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What is that stuff? Liquid chalk talk

What is that stuff? Liquid chalk talk

Posted by Cally Bishop on 20th Aug 2020

Chalk is one of the essential ingredients to climbing. We chalk up between climbs, during climbs, while we chat, before we clip, after we clip, when we rest and sometimes even before we belay as an unconscious act and play it off as an act of solidarity with our climbing partner.

Enter Corona, alcohol based hand sanitisers and climbing gyms have their prayers answered in a way to keep the high trafficked climbing holds Covid free – liquid chalk!

Liquid chalk has been on the climbing market for quite some time but in my time as an average climber, good old powder chalk in my cool 8BPLUS chalk bag was my go to. Chalk marks on my clothes and face was also a good tell on what a great session that was. Liquid chalk was what the competition climbers used for their grip power of choice and something you used when you get serious on your outdoor project and go for the send to keep those sweaty palms at bay.

So what makes liquid chalk our golden ticket to climbing in a pandemic?

It’s pretty much just climbing chalk in liquid form but the key ingredient in these times is its alcohol content. Liquid chalk is a mixture of magnesium carbonate and alcohol, and at high concentrations, alcohol kills germs. A team at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus tested 80-percent ethanol liquid chalk on SARS-CoV-2 and found that it cleared 100-percent of the virus within five minutes. Read the full article on their study.

As a die-hard climber that needs my weekly fix in the climbing gym, I was happy to make the change over if it meant getting back to my favorite sport. After some habit changing, I really like it, and so does my washing machine.

CityROCK stocked a full range of liquid chalk pre-pandemic but not in huge quantities, so where does one get bulk liquid chalk to open the climbing gym on relatively short notice (think 6-8 weeks for regular imports to our docks in normal times)? You make it yourself! The CityROCK gear shop teams soon became chalk specialists as they tried and tested recipes until we found the perfect balance of high alcohol (85-95%) to kill any germ and Covid-19 virus in sight; good chalk content for well climbing grip; and a tiny pinch of Glycerin amongst other ingredients for added stickiness and a bit of hydration for your skin.

CityROCK chalk experts also went one step further and being climbers, we found that liquid chalk can get you through 2 to 3, at a push, moderate difficultly boulder problems but not enough to get you comfortably to the top of a moderately difficult high wall climb. So how do you top up your liquid chalk half way up the wall without letting both hands go? You use a simple plastic cup insert in your chalk bag with a good old kitchen plastic scourer, splashed with a squeeze of liquid chalk. Essentially redesigning the chalk powder ball. One squeeze, a quick shake to de-pump while simultaneously giving the liquid chalk a second to dry, and your off again. Ingenious!

A recent study led by a team of doctors at De Montfort University in Leicester, England, found that the chalk used in the study significantly reduced the amount of a model coronavirus on a plastic surface by around 99%. The results suggest that chalk used in climbing and other sports may lower the risk of infection and spreading COVID-19 via plastic surfaces (such as climbing holds), according to the group behind the research. The Chair of the Association of British Climbing Walls, Rich Emerson, stated of the study, “We hope that it will provide comfort to our customers as they return to climbing at indoor walls. We will not lessen all our other COVID-safe measures such as regular hand sanitisation and social distancing, but this extra factor should temper fears that chalky handholds could be vectors of the disease. We await the formal scientific report with anticipation.”

So turns out both Chalk itself and Alcohol are not fans of Covid-19, making climbing at the gym or crag that much more safe in this pandemic. But that still doesn’t mean you can pull out your powder chalk on your next visit to CityROCK. CityROCK and its management team have made the decision to continue only the use of liquid chalk in its facilities post pandemic. The key reason being the health benefits for our employees with no powder chalk filling our lungs when we spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week on duty, and then there is still the time we spend climbing. On average our team spends 50-60 hours a week in our facility (yes we love our jobs and our sport that much!) To add, the facility is so much cleaner. Chalk dust gets in everywhere and we have had many a computer fatality, written off clothing stock in our gear shop and have to regularly clean out the gym cardio machines from, you guessed it, chalk dust!

So, our golden ticket to re-opening climbing is here to stay, so find the liquid chalk brand you prefer and climbon!