A 36-year-old climber stood in front of a nearly 5,000-feet-tall rock formation looking to create a new route up when he made a regretful mistake.
Richard Gilbert, a climber from Colorado Springs, was in Moab, Utah, in March, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette. The location is a popular tourist destination home to Arches and Canyonlands national parks. It’s known for its iconic desert landscape and thousands of miles of open land.
The area has a rich history, and some land formations are covered in native rock art. When Gilbert was visiting in March, he created climbing routes by adding bolts to Sunshine Slabs.
Gilbert told The Gazette that he was medically retired from the military and started bolting routes so people with disabilities had better access to climbing. Bolts are small metal pieces that make it easier for some people to make it up the rock.
By adding the bolts, he accidentally damaged 1,000-year-old petroglyphs , Climbing reported. He thought it was graffiti.
At first, Gilbert warned other climbers about the vandalism in the area and asked them not to add more.
“Graffiti-There is a good amount of graffiti on this route,” Gilbert wrote on a user-generated climbing database, according to Climbing. “PLEASE do NOT add to it!”
Weeks later, other climbers found the bolts and reported that they were damaging petroglyphs, Fox 13 reported.
People were appalled that someone would purposefully create a route over the rock drawings and carvings.
“You wouldn’t do that in an art museum, but yet you will in the middle of nowhere.” Darrin Reay, the climber who discovered the bolts, told Fox 13. “There were bolts inches away from petroglyphs, and to climb the route you literally had to step on one that was already crumbling.”
Several climbing groups — Access Fund, American Alpine Club, Friends of Indian Creek, Salt Lake Climbers Alliance and Western Colorado Climbers’ Coalition — also released a joint statement condemning the incident. They said it is crucial that climbers understand petroglyphs’ significance.
“The cultural and spiritual value of these places cannot be measured, and we firmly support efforts to protect them,” the climbing groups said in the joint statement. “We are currently reaching out to our friends and partners in the local and national tribal, climbing, and land management communities to discuss how to best proceed with the current situation and prevent such instances from occurring again.”
Gilbert said he should’ve been more educated, and once he found out what the “graffiti” actually was, he drove back to the site to fill in the bolt holes, according to Outside Magazine.
“It’s wrong. It shouldn’t have happened,” Gilbert told the magazine. “It’s just poor education on my part, and I do take full responsibility.”
He reported the mistake to Bureau of Land Management officials, who are now investigating the incident. It could be a violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, and first-time violators could be fined $20,000 and imprisoned for up to a year, The Associated Press reported.
“Kinda crazy,” Gilbert told The Gazette. “You’re out there making some routes for some disabled guys and young kids, and then you’re sitting in prison.”