It’s been an exciting year for us here at Flashed. We are students of science and have very much enjoyed the start of deep dive into all things chalk related. This is close to our hearts as climbing and the community are both integrally woven into our fabric. The opportunity to bring more knowledge around chalk has been a dream for a long time.
Okay, so how did we get started on this? It’s a big project that will likely never end so we had to write some starting parameters of what we wanted to study. The first is simply an understanding of what climbing chalk is. After that, we’re curious about exploring other characteristics. Lastly, we’ll dive into the question of friction!
Getting Started: A Testing Overview
Here’s a more detailed list of how we tackled the questions above:
What is chalk made of? This was tackled from multiple sides:
- The first being characterizing minerals that have a crystalline structure. This was done through X-Ray Diffraction testing (XRD).
- The second is non-crystalline structure material (amorphous material). This is difficult to determine so we left all this material in a total category, amorphous material. However, further testing will be explored to try and determine what additives might be used in chalk for friction or drying purposes. Things like rosin, honey, and antiperspirants.
- We also put the chalk under a scanning electron microscope (SEM) to get a close-up visual on this stuff.
- Microscope, the old classic look-and-see-what-you-see trick. An oldie but a goodie.
- Assay testing. This will essentially tell you what elements themselves are contained, but not their mineral organization. You would see magnesium and carbon separately but not as a whole magnesium carbonate mineral.
- Does chalk have a non-neutral pH value? Is it Acidic or Basic, for example?
- This is a huge topic; it will take years to understand all the elements and forces involved. However, you have to start somewhere, so we worked to develop a baseline test. This will likely morph and evolve into the future, but it will still be a good place to start asking more questions.
The whole idea of this project is not to show or pit one brand against another. Our aim is rather to take a topic we are all curious about in the climbing community and start sharing ideas and knowledge. We want to give everyone data so they can, in turn, make informed choices that are in line with personal values and positions.
We hope you all enjoy this foray into the wild as the first chapter of testing is being compiled, and we’ll all soon have the opportunity to comment and share and help shape the direction of this adventure.
Please join us on the chalk road trip!
UBC & Flashed