4 Tools You Need For Cleaning Overgrown Climbing Routes

From Index and Squamish out west, to the 'Gunks and 'Daks in the east, climbing areas are magnets for moss growth. In the Northwest, where I live, stories abound of routes, boulder problems and entire bolt hangers becoming reclaimed by moss in only two or three years, their once-clean lines literally disappearing into the forest from whence they had been scrubbed. The combination of short climbing seasons and numerous seasonal wildlife closures combine to create annual gaps where routes aren't trafficked for a few months at a time. The ever-vigilant local flora quickly re-establishes its dominance, and climbers suffer the wrath of re-mossing. In the autumn, pine and fir trees shed their needles at an accelerated rate, filling in finger cracks and giving the winter re-growth a jump-start by holding potential climbers at bay. And, of course, once a route begins to re-veg, climbers tend to stay off it, accelerating the pace of floral retrenchment. But whether you are a veteran route developer at work on a big wall or a casual climber visiting a quiet crag, your fight against moss will benefit the entire climbing community. More clean routes means dispersed crowds and simply more climbing for us all to experience. Your best chance against the lurking green menace is to come armed with the right tools for the job.

The most basic item in any climber's kit should be a nut tool, which can be amazingly effective on dirt, leaves, pine needles and general forest detritus which collects in the base holds and gear slots. Colin Moorhead, owner of Squamish Rock Guides, and one of that area's most prolific moss-destroyers, specifically suggests the Black Diamond nut tool if you are working to clean out thin cracks. It may lack the bolt-tightening hex-head or attached knife of other brands' offerings, but the BD tool's specialty for route cleaning lies in its thin, bendable design. You can simply bend the tool into an “L” to fit around corners and bulges into shallow dihedrals. You'll be able to bend the tool back into its original shape without any permanent damage.

The next tool in the arsenal should be a good wire brush. Be careful about using these only to clean moss and debris, not to remove chalk and dust from established routes. Most wire brushes have wooden bases, and over time the bristles will completely snap off, leaving a blunt wooden stubbed nose which generally just gets in the way, making the tool useless prematurely. The better tool for this job is lighter, smaller, and more durable than a standard wooden barbecue brush, making it an easier addition to the crag pack. The best wire brush type is the red-handled galvanized steel “knife brush,” which sports a shallow curve and is perfect for removing moss from faces or slabs as well as cleaning out cracks that are thin-hand sized and larger. These brushes are made in China and distributed via hardware stores across the USA and Canada. They don't have a particular brand name, but are often available at welding supply stores where they are sold for cleaning up welding work. The galvanized steel bristle version wears down slowly—and evenly—over time, rather than featuring bristles that simply snap off and leave a stubbed end. Further discussion of this particular wonder-brush can be found online, and they can be often be purchased from eBay.

Many new routing excursions also require placing/replacing bolts or pitons. While most climbers visiting the crag won't bring a hammer for a day of climbing, you'll need one for any serious cleaning or hardware placement. The best hammer for cleaning, and one which also works perfectly for pounding iron, features a pointy, slightly hooked end which can be used to quickly smash out compact dirt, mud, roots and moss clumps. The (no-longer-made) Forrest Mjollnir hammer is a favorite of many veteran dirt-diggers, but even the BD Yosemite Hammer will work, as long as you disconnect any cord or funkness device from the pointed end.

To round out the kit for dedicated route creators and first-class scrubbers, consider a trip to Home Depot for a few items suggested by Index (read: temperate rainforest) cleaning specialists Eric Hirst and Geoff Georges. Disposable landscape fencing (to set up under the base of a crag and prevent things from tumbling onto lower walls) is a great way to ensure safety for folks below. Knee pads designed for tile and flooring work can save wear on aching joints, while general-purpose leather work gloves, shop goggles, a small folding saw and hand-held limb clippers are all easy to pick up for a few dollars and will be necessary against thorns and brambles.

This winter and spring, pick a neglected line and fight back againstthe green menace. On the rock, only YOU can prevent forest briers.