Access Q&A: Gritstone erosion

Posted by Guy Keating on 30/03/2007
Trackside, Curbar. Photo: BMC.

Climbers love a bit of grit. And it doesn’t come any more popular than the bouldering. Locals return time after time to their favourite circuits, and others travel from as far afield as Australia to sample the legendary friction.

The downside is that a number of the best problems, circuits and even whole areas are now showing signs of overuse.

Q. What's happening out there?
A. The BMC has been monitoring a number of popular areas and the evidence is plain to see - ground erosion, broken holds, polished smears, and the insidious practice of “giving it a good brush”. In some cases wire-brushing has even unbelievably extended into hold sculpture.

Q. What's the BMC doing about it?
A. Well, firstly we continually promote the importance of sustainable good practice based around Simon Panton’s original “10 Commandments”. Namely:

  1. No chipping whatsoever.No wire or hard nylon brushing.
  2. Use a soft nylon brush or a cloth very gently.
  3. Use as little chalk as possible, and only use tick marks when absolutely necessary.
  4. Gently brush away any excessive build-up of chalk and any tick marks at the end of your session.
  5. No use of resin (pof).
  6. No blow torching. If you come across a wet hold, dry it gently with a towel, or come back on a windy day when it will have dried out naturally.
  7. No gardening of indigenous vegetation.
  8. Do not leave carpet patches at the crag. Not only are they an eyesore, but they quickly become sodden, and kill off the vegetation that they cover.
  9. Use a bouldering pad to decrease the impact on the base of popular problems.
  10. Do not drop litter at the crag, and take home any that you find.


Q. Bah. Words. Any practical work?
A.
Sure is, the Peak Area volunteers worked with the Park Authority to come up with a solution for the ground erosion occurring below a number of the Stanage Plantation’s problems. This included diverting some standing water and placing fi ne gritstone gravel on patches of the most heavily affected ground. So far the gravel is bedding in nicely and a number of the landings have been significantly improved.

Q. What about damage and polish?
A. Unfortunately, damaged holds are diffi cult to mend and there is currently no viable solution to polish - the net result being that a number of classic test-pieces have become harder over the years.

Q. What about wire brushing damage?
A. Over the past 18 months the BMC has been monitoring the situation at a classic grit bouldering crag, and we have strong evidence that vigorous brushing is still occurring to the point where it could be considered hold sculpture. As most of us know, once the oxidised surface patina of the rock is breached, the newly exposed rock rapidly crumbles to leave ever-expanding, sandy holds. Nice.

Q. How can this be stopped?
A. If you see people wire-brushing then tactfully inform them of the error of their ways. Remember, some climbers may be new to the sport and unaware of the longterm damage they are causing.

Q. Can established damage be addressed?
A. In a word - yes. Over the past 12 months we’ve conducted a small experiment on a set of holds known to have been damaged by wire-brushing and repeated cranking. After photographing the holds in question, we applied a small amount of a French Polish/solvent solution (used so effectively in limiting erosion on Southern Sandstone) to the surface of the holds in question. After the solution permeates into the rock, the solvent evaporates to leave the French Polish entrained within the surface 2-3mm, where it rapidly oxidises to form a hard matrix with the grit particles. We also omitted to treat two holds as an experimental control. As the photo (left) demonstrates, the solution has effectively halted further erosion of the treated holds. Meanwhile the untreated holds showed increases in both diameter and depth.

Q. Any side effects?
A. The holds become slightly darker on application of the solution, but this quickly fades. The treatment also appears to have no discernable effect on either the friction or “crimpyness” of a hold.

Q. Sounds great - what next?
A.
It’s over to you. The historical application of this technology on Southern Sandstone has proved that it can be a long–term solution to the problem of eroding holds, and our experiment has demonstrated it also works for the different geochemistry of grit. With full acknowledgement of the associated environmental sensitivities of the problem (and its potential solution), should climbers be considering the wider application of this technology to other damaged problems?

WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Should we be starting to treat damaged boulders? Send your comments into guy@thebmc.co.uk



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