[2] Cliff Development Tools of the Trade

All my tools laid out at the cliff

This story is part of a series on route development. Click this tag to see all.

I started with the basic tools and after blowing out a couple pairs of gloves, banging my knuckles, struggling to clean all different sizes and depths of cracks…. After 30-40 hrs of route development, I learned a few things and revamped my cleaning tools. I hope you can learn from my mistakes and give you an idea of what tools work well.

Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)

Putting on my buff to help with the dust blow
  • Buff 
    • To keep my hair back and out of the way. I don’t want to touch my face or get hair out of my face when dealing with mouse/rat/bird poop.
  • Light weight hot-weather hat that covers neck
  • N95 Mask
    • Keep the dirt, poop dust, rock dust out of my lungs when I kick it all up while cleaning
  • Safety Glasses or wrap-around sun glasses
    • Work decent at keeping the aerosolized dust out of my eyes (very fine dust/dirt out in Mammoth due to the volcanic history)
  • Gloves
    • Protects fingers when digging dirt out of the rock
    • Protects knuckles when cleaning aggressively
    • Protects fingers for dealing with spiky plants
    • Protect against vibration injury (I felt the vibration for days after running a drill for an hour continuously)Gloves

A moment about gloves

It was hard to find gloves that worked for all situations so I ended up specializing:

  • Drilling – Vibration Gloves
  • Cleaning Rock – Padded Gloves to protect knuckles
  • Cleaning Dirt – Seem-less fingered gloves
    • Every glove I used to brush dirt off rock or out of cracks was destroyed at the seems in the finger tips. Even the Black Diamond Crag gloves were destroyed my first session.
    • Garden gloves without seams do not have padding but do not have finger seams that can rip.

Cleaning loose dirt

Seam-less Garden Gloves

  • Hands are amazing tools, the best tools of anything listed. However, they wear easily so using a Hand Rake has been a glove-saver.

Hand Rake (like so)

  • Attached by chord sling
  • Used in place of hands for raking loose dirt down the cliff (lighter and smaller than full rake)

Full Rake

  • This was the nuclear option for cleaning off the top of the tier above the climbs. I hauled a rack up there and spent a couple hours racking the rock above so when you top out pebbles don’t drip down the wall.
  • I also used it to rake out the bottom of the cliff to create a flat dirt belay area.

Cleaning branches, bushes, small trees

Garden Ratcheting Shears (Example)

  • Attached by caribiner 
  • Used for cutting branches coming out of cracks
  • Used for cleaning a clear trail to the cliff

Cleaning Face Holds

Brushing some holds clear of dirt

Carbon Steel Wirebrush Medium (Wirebrushes come in various hardness qualities: copper, stainless steel, carbon steel)

  • Attached by leash (Example)
  • Used to scrub lichen and bird/bat poop off rock. 
  • Used to clean the dirt kicked up from cleaning off holds

Note: I chewed through the first two wire brushes I had which were probably just SS instead of the steel. I bought these brushes with a hope they would work better. Jury isn’t out yet if Carbon Steel will hold up better.

Cleaning Cracks

Some “gardening” on lead in Yosemite

It helps to have a variety of tools for cracks. It can be hard to use a small tool in a big crack and visa-versa.

Nut Tool

  • Attached by leash
  • Best tool for cleaning out the finger-sized and smaller cracks and dislodge rocks named in the crack

Thin Carbon Steel Wirebrush

  • Attached by carabiner
  • Used to help brush out cracks and weird angles
  • Used to brush off holds (fingers can only do so much)


  • Attached by chord sling
  • Used to dig out large cracks and scoop down/out piled up dirt

Hiking / Ski Pole

  • Attached by carabiner
  • Nuclear option tool used to get deep into the crack to dislodge mouse nests or other gross stuff. You wouldn’t want to put your hand deep into an off width move and feel mouse nest would you?

Want to see how these tools are used? Watch the short documentary on the development of Storybook Cliff.