I've just got back from a day on Southern Sandstone, having been out on it during the last week and I am becoming increasingly concerned at the rate of erosion.
I have known and been climbing on SS for the last 54 years, and can say confidently that the majority of the serious erosion has been occurring over the last 10 years, and this rate is accelerating.
It is particularly noticeable on easy climbs below 5a, but even some of the harder climbs are starting to suffer.
The main reason is the ever increasing numbers of people climbing there, just sheer footfall numbers.
Other reasons include incorrect footwear, particularly amongst beginner groups where trainers often prevail over rock shoes, and dogging (and this doesn't only apply to beginners, but is not uncommon amongst more experienced people tackling climbs which are clearly beyond their capabilities).
There is a Sandstone Code but this is not enforced and often not adhered to.
At this rate we are going to see crags being trashed to the extent that, I guess within 20 years they will be no longer climbable. I'll be too old or dead by then but it is something which should be of concern to all you younger climbers.
What is/are the solution(s)?
The BMC needs to take this situation seriously and come up with initiatives to arrest or at least slow down the damage. The biggest problem is going to be policing the existing Code or any enhanced Code(s) because education doesn't appear to be working.
Suggestions include at a total ban on the use of inappropriate footwear, more awareness amongst climbers generally to comment when they see people dogging a route, and shame them into stopping, and contoversially a ban on group tuition in favour of more one to one tuition which can be better controlled. A total ban on climbing on wet rock. Educate instructors to be more responsible, and if beginners and improvers are clearly struggling or dogging to pull them off the climb altogether until they have mastered better skills either on more durable rock or on an indoor wall. Some beginners will obviously never make good or reasonably competent climbers, and it seems pointless to go on forcing such people to keep on scrabbling when all it achieves is more erosion.
Something needs to be done and enforced, but what, bearing in mind that climbers are fiercely independent and are likely to resist any regimentation or interference of their perceived rights?
Not sure whether I agree with it but I met a guy at Eridge who had impregnated the traverse holds there with resin ~20 years ago. Still have a good edge on them, only bits on that stretch of wall that do. It's a shame to make a natural crag artificial but, as you say, the erosion is getting dramatic
I was suggesting some years ago that a fee be charged at the BMC owned crags and used to fund staff to police the code of practice and at the same time collect the fees.
Ideally, an agreement could be reached with the other landowners (who already charge) for some contribution to the the staff costs in exchange for doing the collection on their behalf to allow these crags to be policed as well.
>> The main reason is the ever increasing numbers of people climbing there, just sheer footfall numbers.
As I understand it at least one major SS venue boasts it's own toilet block, campsite and nice spanking new car park (so's spoilt southern yuppies don't get their Chelsea tractors dirty). Maybe getting rid of each of these as a first step might help.
> >> The main reason is the ever increasing numbers of people climbing there, just sheer footfall numbers.
> and nice spanking new car park (so's spoilt southern yuppies don't get their Chelsea tractors dirty).
You've obviously never seen it!
Joking aside the erosion problem isn't unique to Harrisons, but yes, mimni bus loads of people descending on the crag doesn't help, but removal of the ammeneties is unlkely to change matters. EG Stone Farm, Bulls Hollow, Eridge...
Or make application of surface harders a standard practice. Im not sure if its not allowed now or just not encouraged but its help in some places on SS. Itll be sad when its all too f*cked to climb on, I avoid going back because I dont want to be depressed.
> As I understand it at least one major SS venue boasts it's own toilet block, campsite and nice spanking new car park (so's spoilt southern yuppies don't get their Chelsea tractors dirty). Maybe getting rid of each of these as a first step might help.
> Not sure whether I agree with it but I met a guy at Eridge who had impregnated the traverse holds there with resin ~20 years ago.
Used successfully on some of the much travelled routes in the Elbe sandstone. Doesn´t help a lot with friction slabs turning into stair ladders, but will preserve brittle holds on steeper routes and edges.
Best would probably be to ban toproping and instead introduce a limited number of bolts to avoid damage from removable pro. This will likely trash the easy routes, but the more difficult stuff will hold longer.
Other than that, there is not much you can do. Climbing on weetabix is simply not going to last forever.
Maybe the code needs to be printed clearer on signage and following it stated to be a condition of use of the crag. It seemed to me the issue wasnt use of the crag as such, as you rightly point out the issue is mass misuse. There is no excuse thsse days for not following the sandstone code and so yes anyone seen doing this needs a quiet chat.
I agree that non climbing shoes should be discouraged (group use is particularly a problem here) as well as climbing damp rock - I see far too many people doing this even those that should no better.
Dogging routes is harder and more borderline.
I agree that if the crags had been bolted (and top ropeing discouraged) and the bolts had held (debateable) I think the rock would be in much better nick than it is now (especially if the bolting policy was for fairly spaced bolts).
Would agree that the likes of Harrison's are very eroded. I can imagine many of the horizontal breaks were actually horizontal once upon a time. The rock is fairly soft and SS is the closest climbing to London so I'd say rapid wear is inevitable in spite of the existing code. If the rock were to be properly protected then the only way would be to ban climbing outright. The code is great but it just slows wear.
Erosion is inevitable but there is simply no comparison between a placed weighting of a clean climbing shoe and the grinding in of a dirty trainer (as will often happen with a flailing beginner on too hard a route with inappropriate footwear). The same applies to rope grooves if you compare static rope belays with a crab well over the edge with dynamic ropes in the same belay or worse still weighted climbing ropes running over that edge.
I think the thick slings are the best almost zero stretch and they tend to stay put more than (semi) static ropes do. BTW I've never seen anyone use dynamic ropes for the belay set up, but its more common to see dynamic ropes running over the edge.
> Do you know which bits ? This would put a spanner in my scheme outlined above.
At least Harrison's and Stone Farm according to the RAD. I think the BMC initiated the process in order to guarantee access for perpetuity (regardless of what happens to the BMC, bankruptcy for example).
Banning top roping and introducing well placed bolts (leading only) might well be a way forward.
The only bolts I know of (apart from at the top) are on Temptation at Bowles, but I've never seen anyone lead this?
Lead climb only would certainly concentrate the mind and stop sloppy scrabbley top rope climbing. The rock is too soft for natural protection, but might lend itself to bolting if that helps to preserve it.
> Banning top roping and introducing well placed bolts (leading only) might well be a way forward.
> The only bolts I know of (apart from at the top) are on Temptation at Bowles, but I've never seen anyone lead this?
> Lead climb only would certainly concentrate the mind and stop sloppy scrabbley top rope climbing. The rock is too soft for natural protection, but might lend itself to bolting if that helps to preserve it.
It's debateable if the bolts would hold IMO. There is another bolt on Lee Enfield.
> At least Harrison's and Stone Farm according to the RAD. I think the BMC initiated the process in order to guarantee access for perpetuity (regardless of what happens to the BMC, bankruptcy for example).
and have achieved exactly the opposite. More inspired work by the BMC!
I still think the only real answer is to somehow police the sandstone code but can't see how this could be funded if CROW rules really do prevent charging? CROW guarantees the 'right to roam' surely that doesn't include the right to wreck a potentially valuable resource?
Any lawyers out there ?
Only other measure I can think of is removing the bolt belays?
This might encourage people to buy a static rope & rig properly - or it might backfire.
> It's debateable if the bolts would hold IMO. There is another bolt on Lee Enfield.
I don't really know Southern sandstone, but in Elbe sandstone special bolts are used. They are made from iron, are about 15 cm in length, and are hammered into a bolthole clad with lead to prevent corrosion. Some of these bolts hold for decades.
Across the border on the Czech side, glued bolts are also sometimes used. The hangers look like the triangular bolts used in Frankenjura or France, but the shafts are also longer than there.
In reply to GrahamD: There are also smaller crags, maybe 8m-10m in height, which might be a better comparison. Some of those are protected by a single bolt something like two thirds up. Heidestein west face would be a good example, two parallel routes (plus direct variations, etc.) protected by one bolt each.
And just to add: The abseil route down from Heidestein runs right over one of the two routes, which is therefore also trashed badly by toproping.
In reply to i.munro: It's very difficult, as mentioned some climbers that should be setting a good example will more than happily climb very obviously damp sandstone.
I think the sandstone code should be ammended to include discouraging the use of trainers.
Other than that there is little that can really be done imo, just climbing southern sandstone trashes it. I've climbed on many types of UK sandstone (torridon, grit, stuff around bristol, arbroath, quarries in angus, northumberland, cummingstone, bits and bobs elsewhere). Southern sandstone is by far the softest although bits of cummingstone are bad, its not clear that climbing grit will wear it at anything like the same rate, it's mainly the use of trad gear which seems to be effecting this (although it does polish). At the end of the day no rock is perminent anyway climbing it just increases the rate of the enevitable. It's just very clear that southern sandstone is erroding much much much faster than nearly any other uk rock due to being climbing on and IMO the main reason for that is the poor quality of the rock not the foot fall!
In reply to i.munro: another option would be to blanket paint the climbs in the hardening chemicals, drastic I know but it would probably make them last a lot longer. I seem to remember that some of the more resent new hard climbs this was done to help preserve them, I suspect it makes the rock easier / nicer to climb too!
At the end of the day short of having someone (multiple people) walking up and down the crag and policing behavior on Sundays there will always be a significant minority who don't read (or follow) the sandstone.
I've seen some really crap things in my few years climbing there, such as belaying with the rope running through tree roots and all sorts, and I've always mentioned politely to sort it out, but hey, the rock is a bit shit as people have said previously :
I would rather see an amendment insisting that shoes (of whatever type) be thoroughly cleaned before climbing but as a substantial minority ignore the code anyway ....
Obviously Grit is harder wearing and indeed under less pressure of numbers but damage from exactly the same types of behaviour issues, dirty shoes, inappropriately placed topropes, climbing when wet is becoming clear.
> So not only does no-one have any suggestions but it would seem that few care.
You are right it's called apathy.
It's a dreadful shame that the BMC and others seem to be content to just let the sitution drift. As I said in my OP I am likely to be too old or dead before it becomes a really serious problem to me, but if we don't address this issue now future climbers are going to have lost a priceless asset in the South East. I say priceless because it's all we have here in terms of natural rock and I feel that today's climbers have a duty to preserve as well as to use.
1. SS is the only rock close to London. Population: 8.3 million.
2. Climbing is popular. A lot of people are starting to go to climbing walls. A subset of these move on to start climbing outside.
3. Guess what happens?
As a "resource for all", I don't think limiting access to just the elite (by which I mean, restricting to leading only, etc.) is workable. Adding an expectation of using rock shoes to the CoC would make sense, though.
I think the erosion is unavoidable due to the increasing popularity of climbing, and it's just something we're going to have to live with.
Some erosion is inevitable with climbing agreed. That isn't the point here though it's about selfishness on the part of a large minority.
If 100% of visitors followed the 'code of practice'( assuming it was extended to include something about clean shoes) then I would imagine we could easily get another 100 years of collective enjoyment out of the sandstone.
If the current situation is allowed to continue then I suspect the OPs 20 to be wildly optimistic.
One of the problems is that we no longer have the equivalent of dear old Terry Tullis, who would spend every weekend down at the rocks checking that people were paying regard to the code of practice. Advising and helping people (many of them beginners). It's the code of practice that is being allowed to slip, as i.munro says. But then, this is the 21st century, with huge minorities? of affluent, selfish people marching onwards with their blinkers on (apparently unaware that if they took their blinkers off, they'd find to their horror that they're actually marching backwards.)
> One of the problems is that we no longer have the equivalent of dear old Terry Tullis, who would spend every weekend down at the rocks checking that people were paying regard to the code of practice. Advising and helping people (many of them beginners).
Exactly! Which is why I think the BMC, along with the other landowners, needs to start charging (for the car-parks or something if it's really not possible for the climbing ) to fund someone to do exactly that.
If people can climb the routes in trainers then they can also do so barefoot (or possibly even with socks on?) I often do this on routes 4c and below on SS.
If it could be put across to those taking large groups of beginners (the worst offenders when it comes to footwear) to the rocks that their students should climb in rock shoes or no shoes at all then I think a fair amount of wear can be avoided on the face of the crags at least.
With regards to the top... I don't know much about hardening chemicals... but if it stops rope grooves?
Some of the older UKCers might remember Trevor Panther who was a permanent fixture at Harrisons from the 1950s onwards. He always climbed in bare feet and put up many high grade first ascents. He wrote guides to Harrisons in 1967, 1969, 1970 and finally in 1986.
In reply to Trangia: I was thinking, bowles is maintained. When holds break off or new patches of errosion occur, hardening chemical is applied. The wear is kept in check. Who does this for the BMC owned crags ? - no one I guess. I think BMC should get involved here in some way to help properly maintain harrisons and stone farm, or atleast authorise / encourage certain people to do so.
They should also play a part in alterering the sandstone guidelines regarding climbing in trainers etc.
In reply to CurlyStevo: The BMC owned rocks are Stone Farm and Harrisons Rocks and they are managed by the HRMG (Harrisons Rocks Management Group). Details can be found here: http://www.southernsandstoneclimbs.co.uk/p/hrmg.html
An awful lot of work is carried out by this dedicated team of volunteers as well as the volunteer work from the SVG (Sandstone Volunteers Group) that coordinate with the HRMG regarding work that needs doing, such as the Woodland Management Plan that is currently taking place for the next 20 or so years. The problem is that some of the work is so well done its not noticeable, such as the repair work done at the top of the crags in some areas. Holds are repaired the best they can using special methods that will not detract or destroy the stone. There is always going to be erosion on sandstone and we all do our best to prevent this, but is certainly is not as bad as what is being made out.
The code of practice is something we all need to encourage people to undertake, such as correct footwear, wiping your feet before climbing and good rope set-ups. If everyone has a fully protected set-up at the top of the crag and climbs with care in good conditions then repair work will be massively minimised.
We tend to have a no tooth brush policy on the rock, more for people who do not understand how easy it is to break the surface and damage areas.
Good rock that has sand on it (naturally occurred from rain or running water or just in general) should use a towel to lightly wipe it away or a super-duper soft brush (such as the ones you use for cleaning your car with) for cleaning larger areas, so it moves the sand and nothing else.
Dogging is a point of view but no evidence has come about that I know off damage caused to the rock from resting and continuing to climb. The exceptions to this are those who have poor set-ups. But most people tend to enjoy the pure ground -up approach where possible.
In reference to the bolting of sandstone; Sandstone is sand with a hard coating keeping it held together. Leading on sandstone, bolted or not, would just cause it to explode and cause mega damage. It’s solo or top-rope and nothing else.
It’s real great to see some concerned individuals on here and I would love to see you at an open meeting so you can put forward your concerns and ideas which is sounds like there a few weather they are miss informed or not.
The website www.Southernsandstoneclimbs.co.uk has all the latest information and news on all thing Sandstone and may well answer some of your questions that have been raised to give you a better insight. Also there is a Facebook page that you can ‘like’ where information and items of interest are posted so you can keep in touch.
Regarding the issue of more signage; more is needed and this will be something that will hopefully be addressed in the near future in a different manner hopefully.
In reply to daimon: I climb very regularly on southern sandstone we've probably met atleast in passing if not in conversation (I'm quite chatty ;) ). Stone farm is suffering terribly at the moment and could desperatley do with some repair. When was repair work last done there can i ask?
UK wide most sandstone is not "sand with a hard coating", even on southern sandstone it varies (compare say long layack area or unclimbed wall area rock with the rock on the bottom of cadetes arete or Front Face etc)
Bowles seems better at treating areas that the outer coating has completely gone than at the BMC managed crags. I don't know if they are using a different hardner but it works well and provides a rough stable surface than can be used for smearing even over quite big patches.
> I climb very regularly on southern sandstone we've probably met atleast in passing if not in conversation (I'm quite chatty ;) ). Stone farm is suffering terribly at the moment and could desperatley do with some repair. When was repair work last done there can i ask?
Stone farm is suffering from vandalism more than anything. Kids drawing on the rock with natural chalk which also causes damage. We are looking at replacing some bolts and doing some repair work on the crag at some point soon. Is there a particulate item that you can think of though that we need to look at?
> UK wide most sandstone is not "sand with a hard coating", even on southern sandstone it varies (compare say long layack area or unclimbed wall area rock with the rock on the bottom of cadetes arete or Front Face etc)
> Bowles seems better at treating areas that the outer coating has completely gone than at the BMC managed crags. I don't know if they are using a different hardener but it works well and provides a rough stable surface than can be used for smearing even over quite big patches.
Bowles do an excellent job with repair work and like the HRMG have used various methods with differing results. Also Bowels is south facing and benefits from dryer conditions and good air flow. Harrison's is a much larger crag as you know so again is there a specific item you can think of that needs addressing?
Also here is a kind of over view of work that has been going on, but there has also been other work done by some members of the SVG that has not been reported yet but should hopefully be at some point.
In reply to daimon: At stone farm the start of quite a few of the routes are in bad shape, the base of cat wall is suffering as is the base of front face especially at about 2 meters. The bottom of pinnacle buttress is eroding away quite badly, many of these climbs are just the sandy exposed core now The top of some of the routes at stone farm have some deep rope grooves, I saw one of these explode at the end of last year, can't mind which route now, but there again will just be the core exposed now.
I totally agree that part of the problem is vandalism, put certainly some of it isn't too. I think the stone farm rock does tend to be particularly soft.
Not so sure about harrisons.
Regarding the work carried out, I'm not criticizing and I realize I could have done more myself, but this is ground work and not addressing the state of the rock directly which is what I was specifically talking about. Do you know when hardening chemicals or cement type work was last carried out at stone farm?
It's good to hear that there is a team of people already appointed to look after these matters.
Regarding the composition of southern sandstone, I agree some of it you can dig out with a tea spoon once the skin is gone, but I disagree all of it is consistent and as soft as that, specifically the stuff with more iron in it at the locations I mentioned (and other places) is harder and more consolidated. This stuff tends to polish or wear away at a much slower rate.
> It's a dreadful shame that the BMC and others seem to be content to just let the sitution drift.
Yes I agree. The BMC are the custodians and own this resource (accessible to 8.3 million and future generations), which they're letting fall apart despite the best endeavours of volunteer groups and the HRMG. There's no point in discouraging access, but there's every reason to manage and maintain.
Maybe the BMC should grow into its responsibilities as a crag owner.
Are you volunteering Gordon !? There is another issue that know one has yet mentioned and one I find very annoying is the excessive use of chalk on sandstone, take a look at the popular routes at Bowels or Harrisons and the holds look like they have been covered in white paint. Sandstone is a porous rock which absorbs anything that touches it, the over chalked holds become waxy and soapy and grip is lost, this encourages people to scrub (with tooth brushes or nail brushes)the holds and re apply chalk (I have seen guys rubbing chalk balls on holds...) chalk does not make you a better climber, if you cant make the move then go to the gym, get stronger, then come back and try again ! hanging on a rope attacking the sandstone with scrubbing brushes and chalk is a big problem on southern crags. Have I ever confronted anyone over this ? no...I haven't but I try to lead by example, it is difficult to enforce what is in effect a voluntary code of conduct.
Where is your evidence for this assertion that elsewhere sandstone doesn't always form a hard coating. Ive always been told the exact opposite by experts...that through surtace chemistry, including interaction with things like lichens, all sandstone forms a harder surface layer.
You mis-understood my point. The point was that not even all southern sandstone is just compressed loose sand with a hard coating being the only thing holding it together and away from southern sandstone much of it can be fairly well consolidated rock under the outer crust (although commonly not as hard as the outer crust)
OK (but thats not the way it read) yet even grit, which is pretty hard in the matrix, suffers when climbed damp and/or with heavy traffic and/or with overbrushing...go look at the mess on some problems on the Burb South Valley Boulders, let alone more vulnerable venues like say Kebs. Climbers need to change their ways if we want to preserve the rock as best we can and the softer the rock the more urgent is the need. I'm amazed for instance that in a group of people that generally behave so well (bird bans etc) on the one hand, we have flagrant breaches of the SS code and on the other, people willing to moan here but not quietly challenge bad practice on the rock.