Over the years, climbers in the Basin have developed methods for cleaning boulder problems for climbing and for preserving the rock. When I (Derek) started climbing in the Basin in the late 90s, we would often clean a new climb using a scrubbing brush and a dry towel, and then wait for rain to come so that we could send it with better friction. Our impatience led us to carrying supplies of water and trying out many methods to clean new climbs. To be honest, we were initially driven by trying to maximise friction and sends, and only through the process did we start to recognise how it preserved the texture of the rock. If we kept washing the holds on the projects we were trying, the friction got better and better. If we didn't, progress would stall, and our feet would slide. Even brand new climbs would lose friction quickly without washing.
Washing holds is not a panacea. It has some significant drawbacks, mostly visual. The stark washed surfaces can stand out more than graffiti. Additionally, little is known about the long-term effects. Some climbs, I would speculate, are washed so much they appear to be bleached. However, on foot holds, it has a massive, visible, positive effect. If you wash the rubber off after every session, foot holds retain their magic texture. I have seen this hundreds of times on climbs that only I have tried and tried repeatedly.
How to wash
- Soft bristled brushes (boars hair or a standard toothbrush) - these are for scrubbing off chalk and rubber.
- Harder brushes (plastic bristle dish brush or scrubbing brush) - these are good for removing lichen on new or heavily overgrown climbs.
- Pressure spray bottle. Buy the sturdiest looking one you can, the cheap ones break way too easily. 1.5-2 litres in size.
- Brush on a stick and/or rope for accessing higher holds.
Firstly, dry brush foot holds often, especially during attempts.
When the rubber has visibly built up on the footholds and friction is lost, it is time for a wash.
- Spray with a minimal amount of water
- Brush with a a fine soft toothbrush
- Rinse until clean
- Repeat if necessary
When do I need to wash a climb?
The cleanliness of climbs is a matter of personal preference, much like cleanliness in other areas of life. As you begin to experiment and pay attention to the build-up of rubber and the cleanliness of holds, and learn how it affects friction, you will develop your own standards for cleanliness.
For me, if the holds are visibly covered in rubber or chalk, I wash them. If the problem is very unlikely to be climbed on by someone else in the next few months, I may leave it to the rain. Any holds on golden rock always need cleaning, as they do not catch nearly as much running water from the rain and are prone to polishing very quickly. On climbs where I am struggling to do moves my first tactic is always to re-wash and come back in cooler conditions.
Tips and tricks
- Start at the top so that dirty water does not run down onto cleaned holds.
- Carry extra water. You may be able to fill up from rain water reservoirs but they’re not reliably available and the floaties can clog the sprayer system.
- Adjust the nozzle to save water.
- Wash where your palms lie on the rock too.
Common excuses about not washing.
- Water is heavy.
- My sprayer is broken.
- I forgot.
- Not wanting to leave wet for the next climber.
Recently the number of climbers has increased but so has the uptake of climbers washing climbs. It's common to see seasoned climbers out climbing with spray bottles these days, which is great, but new people are visiting all the time and I encourage everyone to patiently & politely teach others what to do. If you see some climbers without a spray bottle, ask them to let you know when they've finished on the climb so you can wash it for them.
NOTE: These tactics, particularly washing, are Basin-specific. Washing holds on a sandstone crag could be very destructive, so please pay attention to local ethics at other crags around the world.