Is it Ethical to Clean a New Route?

Is it ethical to clean a new route? How far should you go? Is it legit to knock off the exfoliating stuff?

By Rock and Ice | September 23rd, 2015

Is it ethical to clean a new route? How far should you go? Is it legit to knock off the exfoliating stuff? —Emily Stifler, Bozeman, Montana

Two schools of thought exist regarding route hygiene. You have the Cleaners and the Anti-Cleaners. The Cleaners, like me, believe that it is your duty as a new router to pry off all of the loose rock, especially any blocks or flakes that could take out your belayer, and to floss and brush and garden so I am not grabbing dirt, grit or plant life. Most people who put up routes don’t have a problem with proper cleaning. They understand that over time any route that sees traffic will get cleaned anyway as people repeatedly grab and step on the holds, so why not make it good for everyone, nip the bitching in the bud, and just clean the line to begin with?

The people who don’t like cleaning are the ones who don’t put up many routes, and are easy to identify by their bushy armpits. I actually feel sorry for them because they are torn between two worlds, one where they believe they climb for their own (selfish) reasons, and another where they can’t resist posting their latest shitpile on Mountain Project.

Paradoxically, a dirty route that isn’t enjoyable to climb won’t see traffic, so it won’t ever get clean. Thus, over time even the Anti-Cleaners will break their vows as surely as Jimmy Swaggart and the rest of the perverts.

I understand that there are other issues such as the death of endangered lichens, and whether prying off rock is considered chipping, and that land managers go ape nuts when they see you up there scrubbing the wall. In short, discretion and sensitivity is always required. Stay away from sensitive areas and put your no-star line up some other choss pile. Gear Guy has spoken!


This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 199 (January 2012).

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