May 16, 2008

Pine Sap Party

Climbing Mount Williamson via Bairs Creek leaves you with a lot more than memories (and scratches): you also get gummed up with quite a bit of pine pitch. It gets on your clothes, your hair, and your gear. So what do you do when you come home with everything covered in sap? Well, assuming you resist the temptation to just back your car up against a dumpster and get rid of everything, you'll probably want to find some way to clean off the sap.

I know of two cleaners that work effectively against sap. Back in the day, climbing forbidden pine trees with Xavier McGillicutty in Flagstaff, Arizona, we'd get covered in sap. First, we'd usually rub the affected parts with dirt, which sure didn't clean anything, but did take the worst of the stickiness away. Of course, you were left with streaks of dirt-embedded pine sap on your skin and clothes, but that was better than constantly getting more sap on yourself whenever you touched the gummy patch.

Once we got home, it was off to the laundry room to try to find something that would dissolve sap. Soap was useless. The special cream-in-a-can workman's soap didn't work either. Acetone didn't work. Turpentine did, somewhat poorly, but that was almost as bad as pine sap to begin with, and you sure didn't want to use it on your clothes or backpack.

One day I tried Spray-n-Wash. Surprise: it worked really well. Spray the sappy area, let it sit for ten or twenty seconds, and then rinse it out with soap and hot water.

I never felt completely comfortable washing my skin with Spray-n-Wash (the stuff has a warning label telling you not to put it on your skin), so I began searching for a less toxic alternative. One such option is an orange oil based cleaner. You can find these at any organic market, and usually most hardware stores too. You'll probably have to try a few to find one that works. If there isn't enough orange oil in the mix, it will be too feeble to dissolve the sap.

The big downside with the orange oil cleaners is the smell: funky orange—that stink you get in public stairwells nowadays.

There is of course one other solution to the pine sap problem. Just ignore it. Toss all your gear in the closet, let the pitch gradually dry out over the off season, and the stickiness will go away. Your hair will eventually grow out, or you can snip the sap out with scissors. There you go: the SierraDescents top-secret anti-pine sap dossier. Guaranteed to get the pitch out of your party...at least until you head back to Williamson next year.

Andy Lewicky

ANDY LEWICKY is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer who enjoys good books, jasmine tea, long walks in the rain, and climbing and skiing the big peaks of the California Sierra. email | follow


One thought on “Pine Sap Party

  1. R Pickings says:

    Try Peanut oil! It cuts right through pine sap and won’t kill you like the other stuff you mention. Actually, for pine tar on skin and hair, chunky peanut butter is best (works like one of those fancy skin scrubs you’d pay a fortune for at Macy’s). Once the peanut oil has done it’s work, you can use regular soap to clean up the mess.

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