Chalkaholism, A Serious Condition

Chalkaholism, A Serious Condition

  • Posted by Kaleigh
  • On January 22, 2018
  • Comments

Magnesium, fluffy puffy, dry hand, the French blow, do these terms sound familiar? Scientifically, these white powdery substances are known as chalk. People have been drying their hands with chalk for decades, and usage has been on the rise in climbing gyms all over the world as of late. Chalkaholism is a serious condition in which a climber cannot control the amount of chalk he or she uses through their sending sesh. “Yesterday, my husband chalked up before tying his knot or putting his shoes on,” says Gastona Crimperson, a local climber. Her husband has been a chalkaholic since 1997. After climbing, it’s not uncommon to see Mr. Crimperson staring at the wall with chalk on and around his face, indicating a heavy chalk addiction. Here is what you need to know about the types of chalk you may encounter at the climbing gym.

So, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. What exactly is chalk and how does one become a chalkaholic so quickly?  Oddly enough, chalk is a rock that stuff you love clipping bolts on. Specifically, chalk is calcium carbonate or CaCO3. This stuff that you are constantly putting on your hands and using hour after hour takes millions of years to accumulate from tiny shells decomposing on the sea floor. Crazy, huh?

Well, why do you become a chalkaholic, when before climbing you didn’t know the stuff existed? In the world of climbing, grip and holding on for dear life, chalk is your savior. The common chalk we climbers are addicted to is magnesium carbonate or MgCO3. Chalk acts as a moisture suck helping your fingers obtain some kind of grip on that tiny hold you just ticked. As you become nervous before a climb or as you watch a movie of someone else free solo your “pore” hands are drenching themselves with anticipation. Your neurological response is to douse with your white powder. And if we’ve learned anything from Pavlov’s experiments, enough repetition and voila, you are a chalkaholic!

How can I identify different kinds of chalk and which of my friends are addicted? Excellent questions! First, ask them if they have a preference. Here at The Front, we provide many climbers with various forms of their addicting pleasures, everything from FrictionLabs, Petzl, Black Diamond, Metolius, Chalkstone, and CAMP block chalk. You guessed it, if they have a preference and won’t touch another kind, they at the very least have a usage problem.

Within each company, there are several kinds of chalk that each produces. Think of it as a fine scotch, aged just right. FrictionLabs, the king of kings makes chunky, loose, and fine chalk. All of the same quality, as well as liquid chalk for you real addicts. Liquid chalk is alcohol mixed with magnesium carbonate, an excellent base for your hands for the rest of the evening! Petzl, though less refined, sells excellent chalk and liquid chalk. Black Diamond is getting into the scene with a variety of purities and additives. Pure chalk is very much preferred, but with certain additives, BD is able to help keep your hands extra dry for longer! Metolius… well no offense but Metolius is a cheap vodka that gets the job done. When you need your fix and your thirst is insatiable, climbers turn to this cheap trick to get ‘er done! Chalkstone is like a fine wine, aged appropriately, and harvested during an excellent year for chalk. And then there is the trusty CAMP block chalk—stuff so cheap and dirty I give it away just to get people hooked!

But I’ve heard overusing chalk isn’t that bad? True, but now your pants are covered in chalk aren’t they? Do you think they like it too? How about when you slapped your friend on the back with a chalky hand after they mastered their latest problem? They don’t even know that they have a fat handprint on their back now!

So, what keeps you away from the devil juice? Well just like anything—moderation, easier said than done of course but take it from our team coach Chelsea, “I don’t really have a problem with chalk, ya know? Slap a little on before you climb, and you’re good to go. Now concentrate on the climb!”


*Amazingly enthusiastic chalk model: Katie Lewis, a Front Climbing Club member.