"The climbing was delicate without
being difficult, for crack and cleft were drenched by streams of water
from the melting snowfield above". Gaston Rebuffat
From time to time, climbers get caught in
storms, or they come across wet sections of rock caused by residue from
a previous storm or seepage on a route. This is more problematic on multi-pitch
routes where quick retreat is improbable. On limestone it is common especially
in the spring for water to seep through cracks within the rock and emerge
in surface pockets and surface cracks. Cracks can often hold moisture long
after a storm especially on faces sheltered from the wind and sun. Lichen
on the surface of rock absorbs moisture and becomes very slippery. Sandstone
when wet can break with much less force. Slabs become treacherous when
Once when climbing the Split Pillar pitch
in Squamish, not realizing that the lichen was still damp from a storm
the day before, my foot popped off twice. I was able to hold my position
and avoid a long fall but felt quite frightened. It wasnít until later
that I realized what the problem had been.
Negotiating wet or damp sections can make
climbing more difficult and dangerous. However, with some changes in technique,
damp and wet sections can be climbed. It is a good idea to practice this
skill from time to time so that you will be ready when the time comes.
Who knows when you might need it? Here are some tips for negotiating damp
or wet sections.
Keep your head and maintain calm. Donít rush,
you will make mistakes if you do. Be ready to retreat if necessary. Once
while climbing on Devils Tower, a thunderstorm came suddenly, complete
with lightning and heavy rain. It was very scary rapping the last pitch
with electricity buzzing all around. I should have retreated sooner. Before
the ascent, it is a good idea to study retreat
options, especially on longer routes.
Climbing technique must be modified on wet rock.
Try to keep three points on the rock so if one hand or foot pops off a
hold, the other two points may hold the position. This means that dynamic
moves should be minimized. Climb static, testing and feeling holds. This
will require more power, especially lock off power. Movement must be subtle;
no quick movements. Place and weigh footholds with great care. Be careful
using knee drops as the rotational movement of the shoe can cause it to
slip in wet conditions.
Keep your body under you with your elbows straight
under your hands so as to reduce the vector force outward. Reduce outward
pulls as much as possible. Your hands will not hold on wet rock if you
pull outward. The pull must be as close to straight down as possible.
To see their feet, most climbers ease their
body out from the rock and look down. You probably wonít be able to hold
this position in wet conditions. Instead, look sideways over your shoulder
to look for foot holds.
When laybacking and stemming, bring your feet
higher than normal to increase friction to reduce the possibility that
they will slip. This will require more power.
Look for edges for both hands and feet, even
if they are smaller holds, since your hands and feet will hold better on
these type of holds.
Look for rough features on the footholds and
stand on sharp features when possible. Shoes will stick better since the
moisture will sink to the low point in the rough area and the rough parts
will stick into your shoe. If there is no further water coming down, slopers
can be relatively dry since the water drains off the sloper more quickly.
But be careful, a high angle sloper will be hard to hold onto even if it
is just slightly damp. Sometimes it is possible to crimp at the back of
a sloper where it has not become as wet.
Add more protection than normal.
If there is more than one way to climb a section,
consider variables such as protection possibilities, amount of lichen,
availability of shelter such as overhangs above, availabilty of sharp edges,
and location of water flows.
Slabs are extremely dangerous when wet. Derek
Hersey, the great soloist was killed on a 5.9 slab that he normally climbed
easily and had done many times before when it became wet from a sudden
rain. It is very hard to stay on a slab in wet conditions.
Cracks are often damp even when the rest of
the rock is dry since they get little sun and are protected from the wind.
It is much harder to hold a jam in a wet crack.
In a big storm some routes can become waterfalls
quickly. These waterfalls can knock loose
rocks off ledges. When retreating donít stand around the base of the
wall. Get away from it or stand under an overhang. Keep your helmet on
until you are well away from the cliff.
Resort to aid climbing if it gets real bad or
if it is easier to continue up to a shelter or the top than descending.
When the rope is wet, belay devices do not catch
a fall as quickly as normal. They tend to slip a bit since friction is
not built up like in normal conditions. I have found that the Grigri slips
a lot when the rope is wet. Once I fell about twenty feet on a fall that
would have normally about 12 feet. This was due to slippage of the wet
rope through a Grigri.
May 31, 2000