An unknown grease smeared on climbing holds at Big Bend boulders. [Maddy Barney / Facebook photo]

On Friday, Feb. 11, a post on the Moab Rock Climbers Facebook group reported that climbing holds on several problems at the popular Big Bend bouldering area had been smeared with some kind of grease.

“Pretty messed up,” the post said.

Bouldering is a niche within rock climbing in which short routes called “problems” summit or traverse boulders rather than long cliff faces. Moves often require honed technique, strength, and/or creativity. The Big Bend boulders lie along the Colorado River and Highway 128, and are highly visible from the road. Over the past decades, the boulders have become increasingly popular.

Local climbers responded promptly to the greasing incident—which they’ve nicknamed “Greasegate”—expressing disappointment and outrage on social media, as well as volunteering to assist with cleanup. Local climbing advocacy nonprofit the Friends of Indian Creek has contacted the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance, another advocacy group with experience cleaning up graffiti, and the Bureau of Land Management about best practices for cleaning, but there’s not a lot of precedent for this specific combination of substance and surface. Members of the board have been using gentle cleaning tactics, like wiping off the thick grease with paper towels and rinsing with water.

“We’re trying these non-obtrusive ways of cleaning first, and we’ll see how that goes before getting into any heavy degreasers,” said Ben Riley, a senior board member. He’s optimistic that there won’t be lasting damage.

It’s unknown who greased the boulders or why, or whether the person was a rock climber or not.

FoIC President Rachel Nelson said the incident is unfortunate.

“I think this individual acted alone, for selfish reasons, and jeopardized the image of climbers in the area,” she said.

The local sandstone is particularly fragile when wet, so the Friends of Indian Creek asks climbers to avoid the affected problems until the organization has determined that they’re cleaned and safe to climb again without risking further damage. Check, the Moab Rock Climbers Facebook page, or the Friends of Indian Creek Facebook page for the status of the boulders.