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"Sanitising" climbing

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At the recent BMC SW area meeting, the issue of the unneccessary removal of loose rock was raised. The suggestion was made that people were taking crowbars to remove rattle chockstones or prise off slightly loose flakes that were fine to pull down on. The thought was that people who had previously only climbed indoors were trying to sanitise the crags to make them "safe". Some examples in the south west were given. I was wondering just how widespread this is and what peoples thoughts on this are.

Personally, climbing as much as I do on the Culm, I feel that some loose rock is part of the character of the climb and something we need to learn to deal with. If all the loose were removed from Wreckers' Slab (VS 4b) there'd be nothing left!

Post edited at 10:07
7
 The Pylon King 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

What gets me is (sport) climbers complaining about holds being 'dusty'. Especially when its in some old quarry. These must surely be people who have only ever climbed indoors and maybe just somewhere like Kalimnos?

Post edited at 10:15
22
In reply to The Pylon King:

> What gets me is (sport) climbers complaining about holds being 'dusty'. 

Who has complained about this? Some spots are just more dusty than others, so you might say "don't think I'll go back there as everything was covered in dust/sand/moss/etc." but I don't think I've heard people complaining for example here on UKC or on FB climbing groups...

 The Pylon King 29 Apr 2022
In reply to TobyA:

Logbook entries.

7
 Andy Gamisou 29 Apr 2022
In reply to The Pylon King:

> What gets me is (sport) climbers complaining about holds being 'dusty'. Especially when its in some old quarry. These must surely be people who have only ever climbed indoors and maybe just somewhere like Kalimnos?

What a load of unsubstantiated toss.  And it's spelt "Kalymnos".

38
 Ramblin dave 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

> The suggestion was made that people were taking crowbars to remove rattle chockstones or prise off slightly loose flakes that were fine to pull down on. The thought was that people who had previously only climbed indoors were trying to sanitise the crags to make them "safe". Some examples in the south west were given.

To be clear, when you say "the suggestion" and "the thought", are we talking about actual evidence - like, has someone encountered several different groups of people engaged in this sort of overenthusiastic cleaning and talked to them about what they're doing and why and found that they were all indoor climbers who thought the crags needed to be made safe - or is it literally just suggestions and thoughts?

Post edited at 11:25
 Andy Gamisou 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Ramblin dave:

> To be clear, when you say "the suggestion" and "the thought", are we talking about actual evidence - like, has someone encountered several different groups of people engaged in this sort of overenthusiastic cleaning and talked to them about what they're doing and why and found that they were all indoor climbers who thought the crags needed to be made safe - or is it literally just suggestions and thoughts?

My thoughts are that if they're all indoor climbers then they're unlikely to be outside. 

1
 Ramblin dave 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Andy Gamisou:

> My thoughts are that if they're all indoor climbers then they're unlikely to be outside. 

I was thinking that most of the namby-pamby latte-sipping indoor climbers I know seem unlikely to own anything as rugged and practical as a crowbar...

2
 Trangia 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

I agree, dealing with loose rock, dodgy holds, dust, lichen etc is all part of the experience and character of climbing, and has been since Haskett Smith's days. It's something climbers need to learn to cope with through experience, so safe removal of loose debris seems fine, but actually prising off potentially "unsafe" flakes and the like is more of a grey area, and in many cases unnecessary. In the 1960s coping with the rocking chockstone in the crack of Lower Scout Crag Slab (Severe) was part of the character of the climb which we all learnt to deal with over the years. I was last there about 5 years ago and it had gone. I don't when that happened or whether it came away naturally or was it "helped"?

The discussion regarding the sanitising of climbing can be extended to the installation of fixed ropes or artificial steps on descent routes - not really necessary, when it's perfectly possible o down climb or ab. The descent route from Idwal Slabs is a prime example. It is just not necessary to interfere with the existing natural descent, and if you have been able to lead the climbs on the Slabs, then you should be perfectly capable of down climbing or abbing this.  If not you might question whether you should be there in the first place, rather than try to sanitise the moves.

6
 Maggot 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

How would these poor souls manage in the Alps? 🤣🤣

1
 Ian W 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Maggot:

> How would these poor souls manage in the Alps? 🤣🤣

They'd be absolutely fine; plenty of indoor climbing available......

https://www.chamonix.net/english/mountaineering/rock-climbing/wall-climbing

Simple... we just need to get a wide arm-bar width-ed offwidth featuring a rotating chockstone added to every climbing wall. Maybe one of the climbing wall bogs can be specially plumbed so the cistern overflows a little and drips down the back of offwidth. This all should be added as an update to the middle section of the official Olympic speedwall if you ask me. Then nobody will bat an eyelid if they stray outdoors.

2
 Ian W 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

> The thought was that people who had previously only climbed indoors were trying to sanitise the crags to make them "safe". Some examples in the south west were given. I was wondering just how widespread this is and what peoples thoughts on this are.

Far more likely to be members of the outdoor industry worried about clients getting injured, and the insurance and reputational consequences. Indoor climbers are usually underequipped for outdoor stuff, never mind taking crowbars and lump hammers.

3
 Tony Buckley 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

Learning to deal with loose rock, dust, damp, protection that's less than ideal, exposure and much else should be part of every outdoor climber's apprenticeship.  For that reason, I'm against making crags as stable as climbing walls.  

You have to learn to manage risk.  The biggest change needed is in your own head.

T.

6
 henwardian 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

I tend to use a claw hammer and wire brush when cleaning a new route. Originally I'd take a small crowbar too but it was only really useful for the odd spot where you couldn't get the claw of the hammer in because of the angle; the hammer alone had plenty enough leverage. Personally I tend to prise most things off because a) just because I pull down on it doesn't mean someone else won't pull out on it b) freeze-thaw cycles mean that if it's loose or has hairline cracks all around, then it could easily become dangerous 5 or 10 years down the line when the route gets a second ascent c) I've had first-hand experiences of pulling and snapping things off many times and I don't like it very much d) When the block is large (say 20kg to 2000kg), if it were to ever come off, it'd be likely to seriously injure or kill someone and I'd rather not have that on my conscience (someone told me a year or so back that they'd pulled a big block off one of my routes and got hurt and I felt guilty about that).

I know another new-router in N Scotland who similarly cleans new routes using a crowbar.

So I don't think that cleaning things this way is particularly uncommon for new routes.

When it comes to established routes, I think it's relatively rare that I do much cleaning and I can't remember taking a crowbar to one. Clearly there are times though when weathering results in serious objective danger which local people will deal with.

It sounds like the people at your BMC meeting are taking the process a bit too far though tbh. I'd say that a crowbar or other leverage device has its place but that breaking something off that is perfectly safe and been there for a long time through many repeats isn't something that should be being done. But that rather makes it come down to a judgement decision and ofc everyone has their own different judgement... 

So I present to you neither solutions nor clear agreement with one side of the debate over the other

2
 Dogwatch 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

> Personally, climbing as much as I do on the Culm, I feel that some loose rock is part of the character of the climb and something we need to learn to deal with. If all the loose were removed from Wreckers' Slab (VS 4b) there'd be nothing left!

Wreckers' Slab is a bit of a special case and one might hope anyone climbing it understands that.

I've lobbed loose rocks off routes in Swanage to lessen the chances of another climber inadvertently dropping a kilo of limestone on their belayer's head. Rock just lying there, no crowbar required. AFAIK from conversations with locals, to do so within reason on otherwise sound routes is standard operating practice. Obviously, you need to be sure there isn't anyone in the firing line. I don't think to do so is "sanitising", I think it's a bit of consideration to other climbers.

Post edited at 12:59
1
 wbo2 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball: It sounds like some people need to actually go out and do some climbing rather than thinking, wondering and passing judgement on what other people get up to.

2
 Jamie Wakeham 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Andy Gamisou:

To be fair, it's spelled Κάλυμνος.

1
In reply to The Pylon King:

> Logbook entries.

More a comment than a complaint? I might put in the logbook that a route is a bit rubbish - from one I climbed last week: "Led onsight as far as the last bolt, but lots is dangerously loose and I couldn't work out at all how to get to the chains at 6a." That's not a complaint, it's just a statement of fact.

 DerwentDiluted 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

I'd love to see someone 'sanitising'  Charnwood Quarry.  

They'd get down to Magma.

In reply to Ramblin dave:

> To be clear, when you say "the suggestion" and "the thought", are we talking about actual evidence

To be clear, one of the participants in last Monday's BMC SW area meeting (which I was chairing) raised this as a concern in AOB. He has seen evidence of what he considers overenthusiastic / unnecessary cleaning on routes in the Wye Valley and Avon Gorge. The suggestion, that it was indoor climbers moving outdoors responsible for this, is speculation. The question is, is this more widespread nationally and if so what (if anything) should be done to discourage such activity? 

 AJM 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

The idea that it's climbers fresh from the indoors who are getting out there (presumably) abbing down routes with their crowbars to clean them seems pretty far fetched to me. 

Are we talking about existing or new routes, do you know?

 Brown 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

In my opinion it's far more likely to be the older gent / recent retiree crowd who also seem to be heavily involved in bolting low grade, low quality sport routes.

6
In reply to Brown:

Is this thread for ill informed speculation about unknown climbers doing undefined actions on unspecified routes? If so, I totally reckon that….

 AJM 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Brown:

That's certainly a group who'd be more familiar with the practicalities of cleaning routes, given that in the areas in question there's probably a degree of excavation required to get to the finished product...

In reply to AJM:

It is existing routes not new ones. 

 The Pylon King 29 Apr 2022
In reply to TobyA:

> That's not a complaint, it's just a statement of fact.

Ok so maybe not a complaint but certainly not a fact, its your opinion. Someone else may think it is not dangerously loose and easy for 6a. But yes I know what you are getting at.

Post edited at 15:22
4
 Brown 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

But once you start to view routes as products, and think they should be safe products, any suspicious blocks become a issue to be solved.

Not just on the tottering choss pile destined to become a popular low grade sport venue but on all crags.

I can't see the newbe indoor outdoor climber abseiling down a cliff with a crowbar. Rather someone (with lots of time) who has honed their crowbar skills bolting quarried limestone and become fired up in a misguided belief that they are contributing to society.

2
 C Witter 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

There have been posts on here before along the lines of "can someone tell MRT that there's a loose block at the top of X Lake District crag". It's hard to draw clear guidelines, but some of these did strike me as overzealous. Nothing to suggest, though, that indoor climbers were the ones requesting this, although definitely a little naive in some cases.

1
 mrphilipoldham 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Ian W:

That explains why I once observed a guide and his two clients trying to remove a very well keyed in flake from a crack at the top of Bicycle Repair Man (E1 5b) (or there abouts, memory is hazy) for the best part of an hour before finally giving up.. but not without having dislodged a load of mud and dust down on the route below. 

1
 mike barnard 29 Apr 2022
In reply to henwardian:

> 5 or 10 years down the line when the route gets a second ascent >

I see you're an optimist

 Jonathan Emett 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

Crowbars are rubbish for prising off loose rock. An ice axe is much better; lighter and more leverage. Amateurs!

 Mick Ward 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Brown:

> But once you start to view routes as products, and think they should be safe products, any suspicious blocks become a issue to be solved.

Agree. 

> I can't see the newbe indoor outdoor climber abseiling down a cliff with a crowbar.

Also agree. 

> Rather someone (with lots of time) who has honed their crowbar skills bolting quarried limestone and become fired up in a misguided belief that they are contributing to society.

But surely if the end result is 'a popular low grade sport venue', they are contributing to society (albeit perhaps not in a way which you would endorse)? 

Oddly enough  have spent this morning writing about routes as products (have mixed emotions about this) and this afternoon strenuously wielding a crowbar (sorry, Jonathan) on an aforesaid 'product'. 

Clearly guilty as sin! 

Mick 

1
 henwardian 29 Apr 2022
In reply to mike barnard:

> I see you're an optimist

I am! There are obviously routes that _will_ probably never be repeated and most certainly _should_ never be repeated! (discordant cacophony comes to mind). But for a couple of the ones I've put up on better-known crags, I keep hoping to see someone doing them and leaving a comment on UKClogbooks. It kills me when someone logs one and gives absolutely no comment or grade feedback at all

 wbo2 29 Apr 2022
In reply to Brown:

> But once you start to view routes as products, and think they should be safe products, any suspicious blocks become a issue to be solved.

> Not just on the tottering choss pile destined to become a popular low grade sport venue but on all crags.

Pure speculation - I imagine that the people bolting new routes are well aware of the difference between a limestone quarry and wreckers slab, and that different rules apply.

'How would these poor souls manage in the Alps? 🤣🤣'  They're not in the alps so it doesn't matter.  You may as well go to Ceuse, and complain about the lack of ice climbing

This whole thread is trolling

2
In reply to wbo2:

> This whole thread is trolling

I certainly am not trolling. This is a serious question raised at a BMC area meeting. Are established routes (not new routes) being being over enthusiastically cleaned / improved / made safe. If so where is this happening (apart from the SW) who's doing the "improvement" what do climbers as a whole think of this and wha, if anything should we do about it?

 leland stamper 30 Apr 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

I have come across a group of respected climbers using a caterpillar tracked excavator to "descale" a lovely limestone slab with established routes in a quarry near me(so still in the SW). They said it was OK as they'd checked with the owner. They then bolted some indoor holds on to the slab to "make it climbable" for their clients. Does the BMC have a rule about this sort of thing?

Post edited at 00:04
In reply to leland stamper:

The BMC does not have “rules” as such, we try to have agreements as to what is acceptable, and try to convince the bunch of anarchists that are climbers to stick to the agreements. 

Is your example of the digger and bolt on holds for real? That is well  beyond what most people would consider acceptable!

In reply to leland stamper:

Name and shame, please. If ‘respected climbers’ are doing this they need to be unrespected as soon as possible. Assuming your post was serious, that is.

jcm

1
In reply to Tyler:

> Is this thread for ill informed speculation about unknown climbers doing undefined actions on unspecified routes? If so, I totally reckon that….

It's vague news par excellence

In reply to Mark Kemball:

> I certainly am not trolling. This is a serious question raised at a BMC area meeting. Are established routes (not new routes) being being over enthusiastically cleaned / improved / made safe. If so where is this happening (apart from the SW) who's doing the "improvement" what do climbers as a whole think of this and wha, if anything should we do about it?

I don't think he means your the troll, but rather you have been trolled into posting about this.

> Is your example of the digger and bolt on holds for real?

Although a side conversation to the main thread, yes this has happened, and it wasn't the first time the organisation has done something like this.

 Fruit 30 Apr 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

I’ve always considered climbing as a pointlessly dangerous pastime.
 

There does seem to be a proliferation of the idea that it should be made safe (and convenient) such as the growing number of fixed anchors and abseil points where they are not needed.

1
 leland stamper 30 Apr 2022
In reply to johncoxmysteriously:

It's real and as Mr Claw pointed out the climbers and organisation have form. As Mark says it is very difficult to get climbers to follow "agreements". Very few have anything to do with the BMC apart from insurance.

Old limestone quarries are not Stanage and not every pebble needs to be venerated. For most of us it's just another bit of industrial wasteland.

In reply to Mick Ward:

Mick, I hear great things about your ‘popular low grade sport product’, and am going to make the effort to sample said product this summer.

 jimtitt 30 Apr 2022
In reply to paul__in_sheffield:

"Low grade" or "low graded"? I've done both

 Mick Ward 30 Apr 2022
In reply to paul__in_sheffield:

Paul, I honestly wouldn't rush! Come down for Pete Oxley's routes, not mine. He did some real stunners. I'm just rummaging amid the muck, looking for the proverbial brass. 

Having said that, to be somewhere like Wallsend on a sunny evening, with the sea crashing in below, a mile of crag... it feels special.  

Mick

In reply to jimtitt:

Low grade or low graded? Yes!

 Jonathan Emett 30 Apr 2022
In reply to paul__in_sheffield:

Well if noone else wants to use 'popular low grade sport product' as a route name, I'm having it

In reply to Jonathan Emett:

Actually, that is a really good name

 ianstevens 30 Apr 2022
In reply to Andy Gamisou:

> What a load of unsubstantiated toss.  And it's spelt "Kalymnos".

Yup, strong “old man shouts at cloud” energy about this

1
 leland stamper 30 Apr 2022
In reply to ianstevens:

As an old man what exactly does this mean? 

 PaulJepson 30 Apr 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

> The suggestion, that it was indoor climbers moving outdoors responsible for this, is speculation. 

When I first started climbing outside, I pulled on anything and everything without giving it a second thought. They were the 'grips' on the routes, and they were getting used. It's only after you have pulled a few things off and taken the wangers that you start to think about loose rock. It's more likely to be people with experience 'cleaning' the routes. 

1
 The Pylon King 30 Apr 2022
In reply to ianstevens:

> Yup, strong “old man shouts at cloud” energy about this

Or maybe some strong "lets dig up some potatoes and pretend we are farmers" energy?

Post edited at 22:34
5
 top cat 01 May 2022

I had an 8m ground fall a few years back due to a hold coming off.

Six spinal fractures, four weeks in hospital, a further eight in a body brace.

I don't believe that climbing should be sanitised in any way.  The OP is correct: we just need to learn to cope with these natural hazards.

I spent two years on Culm in the mid 80's, have climbed in the Alps and still dabble at winter mixed so have 'done my time' in this regard.

3
 mattsccm 01 May 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

Meh. People have been doing it for years. Its just getting worse. Did you know that some real wimps have been slapping bolts in perfectly good rock?  Just as reprehensible to me. If you can't cope with whats there go away maybe?

13
 Andy Moles 02 May 2022
In reply to Tyler:

> Is this thread for ill informed speculation about unknown climbers doing undefined actions on unspecified routes? If so, I totally reckon that….

I totally reckon you're right.

Removal of rock covers a wide spectrum, from trundling a loose block that could easily kill someone at a busy venue, to prising off a slightly rattly hold unnecessarily.

In the former case, try telling the parent of someone who's in a coma because someone else pulled a block off "Yeah we knew that was loose, but we felt it was important not to 'sanitise' the crag."

There is also a difference between crags that are intrinsically and obviously adventurous and those where loose rock is not expected (which is why you see threads announcing loose blocks at Stanage but not, funnily enough, at Craig Dorys).

Without knowing the specific cases that are being referred to, this thread is just an invitation to indulge prejudices. 

But to answer the OPs question, it's not something I've heard many complaints about. There was some hooha about a piece of gear being revealed by a small flake removal on Primal Scream, but that was years ago.

Post edited at 07:19
1
In reply to Mark Kemball:

Didn't the rocky block, that had always been there, on Moyer's Buttress, get toppled by someone who thought it needed to go?

 deepsoup 03 May 2022
In reply to DubyaJamesDubya:

It did. And it almost certainly didn't. (Need to go, that is.)

Post edited at 06:58
 Arms Cliff 03 May 2022
In reply to top cat:

> I spent two years on Culm in the mid 80's,

Did you get stuck for so long because of the loose rock? 

 Ceiriog Chris 03 May 2022
In reply to johncoxmysteriously:

Yes, got to put my hand up for this one, I had a client who particularly wanted to do a slab climb (as he'd seen a photo of the devils slide), so it was the only way really 

 kevin stephens 03 May 2022
In reply to Mark Kemball:

The premise of this thread is bonkers. Many crags are relatively solid and known for this, eg Tremadog where it has been acceptable to remove the odd block that has become unstable.  Other crags such as Culm coast or even Cloggy West Buttess are known for loose holds. Any attempt to “sanitise” these crags by removing the loose holds will be ineffective and pointless because there will simply be more loose holds underneath.

 Andy Moles 03 May 2022
In reply to kevin stephens:

> Any attempt to “sanitise” these crags by removing the loose holds will be ineffective and pointless because there will simply be more loose holds underneath.

I think that's not the case for all rock types. My experience of developing routes on coastal dolerite for example is that often, the loose stuff comes off copiously and very easily, but what's left is bomber. Of course there's still the possibility that removing a creaky bit will leave a route unprotected or unclimbable...

 kevin stephens 03 May 2022
In reply to Andy Moles: That’s totally different for establishing new climbs; I’ve done some myself. The thread is about established routes 

 Andy Moles 03 May 2022
In reply to kevin stephens:

Yep fair enough.

Though I imagine a lot of people don't  realise sometimes just how much loose stuff was initially removed from now established classics. In cases where the FA was less thorough in their cleaning, the remaining looseness could become accepted as part of the 'character' of a route, where if it was all removed to begin with no one would be any the wiser. 

I'm speaking speculatively here, again without knowing the routes that gave rise to the debate.

 top cat 03 May 2022
In reply to Arms Cliff:

> Did you get stuck for so long because of the loose rock? 

Nah, climbing fast was the only way to get up.  Any hesitation in a hold was out of the question.  Often the holds were very good, but you had to put them back in place after you'd used them for your second to use

 The Pylon King 03 May 2022
In reply to Andy Moles:

> Yep fair enough.

> Though I imagine a lot of people don't  realise sometimes just how much loose stuff was initially removed from now established classics. In cases where the FA was less thorough in their cleaning, the remaining looseness could become accepted as part of the 'character' of a route, where if it was all removed to begin with no one would be any the wiser. 

> I'm speaking speculatively here, again without knowing the routes that gave rise to the debate.

Spot on!

 Albion 08 May 2022
In reply to Mark. Obssessive compulsive  crag claeaning disorder seems to be at play here. This seems to afflict some climbers when they get bored with their lives. They then take it upon themselves to transform and any bit of rock that they deem to be overgrown with vegetation or containing loose rock. And this process if sanitisation often strips away the character of a place. A perfect example of this is Pexhill Quarry, which has been turned into something akin to an outdoor climbing wall. Dym synnwyr o le.

1

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