loose rock engraved and placed at the base of the route.

What is the most eco-friendly/sustainable approach to marking routes with the least impact to visual scenery...I personally do not like painted numbers as it ruins the view, the silver coins used in Muir Valley are much less noticeable by hikers.

What are some other ways of marking routes?

I'd like to consider:

  • Initial/Maintenance Costs
  • Visual Impact
  • Environmental Impact
  • Durability
  • For sport routes, the fixed bolts in the rock should be more than sufficient to identify the route. For trad routes, directions to the crag should be more than sufficient, experienced climbers know what route they want to climb just by looking at it.
    – ShemSeger
    Apr 27, 2015 at 15:56
  • @ShemSeger The problem is when a 5.9 climber decks cause he missed the second clip on what was actually a 5.11d, or when you want to go for that redpoint attempt on your .12d but some .10a climber is hang dogging it cause he thought it looked like a .10 or better yet when they do find a half decent climb they throw a top rope up on the anchors and hog it cause they're too scared to climb another route cause they don't know the grades.
    – AM_Hawk
    Apr 29, 2015 at 16:24
  • @ShemSeger I understand where you're coming from but where I am climbing is littered with beginners, taking wrong approaches causing damage to the area, climbing routes they have no reason to be one and people getting injured all because there's no structure or direction. This is greatly impacting our current access and may very well jeopardize future access!
    – AM_Hawk
    Apr 29, 2015 at 16:24
  • Never underestimate the potential of human stupidity, you assume that placing signs will deter a 5.9 climber from attempting an 5.11d? Or that a top rope tough guy won't hang a top rope over any route they want to? The great outdoors isn't a climbing gym, learning how to identify routes from a topo is part of the outdoor experience. One of my favorite aspects of climbing is the community, how a bunch of strangers can meet at a crag and by the end of the day be new friends all climbing together, sharing ropes, projecting routes, talking beta, and making plans to all meet again.
    – ShemSeger
    Apr 29, 2015 at 16:33
  • Instead of setting up signs in an attempt to do traffic control, it would be better to approach people with a friendly smile, "Hey I see you guys are struggling on this one, there's an classic route over there that's much easier. Here, let me show you what the grades of all the routes here are. This topo is great, you can pick it up at that outdoors store in town, or actually here, take my copy, I already know all the routes here." Promote climbing, don't try to police it.
    – ShemSeger
    Apr 29, 2015 at 16:41

2 Answers 2


How about if you just take photos and post them on mountainproject or summitpost, along with verbal descriptions and UTM coordinates? Physically marking the starts of the routes is not compatible with a leave-no-trace ethic.

  • 3
    Even better, draw the line of the route on the photo.
    – requiem
    Aug 13, 2014 at 0:07
  • 4
    This is the general UK approach. Routes are rarely marked here, you have a photo with lines on it. In france they tend to draw lines and arrows all over routes (Well in Fontainbleu they do). But they also use Poff (and eat frogs legs) so who'd pay attention to that :P
    – user2766
    Aug 13, 2014 at 8:05
  • 2
    I Don't want to start a big back and forth here, but how is this question any different than THIS...I can just as easily say to hikers get a map and compass or google earth and draw lines. To me trail signs are just as bad of a "Leave No Trace" breach as a sign with ten climbs and their grades.
    – AM_Hawk
    Aug 13, 2014 at 14:14
  • And yes thecrag.com, summitpost and mountain project are great but not everyone is always as willing to post routes and pics, they are generally very incomplete or dated for the area of Ontario. There is a lot of retro bolting happening and none of the sites, specifically thecrag.com, have been updated so it can get quite confusing real fast when you thought there were 5 bolted lines and you show up to 15 bolted lines.
    – AM_Hawk
    Aug 13, 2014 at 16:18
  • @AM_Hawk: I don't think it is very different from the case of putting up trail signs. If it's public land, or privately owned land that isn't mine, then I wouldn't take it upon myself to put up trail signs. Even when a forest ranger puts up a trail sign in a national park, they're balancing environmental impact against the benefits of having the sign.
    – user2169
    Aug 13, 2014 at 17:23

Muir Valley is a privately owned area, so presumably the coins are acceptable to the retired couple that owns it. Don't know about Ontario, but in the US (the Red River Gorge aside) most climbing areas are owned by federal or state governments who may likely have regulations against physically marking the starts of the routes (this is in addition to any leave-no-trace or environmental concerns). You should probably work with a local climbing groups (who have contact with the land owners) to address this issue, rather than risk alienating the government agencies that control the land.


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