Liquid Chalk NOT for Climbing (and Commentary)

Here is an American brand of chalk you can buy on Amazon that would raise serious eyebrows at the crag in the UK… and here too. It has resin in it. Also known as Pof in France, and used previously (still used today by a few) in Fontainebleau before chalk was introduced. Here in the States, I’d avoid this type of liquid chalk.

Check out the last ingredient. Pine Resin.

And for what use? I haven’t a clue.

There are other brands, such as Friction Labs, or you can make your own. Just add isopropyl alcohol to your chalk in a sealed container (to prevent the alcohol from evaporating) or buy pure magnesium carbonate and do the same thing. Most liquid chalk today is pure magnesium carbonate, not a combination like dry chalk.

Friction Labs is a quality product, but their ingredients are sourced overseas.

Since my hands hardly sweat at all (this is the article I wrote back in the late 90’s: Mulligan, Rob “Cold Cuts,” surgical treatment for excessive sweating, Medicine (189)134; Letter to the Editor (191)15. This is the only reference I could find on the internet via a pdf of Climbing Magazine past articles), my only concern is ‘glassing’ on holds. This is caused by not having enough friction because the skin is too hard. On very rough surfaces where the frictional elements are sharp, I stick well, but that’s it. I usually lick my tips, yep you read that right, or I spray a light coat of water on them then chalk.

Today, climbers have access Antihydral (a German product for foosball players) or Rhino Skin (an American product specific to climbing) that uses the active ingredient methenamine. So far, the information on it shows it to be safe because of the unique qualities of the chemical (it’s “…a polycyclic organic compound which releases ammonia and formaldehyde at acid pH1“) in that the formaldehyde is released into solution on the skin. Though the testing is limited in scope, it’s been shown not to cause an allergic reaction for those sensitive to formaldehyde.

Some climbers consider it cheating to have the surgery, but they and some will use methanamine products without hesitation. This ironically produces better results than the surgery. I had pretty excessive sweating and didn’t know about Antihydral at the time of the surgery. I had reached a point where I couldn’t progress past 13a or b because I simply couldn’t chalk that often. I trained intensely at 3-5 second lockoffs to no avail. Even chalking didn’t really do much on sharp or friction-dependent holds. At the tram with temperatures in the high teens, I could still make two hand prints on the rock from sweating! I finally decided I would either focus on something else (no cold weather mountaineering for me even though that was my other passion), or try the surgery to focus on not only enjoying climbing more but find out exactly what or why makes the ideal frictional situation.

I found out, as most climbers that use too much methanamine products also do, that totally dry skin is nice for keeping your tips protected but not good for climbing performance, and to chalk, I now have to first wet the tips before chalking then wait a second or two before climbing. Routes are a bit of a problem as I’m back to the lockoff rule but for reverse reasons!

Now, bouldering is the go to option for climbing with a few caveats. One is I have a slightly skewed range of conditions that would be considered ideal or better for me: humid conditions, cold, limited wind/breeze. This is extremely rare as the cold conditions dry air out. What I now have is mainly a broader range of conditions to climb in but less ideal overall while still being good in the broad range… not ideal though.

Another one is that for long problems, I have to find a way to still stick without chalking. Hmmm, what to do? Twice I’ve had to resort to wetting the hold! You heard that right. Once in Squamish on Sesame Street, I tried desperately to use that right hand sloper… so, I sprayed it wet, watched it begin to dry and timed my start to hit that hold when it was prime. Sent.

Then, this last trip to Fontainebleau on Compression Zap du Fond (Rocher de la Reine), I couldn’t chalk for the last sequence of compression moves (7a stand), so in addition to just misting them with water, I had to puff a light layer of chalk on top. It worked.

Needless to say, the ideal scenario is to sweat very little but just enough. With a methenamine-based product, you can learn to find that right balance for ideal or near ideal friction. Is prepping the rock prior to sending legit? Is offering a chalk bag by a fellow boulderer while you climb legit? Personally, we always try and take a chalk bag along if we need to chalk. I think in today’s climbing styles, sending is sending as long as you and your body parts go from bottom to top according to the grade/FA line without any contact and with a static start after lifting off the ground… except, of course, for jump starts.

Sorry for the tangent! The point is that as responsible climbers we should be informed of what is considered ethical, safe or advantageous as it relates to chalk use outside.


~ by r. mulligan on 2017/07/23.

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