So a couple days ago I got the developing itch and headed out to investigate a cliff I had wondered about for some time now. The setting is superb, and the rock appeared to be rather featured and climbable. It actually looked quite good and unique. So I set an anchor on top and rappelled down to check it out. I looked for a place to sink the first anchor, but every swing of my hammer brought a sickening, hollow thud. The rock sounded horrible! I decided to investigate further down the cliff, maybe it was just funky at the top. No dice, the whole thing was a hollow, flakey mess. I moved my anchor and rapped down another line. Same story here. At this point, it became apparent that I had been a victim of the sucker choss. What’s that you say, never heard of sucker choss? Then perhaps its time to clarify the different kinds of choss you can find out there in new-routing land.
This is the worst of the worst. Unfortunately, these cliffs often lie in obscure locations, so it’s not easy to tell the quality without some kind of uphill struggle, usually up a nasty gully. Only when you arrive at the base, sweaty and exhausted, is it apparent that this rock is crap. No way any climbing is taking place here.
Unlike Super Choss, this stuff looks AND feels good. It can be oh so devious. It gets your hopes up, you start envisioning lines, where anchors should go. You come back with all your gear in a really heavy pack, and you rappel down to set the first anchor on what will undoubtedly be the hot new area crag. Then you discover the “rock” isn’t much more than a thin candy shell over the harder stuff underneath, which you would need 16″ bolts to hold it all together. This can be a tough emotional blow to recover from, and may make you want to give up on this whole exploration gig all together.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Chunky choss is the stuff that at first glance looks a little questionable, but with the right amount of TLC produces some fun climbing. Think the blocky walls at Rifle, or some of the stuff at the Narrows. There’s undoubtedly loose rock to clean from these climbs, but once you speed it on its way towards the ocean, the routes make for enjoyable climbing. Sometimes Chunky Choss requires some vision to see what the end product will be once the dust clears, and many of the uneducated may dismiss such walls upon first glance without further thought.
Ah the Splitter Choss. The stuff of dreams and legend. This is the rock that looks good and climbs well, once it’s been cleaned up, of course. Prime example of this? Maple Canyon. The walls at Maple are a mess of loose cobbles before they get manicured into the sport climbs we all love and enjoy. After the proper love and care, most of the cobbles stay in the wall (most of the time). The climbing is enjoyable, and while still technically choss, the climbs definitely have that quality that some would call splitter. Thomspon Creek would also fit into this category.