Climbing Outdoors during COVID-19 - A Guide to Crag Etiquette Article

© Rob Greenwood

As many of us now have the option to climb outdoors - locally at the very least for some - the crags have been busy with climbers of all experiences making the most of fine weather and 'freedom'. Since lockdown eased in England on 13 May and the rest of the UK followed suit to varying degrees, more than 47,000 routes and boulders have been recorded on UKC and over 3,500 of our users have logged climbs. Indoor walls remain shut and many outdoor newbies are taking their first steps on rock. For the rest of us, sessions at the crag will nonetheless feel a bit different and both the environment and other climbers should be treated with respect.

Crag etiquette: there are some basic rules that will help keeps crags clean, enjoyable and safer for everyone.  © Rob Greenwood
Crag etiquette: there are some basic rules that will help keeps crags clean, enjoyable and safer for everyone.
© Rob Greenwood

Over the next few weeks, the BMC will be sharing crag-specific videos to a variety of different crag settings to help educate new climbers about crag ethics.

Here's our more general guide to outdoor climbing etiquette in the COVID-19 era, along with the first of the BMC video series outlining southern sandstone ethics.

COVID-19 specific guidance

  • Stay home if you display symptoms of COVID-19, or if you have been in recent contact with someone else with symptoms
  • Follow the guidelines issued by the BMC, or Mountaineering Scotland
  • Avoid crags with sensitive access issues - check the BMC RAD for crags in England and Wales
  • Avoid popular hotspots (both climbing and tourism hotspots)
  • Wash your hands thoroughly (for 20 seconds) before and after your session
  • Follow government advice on meeting up with other households if you plan to climb with friends
  • Be prepared to turn around if parking spots are full or if the crag looks too busy to enable social distancing (2m minimum)

Southern Sandstone: Harrison's Rocks.  © Daimon Beail
Southern Sandstone: Harrison's Rocks.
© Daimon Beail

  • Toilet facilities, food outlets and carparks may be closed during this time - check and prepare in advance
  • Take hand sanitiser and apply regularly
  • Avoid touching shared surfaces (fence posts, gear, guidebooks etc.)
  • Avoid putting gear or ropes in your mouth
  • Be aware of nesting birds and avoid routes which run near to them (there appear to be more nests present following the strict lockdown period)
  • Consider your post-lockdown fitness and think about scaling down your goals for the time being to minimise risk of an accident and an MRT callout
  • Resist the temptation to fist-bump, high five your friends from other households!

BBC diagram outlining outdoor meet-up rules.  © BBC
BBC diagram outlining outdoor meet-up rules.

General Crag Etiquette for Newcomers (and a reminder for everyone!)

  • If you're new to outdoor climbing, meet with a permitted number of more experienced outdoor climbers - keeping your distance of course!
  • In England and Wales, check the BMC RAD access database for any access issues pertaining to your chosen crag. Some crags are permissive and our access to them relies on respecting the owner's land. Inconsiderate parking, excessive numbers and anti-social behaviour can all threaten access, especially during COVID-19 in remote rural communities
  • Refresh your skills - 'skill fade' is a serious and likely issue after three months of being out of practice
  • Take extra time to check knots, harnesses and belay devices from a safe distance
  • Respect the Rock - Brush off any tick marks or excess chalk. This is unsightly and irritating for other climbers
  • Clean your feet before stepping onto rock (especially at sandstone venues). Abrasive, sandy feet speed up erosion

Brush Sticks aren't just good for brushing holds, they're good for brushing off old tick marks too
© Rob Greenwood - UKC

  • Don't brush sandstone too hard or frequently - it erodes easily. Use a soft brush, or even better, don't brush it at all if you can do without
  • Don't climb wet porous rock (e.g. sandstone)- it makes it more friable and more likely to break
  • Don't 'chip' holds (purposefully damaging them with tools to change their shape)
  • Use bouldering mats to reduce ground erosion
  • Learn how to go to the toilet outdoors responsibly and respectfully
  • Take your litter home with you
  • Keep your gear/dogs/children in order. Don't leave gear sprawled across the crag
  • Absolutely no fires or disposable BBQs. These are problematic in the countryside at the best of times, but after the sunniest spring on record the risk of wildfires is extremely high. Smokers should take extra care to extinguish cigarette butts, too

Hawkcraig rubbish  © Dan Bailey
Hawkcraig rubbish
© Dan Bailey

  • Avoid bird-banned routes (as designated in the RAD) or routes with unreported nesting birds
  • Don't remove quickdraws from climbs - they might be left in by a climber projecting the route, if not in-situ (permanent, maillon-secured quickdraws). They're not 'finders, keepers'!
  • Don't play loud music - it's probably annoying for other climbers, and locals might not appreciate it if in earshot. It also hampers communication between climbers
  • Don't hog routes or leave a top-rope up all day
  • Don't spray beta (information about moves on a climb) - ask the climber if they would like some help first. This can be annoying/ruin an onsight attempt!
  • Keep your voice down - people need to be able to communicate clearly!
  • Be vigilant - watch out for falling rock and large drops. Consider wearing a helmet when at the base of the crag

Watch the first video from the BMC on southern sandstone ethics:

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4 Jun, 2020

I would add dump your sack, and gear up, further from the rock than normal thus making sure others can move between and access routes whilst keeping social distance. Don’t make your ‘base camp’ actually on paths (a surprisingly common occurrence).

4 Jun, 2020

And maybe dump in your sack to avoid littering

4 Jun, 2020
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