It was raining on my first climbing trip onto Sandstone, and we didn’t know you’re not allowed to climb on it when it’s wet until Luckily someone at the crag told us.
If those climbers weren’t there to tell us otherwise, we would have climbed on the wet rock and most likely broken some of the climbs, ruining them for the rest of its lifetime.
Can I climb on wet rock? No, you shouldn’t, it massively increases the risk of breaking the Rock and ruining the climb for future generations. There’s a lot of misinformation saying some rocks are ok to climb wet, but this is also not true. You physically could if you wanted to but it would cause irreparable damage to the rock that lasts a lifetime. Sandstone in particular is up to 60% weaker when it’s wet and causes irreversible damage, so while you can you definitely shouldn’t.
What’s included in this post?
- What’s wrong with climbing wet rock?
- Why is sandstone much weaker when wet?
- What about harder rocks like granite?
- How you can tell if it’s okay to climb
- How to Look after sandstone
- How to dry holds
And much more!
If you search this query online you get lots of different answers, while everyone agrees it’s not okay to climb on sandstone when it’s wet, there are mixed opinions on climbing other rock types when they’re wet so I’m going to clear up any misinformation you may have now.
What’s wrong with climbing wet rock?
Climbing certain sedimentary rocks when they’re wet massively increases the likelihood they will break and ruin the climb.
Even harder rocks like granite and grit suffer enhanced abrasion due to the moisture, holding extra grains of rock on your shoes on the surface of the climb will speed up how soon the climbs get trashed.
climbing rocks in these conditions promotes extra abrasion of the features of the rock, and in the case of sandstone holds and whole features of the Rock can entirely break off.
when this happens, you’re not only ruining your session that you have completely ruined that climb for the entire future generations who enjoy that area.
What about harder rocks like granite?
Most people assume it’s only sandstone you must avoid in the wet, and while I am guilty of climbing limestone and granite while there wet, upon retrospect it is very irresponsible.
The wet makes small bits of rock stick to your shoes on the climb you’re wrong, and these act as Ball bearings that get ground between your shoes and the rock under your body weight.
This will slowly rub away the hands and feet of that climb.
Also, drying out holds using chalk creates a slimy chalk paste that doesn’t make the hold any better to climb on and acts as a further abrasive between you and the climb.
when the chalk is absorbed by water it’s able to get very deep into the crevises of the rock and will likely stain it for the foreseeable future.
Why is sandstone so much weaker when wet?
Sandstone is a sedimentary rock, so its formed when lots of tiny rock particles or sand ah compressed together under the earth and heat is applied, allowing all the tiny particles to form the sandstone climbs and boulders we all like to play on.
Sandstone isn’t its continuous solid Rock however, it consists of a harder outer layer less than 10 centimetres thick and less than two in places, with the inside still being partly solidified grains of sand.
This is why sandstone is so porous, it’s made up of tiny little grains of Rock with plenty of space in between them all, and this absorbs water and holds it for a long time.
sandstone affectively acts as a sponge, and This is why it’s used commercially as a water filter.
a good way to describe it is comparing it to a sponge.
A dry sponge has much more structural integrity then it does when it becomes wet, and the same goes for sandstone.
How can I tell if its okay to climb on the rock?
A good rule of thumb is to wait at least 24 hours before you climb on sandstone after it has rained, however this is just a guideline and, in some cases, you must wait much longer because as we mentioned the rock acts as a sponge and can retain water for much longer periods of time.
For really soft or porous rocks like the ‘red rocks’ in America it suggested you wait at least 2 preferably 3 days before you climb on them, to ensure they are dry as there’s been lots of misinformed climbers irreversibly damaging rocks here.
Please make your own judgement when it comes to climbing on Rock after rainfall, just because somebody else is climbing on it doesn’t mean it’s okay or even appropriate.
lots of people got in trouble with the BMC in 2020 because Harrison’s rocks a sandstone crag just below London was packed with climbers when the rock was still damp and lots of holds were broken.
The BMC commented on the issue, asking climbers to no longer use the sandstone venues until the weather gets better.
They mentioned they would have liked to leave it up to individuals to decide when it’s appropriate but lots of those climbers were misled into thinking it’s okay because there was a pack of climbers using it in the damp.
Just because lots of climbers are using it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable, and if you know the rock is too wet to be climbed on please approach the climbers and mentioned this to them, in hopes of preventing further damage to our beautiful sandstone crags.
There are a few key indicators that it’s probably too soon after rainfall to climb:
If the ground is still moist there’s a good chance the rock is also still much too wet because as we mentioned, it easily retains water and if it hasn’t even drained the soil it’s still too soon for you to be pulling on the rocks.
If any of the rock is still wet is obviously much too soon to climb. The rock could be funnelling the water in any number of ways through the rock and the water might be flowing down right into the holds of your climb, so again if any of the rock is wet it’s definitely too soon to think about climbing.
If there is water or dampness in the holes, Cracks and features of the rock it is also too soon to climb. while you’re desired climb might be nowhere near the damp spots it’s an indicator that the rock still hasn’t fully drained and it’s likely much too vulnerable to climb on.
How to Protect the Rock
As climbers and general users of the outdoor spaces we need to make sure we’re respecting the Rock and doing everything we can to minimise the impact we have on it for future generations.
This isn’t just limited to making sure the rock is dry before climbing it there’s also a lot we have to consider for when the rock is dry, like how exactly we go about climbing it.
This rock is so fragile even your brushing can damage the holds, if you do have to brush the holds make sure you’re using a brush with soft fibres to ensure it’s not abrasive to the rock.
Before you results in using a brush please first try blowing the debris off your holds or slapping them with a tee shirt to clean them.
The BMC only recommend using a brush sparingly, and please use them as gently as possible, you don’t need to ‘scrub’ the holds aggressively like you would on an indoor Boulder.
Brushes made for indoor climbing with acrylic fibres are very abrasive and will cause visible damage to the sandstone, eventually wearing through the holds once enough people brush them with firm brushes like these.
While no one really uses them anymore I feel like I might as well mention never use wire brushes as for the same reason these will obviously destroy sandstone.
The BMC also ask us to use chalk as little as possible because it stains the rock, looks unnatural and can become abrasive on sandstone when used in excess.
Drawing sandstone holds with chalk is absolutely not a sensible means of drying the holds for you to climb on them.
The structural integrity of sandstone is compromised when it’s wet you can’t just dry the surface off and expect it to be strong.
Top roping sandstone
Lead climbing on sandstone never happens because the rock is just too soft to offer enough resistance if you were to fall on it, boats would pull out, gear would pull out… it’s just not feasible.
it would totally ruin the Rock and be completely unsafe.
Top roping is allowed on sandstone where there are the proper anchors set up for it, as long as you follow a few major rules to protect the sandstone.
firstly, there can be no moving ropes touching the sandstone.
This means you must run your anchor over the edge of the rock, so the moving rope doesn’t touch the rope at all.
This can be achieved with long slings or lengths of rope going from the anchor at the top, down over the edge, and then using karabiners to secure your top rope to the anchor.
Next you must ensure you have a protective layer protecting the Rock from the ropes and karabiners of your anchor, as any amount of movement while they waited will cause abrasion to the rock.
There are rope protectors available online for exactly this purpose, and if you are serious about climbing sandstone, we recommend investing in one as there’s no better protection you can provide.
If you’re only going once or twice or you are just cheap (like most climbers) you can achieve the same effect using sections of carpet, door mats or even you jumper or backpack if you came unprepared.
There is no substitute for protecting the rock, if the decision is between damaging your jumper or irreversibly damaging the rock and potentially ruining it for everyone else that uses it I, think it’s obvious what decision you have to make.
You must consider the damage your climbing can have on the rock.
Firstly, treat the rock with respect and climb in a manner that demonstrates this, don’t pull too hard or aggressively on the holds as you can genuinely pull them off climbing like this and make sure you’re not treading dirt up the climb.
This is especially important on sandstone because any small bits of dirt that you’re scraping on the rock face as you climb will cause immediate and visible damage to the holds.
No matter the rock type, keep your shoes clean and make sure you’re not treading dirt all over the holds, even if the wear is having is minimal, the dirt ruined the climb for others and further increase abrasion for as long as the dirt and small particles of Rock stay on those holds.
To combat this come to the sandstone crags prepared with another piece of carpet or door mat that you can wipe your climbing shoes on before every climb.
This will minimise the damage you do to the rock and ensures you have a good day out without any guilt or weight on your subconscious from negatively impacting the crag with your visit.
Some bolder pads even have special felt sections sewn on to the top of them specifically for you to clean your climbing shoes on, is even better if you have one of these if you’re going bouldering as you don’t need to carry anything extra and can conveniently wipe your feet before stepping off your Boulder mat.
I recommend the ‘MOON Saturn‘ for this purpose as I know for a fact there are great bouldering pad and have this convenient shoe cleaning section on them.
How to dry holds
Rocks like granite and limestone can be climbed within a day of rainfall because they’re much harder rocks and they dry quicker than sandstone because they’re not porous to the same extent.
The water generally runs straight off these rock types and only need a small amount of time to dry out in the sun and wind.
Granite and limestone can dry much quicker if there’s wind and sun on the rock.
These rocks types, especially granite suffers from seepage where holds my not become dry at all and in this case, it is appropriate to dry the holds so you can climb on them.
- To dry the holds first use a sock or another article of your clothing to absorb as much of the water as possible.
- Then apply chalk to the entire surface area of the hold with that same piece of clothing you’re sacrificing for drying the hold.
- Applying a good layer of chalk to the whole hold allows all the surface moisture to be absorbed by the chalk.
- After leaving the chalk for a couple of minutes, gently brush it off with a soft climbing brush and repeat the process.
- Applying the chalk and brushing it off as many times as necessary until you hold is bone dry.
Please avoid trying to dry the holdout with mountains of loose chalk as this woo just cause some of the chalk to become a liquid ‘sludge’ that will stain the rock and when actually benefit you in drawing the hold.
This chalky sludge actually acts as a really fine abrasive paste that would slowly destroy the holds the same way treading dirt into them will.
Before you go!
I’m urging you all to be respectful and consider the impact you can have on the climbs; it might be disappointing so go home without doing any climbing.
Especially if you had a long drive i would be dissapointed too, but I’m sure you’d be much more disappointed in yourself if you pulled a hold off a climb and ruined it for everyone else.
Once it has happened is obviously irreversible and there’s no way to repair sandstone or replace the hold because the inside is just hard sand basically and won’t hold with glue.
Harder rock types can be repaired to some extent, but this is ugly and by no means an excuse to go ahead and climb on rock that’s wet.
Thanks for reading this, I hope it brought you some value.
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