Caution! Wet Rock

Spring showers and summer thunderstorms bring a common dilemma: How soon afterwards is it OK to climb?

A few weeks ago, during our Indian Creek Clinic, it rained hard for a couple of hours. The rain began at 8pm and was followed by a strong wind.

Climbing the next afternoon remained a possibility.

Then it rained hard again at 3am for an hour.

Climbing the next day was out.

Instead, we went to a less-travelled area and spent the day working on gear and systems at the base.

Later, back at our cars, we found a note on every windshield.

The notes read, “Don’t climb on wet rock. You can damage it.”

Others had assumed that we were climbing wet rock!

At first, we were indignant—

Then we realized that we should feel encouraged that Climbers are using awareness and self-discipline to protect our fragile crags.

To climb or not to climb on wet rock is a question that is even more difficult when one has traveled for the weekend or is paying for a clinic.

Nevertheless it’s a particularly important question especially when it comes to climbing on sandstone like in Indian Creek and Red Rocks. Many climbers are more used to limestone or granite. Limestone and granite dry out much faster.

Sandstone takes longer to dry out because it is porous. It absorbs water. And the cementing agents that bond the rock together like clay, silica and salt dissolve when wet.

Wet sandstone can be up to 75% weaker than dry rock. When the rock is wet and weak, edges wear down faster and break off more easily.

So, should you climb or not climb?

Wait 24-48 hours after a rainstorm, but sometimes longer.

How much longer?

  1. How hard did it rain? Was it a light sprinkle or a flooding deluge?
  2. How long did it rain? Did it rain for a few hours, or all day?
  3. What is the aspect?
  • South facing cliffs dry faster because they are sunny and warm.
  • North facing cliffs dry slower because they are shady and cool.
  • East facing cliffs get morning sun, but afternoon shade.
  • West facing cliffs get morning shade and afternoon sun.
  1. Is it windy? Wind helps rock dry. Some cliffs are more exposed to wind than others.
  2. What’s the temperature? Is it a hot summer day? Is it cool spring morning?
  3. Was the sky clear or not since the rain?


Final Test

Is the ground dry?

First, It should look dry.

Then, Make sure by scraping away some surface sand.

If the sand underneath is wet and sticky? Don’t climb!

If it is dry and powdery? Climb!

What to do when it is too wet to climb?

Take a Rest day. Lounge around.

Go hiking.

Scout new climbing areas.

Practice skills that don’t require climbing. Minimize your impact by going to a less travelled/popular area.