Top 5 skills for Southern Sandstone

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 15/05/2015
Stone Farm Rocks - owned by the BMC for climbers and one of several good quality sandstone outcrops in the South East

Live near London and want to climb outside? Unusual, specific skills are required to access, protect and enjoy the capital's nearest real rock climbing areas. The sandstone outcrops on the borders of Kent and East Sussex are softer than virtually any other climbable rock. Here are the top five skills you need to get started.

Southern Sandstone comprises of a thin weathered crust covering lightly compacted sand. Once the crust has been worn away, rapid erosion occurs. Due to the delicate rock, the only styles of climbing you can do here are soloing, bouldering and top-roping - don't use trad gear.

Approaching and moving around the crag

Use the established paths to access and reach the top of crags; step on rock rather than earth where possible and avoid trampling on vegetation. A number of methods can be used to reach the top of isolated pinnacles including soloing if confident, stepping across from above, being belayed across from above using an anchor on the main crag or by using a long rigging rope to extend the moving climbing rope over the edge of the pinnacle for the first climber. Check out Film 5 below for a demonstration of how to access southern sandstone pinnacles.

Don't light barbecues or fires. Don't set up slacklines from climbing anchors.

1 WATCH: How to check anchors on Southern Sandstone on BMC TV

 

How to rig routes on Southern Sandstone

At Bowles, Harrison’s, Stone Farm and Bulls Hollow, belay anchors have been installed at the top of most climbs. Don't thread the climbing rope through these, but set up a non-stretch belay using a rope or sling; making sure the karabiner hangs far enough over the edge of the crag so the climbing rope won't touch the rock.  

If there is no belay anchor, you'll usually have to set up a belay using a tree. Tie the rigging rope round the tree as low as possible to minimise leverage. Obviously don't cut down or prune trees! Some trees are a distance back from the top of the crag, so you'll need a rigging rope of around 12m.

Rigging ropes can made from a length of static rope which can be bought from most good climbing shops by the metre. Putting a rope protector around the knot just above the karabiner helps to protect both the knot and the rock. Carefully position the climbing rope and belay, as any weighted rope moving over the rock will cause permanent damage. 

2 WATCH: How to rig ropes on Southern Sandstone on BMC TV

3 WATCH: Essential gear for Southern Sandstone on BMC TV


Climbing

Top roping and soloing are the only ways to climb here. Don't use any sort of leader protection. If you don't have climbing shoes, wear other soft-soled footwear like lightweight gym shoes, and most importantly clean the soles of your shoes before starting each climb. This prevents loose sand and dirt being carried up the climb by your soles, which will be ground into footholds under your bodyweight and cause unneeded erosion to the rock. Choose a climb that's not too hard for you and try to place your feet carefully.

Moving or stretching ropes should never come into contact with the rock. The sawing action destroys the weathered crust and cuts deep grooves in the top of the crag. Keep chalk to a minimum and avoid cleaning holds, but if you have to, use a cloth to hit the holds and knock off loose sand and chalk. If this still doesnt work, a very soft brush can be used sparingly, but toothbrushes or the like need not apply - they are far too abrasive.

4 WATCH: How to look after Southern Sandstone on BMC TV

 

Descending

When you have finished a climb, don't lower off - walk off. On isolated buttresses which cannot be accessed from above by stepping across from the main crag, all members of a party except the last should down-climb on a slack rope. The last member can either solo down if confident or be belayed by throwing a long rigging rope across the top of the pinnacle from an anchor on the main crag, with a locking carabiner tied to the end and a climbing rope fed through it. The last climber is then belayed down with a slack rope, the clibmnig rope is pulled down and the rigging rope can be retrieved from above once everyone is finished. Check out Film 5 below for more details on this.

Please do not abseil at any Southern Sandstone crag. The top of the crag and the fragile holds on the face will be damaged. In any case, abseiling is not permitted by the owners of Eridge Green, Harrison’s, High Rocks or Stone Farm.

5 WATCH: How to access pinnacles on Southern Sandstone on BMC TV

 

READ: The code of practice before you get started.

READ: the Eridge Rocks Nature Reserve Climbing Guidance 2008.

You may also find the following pages from the BMC Community site useful, which contain information and minutes of meetings for the two key BMC groups in the area:

 

WATCH: A short film by George Sewell, following GB paraclimber Phil Mitchell as he tries his hand on southern sandstone on BMC TV.


 

READ: The secrets behind southern sandstone conservation.

How to get involved:

If you're interested in getting involved in conserving southern sandstone, why not go to the Sandstone Open Meeting on Sunday 17 May 2015 at the Bowles Outdoors Centre, East Sussex.

READ: The code of practice before you get started.

READ: the Eridge Rocks Nature Reserve Climbing Guidance 2008.

You may also find the following pages from the BMC Community site useful, which contain information and minutes of meetings for the two key BMC groups in the area:



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