Drytooling, Bleach and Gyms: A Week in Canadian Climbing

A few things from Toronto to Squamish that generated online discussions

May 23rd, 2020 by | Posted in News, Profiles |

As climbers leave covid lockdown and return to their sport, a number of things generated online discussions this week, from using chemicals to clean sport routes in Squamish, to a gym reopening in Toronto.

Climbing is currently allowed in most of B.C., Alberta, Quebec and the Maritimes, but Ontario parks and areas are still closed to rock climbing. Non-essential travel is still discouraged and most provinces have said they don’t want residents from other areas in Canada visiting right now.

“Anyone caught climbing could be subject to a fine, and risks threatening access in the long run,” said the Ontario Alliance of Climbers (OAC) about Halton crags Mount Nemo and Rattlesnake. For more on that see here.

Canmore Drytooling

In Canmore, climbers were spotted drytooling at Grassi Lakes, which was met with online criticism by most climbers. New climbers might not be aware, but Grassi Lakes was once a mixed climbing crag in winter. A large TransAlta pipe that runs along the top of the crag leaked water from holes drilled by climbers, which created ice drips over the east side of the canyon.

In an old mixed climbing guidebook, at least eight winter mixed routes were listed at Grassi Lakes on and around the Hermit Wall and Gardeners Wall. The pipe was fixed a decade ago and since then, all drytooling has been discouraged. Drytooling on rock routes to train was once more common because there were no drytool-only areas.

Nearly 20 years ago, top climbers Raphael Slawinski and Ben Firth drytooled classic rock routes on Yamnuska to train for the first winter ascent of The Greenwood/Lock on Mount Temple. In the future, drytool cragging should only be done at designated areas such as The Playground.

Top Rockies guide and rescue specialist Grant Statham on Double Dutch at Grassi Lakes 20 years ago. Photo by legendary climber Joe Josephson

Squamish Chemicals

In Squamish, a climber found a 3.78-litre bottle of 30 Seconds Cleaner, which is a biodegradable cleaner used to remove dirt and mold. The cleaner was found at an undisclosed sport crag and when put online generated a lot of backlash. Using chemical cleaners to rid the rock of unwanted lichen and dirt is an old trick used by climbers. In Squamish, bleached stone can be seen from far away. Squamish cleaning tactics have evolved over the years, but as one comment said: “Sport climbs are like sausages, it’s best not to see them getting made.” 

In the B.C. Access Society’s Best Practice Guide, it states: “Artificial manufacturing (e.g., chipping of holds) and artificially reinforcing (e.g., gluing) of holds is strongly discouraged. The use of bleach or any other chemicals is not permitted by BC Parks as these materials are damaging to the Parks natural resources and ecology. Furthermore, the use of chemicals, as an aid to cleaning routes, is not accepted within the Squamish climbing community.”

Climbers should be aware that most new climbs require extensive cleaning of plants, dirt and loose rock. Rock climbs are best cleaned using brushes that don’t damage the route. While it might take a lot longer, the result is a nicer looking climb that was built minimizing damage to the area.

The post in Squamish’s Facebook climbing group

Toronto Gym

And finally, a climbing gym in Toronto notified members online that it was planning to open on May 23. On Facebook and Instagram, they made the announcement noting that it would be a soft reopening with limited capacity and pre-bookings required.

That generated a lot of mostly-civil commenting on social media, like “I assume memberships won’t be re-started until we visit the gym? Some of us may not feel comfortable climbing indoors yet. Thank you.” and “Long Truong It seems like a lot of people are worried, which is understandable. However, I hope everyone can respect that during these unprecedented times, no decision is easy to make and we’re all just trying to navigate through this the best we can and the way we think is right. Let’s be honest here, even the government doesn’t seem to know exactly what they’re doing…”

The questions raised by the public included ones about whether it was legal for the gym to open. Ontario is in phase one of reopening and no province has yet allowed fitness facilities to reopen. The gym in Toronto might have to wait to open their doors to climbers, but we should find out this weekend.