A little while ago there was a bit of controversy about a video featuring Carlo Traversi bouldering in Vastervik, Sweden. In one scene, he uses a blowtorch to dry the rock. Naturally, the message boards lit up with criticism, and, to his credit, Carlo apologized. Blowtorching is thankfully not too common of a practice, but it still happens and needs to stop.
With bouldering in particular, there is little barrier to entry for new climbers to start climbing outside. Without mentors or instruction, some people will see boulderfields as an extension of the gym, where landings are flat, music is necessary, spinners can be tightened, and a janitorial service cleans up every night. This isn’t the case, and it’s more important than ever to teach the new wave of climbers outdoor ethics.
I made the photo comparison below to show the effects of blowtorching. Deception is an absolute classic. Look at those gorgeous seams, those runnels, how they intersect. It’s just high enough to be spicy, and the movement is awesome. And it used to be really pretty…now it looks like its mascara is running.
My guess is that you’re looking at what is essentially charred organic matter. Similar black gunk can be found on Celestial Mechanics, and other climbs at LRC that tend to seep. Please don’t use a blowtorch to dry the rock. It doesn’t matter what kind of rock. Even if it isn’t obvious, the heat will alter the rock.
We’d be fooling ourselves if we thought climbing was a totally Leave No Trace activity. Chalk is a huge visual impact. Erosion. Cigarette butts. Tape. Gas to get to the crag. When it comes to ethics, the consensus of the climbing community governs what is acceptable impact and what is not. We are a self-governing group, and enforcement is often achieved through public shaming. It’s effective, to a point, but also results in anonymous viciousness. What’s missing, I think, is education. I hope this post shows why using a blowtorch is a bad idea.
Updated: Here are a few more pictures