As rock climbing continues to grow in popularity, so do concerns about the environmental impacts of the sport. Despite the relatively small footprint, the damaging effects of climbing are raising questions, especially when it comes to an essential piece of gear: chalk.
Introduced to the sport back in the 1950’s by John Gill, climbing chalk is the same substance that gymnasts and weightlifters use to improve their grip. Made from magnesium carbonate, climbers have come to rely on chalk’s friction-inducing properties…leaving evidence of it on rock faces around the world.
The appearance of chalk has become so bad in areas of the United States that parks are beginning to restrict or ban its use. Arches National Park allows only colored chalk that matches the rock, while Garden of the Gods national natural landmark has banned all chalk and chalk substitutes.
Many crags that climbers flock to are also major tourist attractions. By limiting or banning chalk use, the parks are eliminating the visual pollution it is leaving behind, allowing visitors to enjoy pristine views.
Seeing the breadcrumb trail of chalk up the rock is not the only concern. New research has suggested that chalk can have a chemical effect on rock-dwelling species of plants. Climbing chalk was found to alter the pH and nutrient conditions on rocks, leading to issues with germination and survival of certain ferns and mosses.
With the rise in the number of climbers, there are certain steps we can take to help lessen our impact on the environment when it comes to chalk.
• Use less chalk: This is one of the most obvious but probably the most difficult improvements to make. Chalking up is habitual for many people, especially if your hands tend to be more sweaty or if it’s part of your rest routine. Next time you are climbing, instead of going for a dip in your chalk bag, try wiping your hands on your pants before making the next move.
• Use liquid chalk: Using liquid chalk does not completely eliminate the use of chalk, but it will help cut down on what is left behind on the rock. Liquid chalk is a great alternative because it is a fast drying cream instead of a powder. We love Friction Labs Secret Stuff, which is also available in ultra hygienic and alcohol-free versions.
• Wipe down the route: Climbing chalk is not water soluble, so we cannot rely on the rain to wash away our chalk masterpiece on the wall. If you are able to, when you are done climbing you can wipe down or brush off chalk or tick marks you may have left behind. When brushing, use a soft brush in order to not create any additional damage to the rock.
As rock climbing continues to grow in popularity, we all need to take steps to reduce our footprint—and our handprint. Check out our previous blog about how we can give back to the climbing community and do our part in maintaining access to our country’s crags.
Featured Climbing Training Gear
*NEW* The Rocketeer Wall: our free-standing adjustable solution for those who can’t mount a hangboard anywhere in their home or apartment—or who are limited on space. The Rocketeer gives climbers the additional option to set specific climbing holds. Recreate the crux holds of your proj and get ready to send, bruh.
The Rocket Wall: Available in 6’ and 8’ widths, it’s been tough for us to keep up with the demand for this innovative home climbing wall solution. Slightly overhanging, the Rocket Wall is big enough to set routes on, or to build a systems board.
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