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Bouldering Etiquette and Respect the Rock | How to Guide

By Dave Westlake

There are very few rules associated with bouldering – that’s one reason we love it so much. But with increasing numbers of pad-carriers hitting the crags it is becoming more and more important to ensure we adhere to a simple ethical code. First and foremost, this serves to protect the rock and the natural environment, and it fits into the wider responsibility of all users of the countryside. Beyond the obvious cardinal sins of leaving litter at the crag and leaving gates open, there are a few other important points of what might be considered bouldering etiquette worth adhering to...

Excess use of chalk and tick marks

It is always worth trying to minimise the use of chalk, and try to brush off as much as possible after your session. Doing this makes the environment a more pleasant place for both climbers and non climbers, since a big chalky mess detracts from the natural beauty of the crags somewhat. This is less of an issue at coastal venues where the tide usually does an excellent job of cleaning up after you leave.

Over brushing/wire brushing

Brushing holds is an essential part of bouldering, but it is important that soft (not wire) brushes are used to avoid any damage to the surface of the rock. Soft nylon or horsehair brushes are the most popular and least abrasive choices for this task, but on delicate rock types even these need to be used gently. It is also worth considering taking a brush on a stick for those out of reach holds, either in the form of a rigid pole, or something extendable, like the Beta Brush Stick. One good suggestion if you are keen to keep the weight down is using an old tent pole – although this will be more flimsy and far less effective than a boulderbrush, it can be transported inside your rucksack. If you go down this route, it is worth tightening the shock cord inside the pole as this will make it as rigid as possible.

Sandstone and damp conditions

Sandstone, gritstone and other sedimentary rock types tend to soak up moisture in damp or wet conditions. As a result, the rock can lose its cohesion and become brittle, loose and generally more prone to erosion. It is therefore important to ensure that boulders of this variety are totally dry before starting your session. Frustrating as it is, having to pass up an opportunity to climb, this is sometimes necessary to ensure the rock is preserved. On less fragile rock types, like limestone, occasional wet holds can often be dried out with the use of a towel or sponge – so it is always worth having a couple of these in your bag if there is any chance of seepage or lingering damp.

Keeping your shoes clean and dry

Drying ShoesDrying ShoesAnyone who has pulled onto a boulder problem with a wet or dirty shoe will be able to testify that such carelessness does no favours for your technique or confidence in foot placements. This one is also important because pressing grit or dirt into the rock will cause what may be irreversible damage. Slipping off suddenly will erode or ‘polish’ the rock in a way that will cause permanent damage, and while an environmental impact is inevitable to some extent much can be done to minimise this. Keeping your shoes clean and dry is pretty easy if you come prepared. Taking an old towel or piece of carpet to wipe and dry your feet is an excellent idea and it also means that the surface of your bouldering mat will stay cleaner for longer.

Excess Noise & Music

Nobody likes loud obnoxious people, and loud screams of success or expletive laden tirades are particularly frowned upon by dog walkers, bird watchers and other climbers out for a quiet afternoon. It is always worth keeping noise to a minimum and being sensitive to others – even if all you hear on climbing videos is the sound of people ‘power’ screaming their way up the latest test piece!

Ideally, there's no real reason to be playing music at a crag - its an entirely different arena to a climbing gym. That said, if you really must, only do so if there's no other people at the crag you are visiting and even then keep the volume to a minimum. The outdoors is somewhere for everyone to enjoy not just you.