Caution WET ROCK!

Why is it important to stay off the wet rock?

When we think of rock, especially the rock that we climb on, we think of it as being super sharp, super hard and unforgiving. The texture varies – sometimes in grainy, crystalline, chossy, vuggy – but there’s a hidden feature of all rock, regardless of location, type, origin or development status.

Here’s a brief history of rock formations. Think of it as geology 101… All rock is formed by a process. Biological rocks (think limestone) form in shallow, warm waters where you’d want to vacation. Volcanic rocks (think granite, basalt, syenite, gneiss) form deep inside the earth or from an explosive event that literally spits the rock out. Probably not your favorite place to hang out. These places are like the Wall Street pens of geology – really high pressure and temperature and no relief.  Sedimentary rock (sandstone, mudstone, and limestone – yes, again) form when those other types of rock are exposed to the climate and weather.  These rocks form through rocky emotional trauma. Something happened to them.

So did you guess the hidden feature? It’s pores… just like your skin. There are small spaces in the rock – no matter what kind of rock it is – that fill with fluid or air. And on a geologic time scale (read: millions of years), fluids flow through that rock and alter it.

So why do pores matter to climbers? Because pores are weaknesses in the rock. It undermines the rock’s stability and will eventually cause it to break.

Here’s how it happens. When rock erodes it gets micro-fractures (pore that start to link up to create microscopic rivers in the stone). In most climates the rock gets frozen water in those pores that expands the space by 10%. That 10% creates air gaps that fill with water when the ice thaws. Rinse. Repeat. Eventually those micro-fractures turn into larger fractures (Flakes!!) or full-on cracks in the rock face.

Along comes a climber and s/he has a crazy ape index and can pull crazy hard. The climber puts a new outward or downward force on the rock. Those micro fractures tear a little more. And eventually, the holds break. And no more climb. The climber just did what it takes Mother Nature millennia to do herself.

The result is that we damage the rock face. And anytime we climb on the rock when it’s had a freeze-thaw or rainstorm… we are damaging it forever.

So this send season, in the spirit of Leave No Trace… think twice before you climb after ice.

animal canine cold coyote
“Cody” Amakali (Mama Dirtbag)

  • Cody is the creator of Mama Dirtbag skin care products for climbers, if you’re a climber and you haven’t had a chance to try out her products you can take a look here.
  • We were lucky enough to have Mama Dirtbag herself join us on a recent podcast, I’m not sure there could be a kinder more sincere guest…she is truly the best. Check it out, link below.

Photo by nappy


10 Replies to “Caution WET ROCK!”

  1. Unpopular opinion: outside of the known crappy sandstones that really suffer in the rain, most rock is pretty bomber, even when wet. I’d climb granite that is drying for sure.

    Sorry guys, you’re going to need to help me see the light if you expect me and every mixed climber in the world to accept that below freezing climbing is bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi CC – This is Carrot, I read Cody’s piece here as more of a restrict climbing after a freeze/thaw, and take precautions if there is a chance that climbing can prematurely and effectively ruin a line/hold. I’ll ask her to take a closer look into your questions though, she’s a geologist, so if anyone can help us see the light it’s her! Thanks for reply!


      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey, totally, if there is a need. I think most rock, however, is quite safe against freeze thaw and rain. But hey, if there are articles showing this contrast with data, please educate the masses on what we should stay off of !

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the most interesting article! It’s long been shared lore among Pinnacles climbers that Pinns Breccia is especially vulnerable to breakage for several days after a rainstorm. I know of no scientific proof of this conviction, however, and would be interested to see it backed up with a study. P.S. Thanks for visiting my site and taking a peek at my climbing ghost story!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Interesting article … I think whatever we can do to think about our impact on where we climb, the rock, the trail, etc. is a good thing in general. Maybe it doesn’t have to be so black & white but just taking sometime to be thoughtful about how our actions might permanently impact nature is a good step to ensuring that we’re protecting mother nature 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The only “climbing” I’ve done is the circular stone staircase to the roof of St. John the Divine in New York City and the Parthenon, Meteora, and Dephi in Greece. Quite challenging, really. The ancient and Byzantine Greeks must have had dancers’ legs.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Nice refresher on the geology of rock. When I first saw the title, I thought it would be about the added danger of climbing on wet rock. The friction between your boots and the rock are much less when the rock is wet. Good article. Thanks for posting it.

    Liked by 1 person

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