This is part two of our five-part series, How to Navigate the Crag. Part 1 covered Leave No Trace.
If you’ve been rock climbing for a while, you’ll have heard the term before: “gumby.” No, not the claymation character; in climbing, a gumby is someone, usually a beginner, who remains ignorant of the skills and etiquette needed to climb safely and in local style. For example, take the person who rappels off an anchor set up with lowering rings: it might not seem worth caring about at first glance, but if new climbers routinely ignore these lowering expectations, it’s possible someday that a “gumby” will take a new partner off belay who expected to lower. This ignorance of etiquette can lead to dangerous situations. That’s not to say “gumbies” are malicious, just uninformed.
When you first start to climb outside, you’ll realize there are no instructors hanging out, ready to correct your etiquette or skills – so to stay safe and conscientious, you need to show up educated and attentive.The new climber who shows up at a crag ready to watch, listen, and learn from more experienced climbers, but already well-versed and educated in the basic etiquette for being good climbing citizens, are the people who grow as athletes more quickly, integrate more deeply into the community, and have the most fun. Generally, experienced climbers follow a few basic guidelines for good “climbing citizenship.” Here’s where to start:
1: Know how to lead and belay safely
First thing’s first: before etiquette comes skills for safe climbing: you need to have the basics down.To start, you’ll want to be comfortable lead climbing, including safely placing quickdraws, clipping skills and technique, and what to do at the anchors (and the belay) of a sport climb. Luckily, these are all skills we can teach you at our Gym to Crag and Learning to Lead classes. Before you go outdoors, get signed up and we’ll walk you through the technical skills needed to be safe and confident at the crag.
2: Keep the volume down
Great tunes make hard efforts in the gym so much easier, but at the crag they often make for unsafe conditions for you and others. When you’re starting up a project at your limit, the last thing you want is for your belayer to not hear you when you call for slack to make a clip, because someone turned up their favorite Pretty Lights song to warm up. It’s safer to skip the tunes, but if you must have them, ask everyone at the crag if they mind, and respect the consensus. As for screaming? If you need a little P’SAAAT to get through a crux, do what you need to do, but…maybe not like a metal singer.
3: Keep your presence nimble
One of the classic sport climbing faux pas is to set up multiple top ropes in a popular area. Basically, avoid it – if you and your partner aren’t actively working a route anymore, clean the route before you start another. If you’re resting in between tries, though, don’t stress – just let others use your quickdraws, which will earn you friendship opportunities and good karma. It can be fun to see how nimbly, safely and quickly you can get through a series of warm-ups or moderate routes – use that strategy at popular crags and people will happily share their space with you.
4: Unsolicited beta is only for danger
You’ll see it often in the gym: intermediate and/or confident climbers, often men (hey, I’ve been guilty before)share move-by-move beta to whoever (often a woman) is climbing nearby, usually instructions on which holds come next.The intentions may be good, but it’s annoying, more often confusing, and cripples people from developing one of the fundamental skills of climbing new and difficult routes: just figuring the thing out. It’s not helpful unless it’s solicited. But if someone’s about to z-clip, or is climbing with a leg behind the rope? That’s another story entirely – calmly talk the climber out of the dangerous situation.
5: Follow the local style
If this point to you sounds like you’re required to climb in parachute pants, please let me know where this parachute pants crag is so that I can exclusively climb there. What style actually means is the local ethics and climbing style: do people lower off the anchors or rappel? What routes can be climbed on rainy days? What access issues come into play? Many of these issues can be answered simply – such as the lowering vs. rappel debate, which relies usually on the fixed gear at the anchors – but others can get fairly esoteric.
Figuring out how to answer style and ethics questions is the subject of our next piece, coming later this month.
By Chris Rooney, a Chicago-based climber and writer.
Photos courtesy of Ed Yu.