Avoiding Erosion on the Southern Sandstone

If you're thinking of heading out on the popular area of the Southern Sandstone in South England this year, then it's worth taking a few minutes to read how to set up your toprope.

The damage ropes can do to the sandstone rock.  © Emma Harrington
The damage ropes can do to the sandstone rock.
© Emma Harrington
The sandstone rock is very delicate, having a thin surface patina protecting the softer underlying rock. As soon as this thin crust is worn away you are left with soft sand which wears easily and is sandy and almost un-climbable.

So how do I set up for Sandstone?

The aim is to minimise damage to the rock. As the rock is so soft leading and placing gear is not allowed, which leaves toproping or soloing..

The main points to remember when setting up your top rope:

  1. You must avoid the moving rope coming into contact with the rock, to avoid the rope cutting in to the rock. Rig with a long sling or static rope extended over the cliff edge to ensure the carabiner and moving toprope are hanging away from the rock.
  2. Rigging with a low-stretch rope (static or abseil rope) or sling also minimises risk of erosion.
  3. Using a piece of carpet at the top of the rock under the sling also minimises the risk of cutting into the rock.
  4. Never use wire or hard brushes to clean the rock. This will also wear away the fragile rock surface. Use something like a soft towel to flick the rock only if necessary.
  5. Never abseil down the rock as this will also damage the rock. When finished climbing just walk off, do not lower back down.
An example of a good set up. The karabiner and rope hang over the edge of the rock.   © Emma Harrington
An example of a good set up. The karabiner and rope hang over the edge of the rock.
© Emma Harrington
An example of a bad set up. The ropes are cutting into the rock.  © Emma Harrington
An example of a bad set up. The ropes are cutting into the rock.
© Emma Harrington

Visitors please remember to never take it personally if you are challenged by another climber about your set up. They are only trying to protect the rock for future climbers to enjoy. Please respect the code.

Locals - if challenging someone about an incorrect set up then please remember to make sure you do so in a diplomatic way. If you speak to them in an effective calm and friendly way, then you are more likely to receive an effective outcome in return.


More information BMC Guidelines

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29 Apr, 2013
I know the article is about ropes, but mentioning clean shoes wouldn't come amiss either.
29 Apr, 2013
//www.horolezeckametodika.cz/horolezectvi/ochrana-prirody/horolezectvi-a-ochrana-prirody
29 Apr, 2013
you can't use protection on this Sandstone Michal, the rock isn't hard enough. Thats why people top rope it.
29 Apr, 2013
//www.thebmc.co.uk/southern-sandstone-guidelines Yes I agree to have clean shoes before climbing; it helps the rock as well as the person climbing it. Also we could go on to talk about don’t graffiti on the rock, don’t leave bits of carpet at the base of the crag, don’t litter, don’t chip the rock etc etc. Maybe you can contact the BMC to suggest the Code of Practice be reviewed or amended for the future. But we need to be careful,as too many rules and unfortunately people won’t bother reading.
29 Apr, 2013
I am sorry, but I have to disagree. I have never climbed on sandstone in the UK. Nevertheless the rock seem s not to differ from my the rock here (Czech Republic). We dont use any protection made of metal (friends, nuts...) but only peaces of ropes and slings. This kind of protection works realy goon even on soft sandstone. But I think that the point is not in whats possible and what isnt. It is more in the ethics of the particular crag. Whereas top roping is mostly forbidden here, it is well accepted in the UK. Therefore I dont see any reason (as I mentioned) to ban top roping on sandstone. Tahts why precise rules are needed to protect your rock.
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