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Tips for Sandstone Bouldering with Steve McClure

The top climber gives tips for climbing on fragile rock

Northumberland i a popular place to climb. The crags are made from Northumberland sandstone and the rock can vary from iron hard to very soft and fragile.

This why local ethics and styles have evolved over the years. If you’re climbing there, then you need to help to protect the vulnerable rock.

The BMC and top climber Steve McClure have complied five essential things that you need to know before you visit. While sandstone differs from place to place, these are great tips for climbing sandstone at any climbing area.

1. Clean your shoes before stepping on to the rock and focus on your footwork to improve your climbing and reduce wear to footholds. Even if you’re trad climbing, a bouldering mat is a good idea to protect the base of routes from erosion and keep your feet clean.

2. Given the soft nature of the rock, think carefully about gear and where to place it. Gear placements have been known to break here. Avoid obviously weak features like thin flakes and remember that nuts exert less force on placements than cams and are more likely to be trustworthy.

3. Wet sandstone is weak sandstone. Don’t climb damp or wet rock. Doing so accelerates rock erosion and can cause holds or gear placements to break.

4. Sandstone is not the best medium for working problems or routes at your limit and repeated working will accelerate hold erosion. Set yourself a realistic number of attempts of a line and leave it for another day if you aren’t able to top out relatively quickly.

5. Minimise chalk use and brushing. Brushing can erode the rock so use really soft brushes and take a gentle and minimalist approach. ‘Ragging’ or whacking the holds with a towel can be very effective at removing chalk and is less abrasive than brushing.

Respect the Rock