If you’ve been climbing in the gym for a while, it’s a pretty safe bet you’ve caught the outdoor climbing bug—after all, outdoor adventure is the root of our sport. But it’s not quite as easy as throwing your stuff in the car and driving to the Red River Gorge. Every climber should know some basic etiquette and ethics to enjoy all that the Red has to offer in a sustainable and safe way. That’s why we had the Red River Gorge Climbing Coalition come out to Avondale on May 11 with pro climber Dru Mack to help us learn more about the do’s and don’t’s of climbing at the Red, whether it’s your first time or your 50th.

After the event, we had the chance to catch up with Dru to get his pro tips on how to navigate RRG crags. Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

Keep an Open Mind

Sometimes, it can be easy for more experienced climbers to negatively throw the word “gumby” around when new outdoor climbers make mistakes in etiquette. But new climbers are usually not making mistakes on purpose: “A lot of times more local climbers or people who have been climbing longer think people are messing up and they know better,” Dru says. “If you offer advice or help they’re usually more than willing to hear you out and make their process easier, as long as you don’t come across as a jerk.”

Manage Your Group Size

The Red is growing rapidly in popularity—and overcrowding can easily become an issue at a crag, especially with large groups who lock down routes for hours. “I’ve been to a crag where someone told me ‘there are 13 people in line for this route,’” Dru says, “but there weren’t even 13 people at the crag.” What’s the solution? “If you have a big group, spread out—go to different crags,” Dru says, “but if you’re all at one crag, make sure to let other people hop onto the route in between your whole group.” At the end of the day, communicating with other climbers is key to making sure your large group isn’t putting off negative vibes to the rest of the crag’s climbers.

Stay Within Bounds

In many areas at the Red (and in other crags around the world), climbing’s slotted into very predetermined areas. Outside of those areas, if a person or dog wanders around, erosion and damage to the landscape can threaten our access to those spaces. But that’s not just for out-of-bounds: Dru says keeping your pets and gear corralled is important for safety reasons: “It’s easy to be distracted, especially as a belayer,” Dru says, “and if someone’s dog is going through your bag, it’s really easy to look away and not give what you’re doing enough thought.” Keeping your gear and person within bounds leads into the next point covered: leaving the Red how you found it.

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace means exactly what it sounds like: leave it how you found it. “Our impact [as climbers] is one thing,” Dru says, “but leaving gear or trash or things out there has a negative effect on the area.” Most people aren’t intentionally littering, but it’s easy when you’re dealing with a lot of gear to drop some tape here, a wrapper there, especially with everything going on at the crag. But that stuff adds up whether you meant it or not—in both physical impact to the land, but also its beauty and the landowners’ willingness to tolerate climbers. It helps to pick things up even when it wasn’t yours. All climbers should make a point to pack out whatever they can to help keep the Red in great condition.

Get Involved Locally and Stay Educated

The RRGCC, who sponsored the event, is a great organization for climbers to get involved with if they want to integrate with the local scene and meet other climbers—on top of learning good etiquette and ethics. The best way is to contribute and stay up to date on new info: “Donating money goes a long way to maintaining the Red’s areas or buying new land, which can help spread people out,” Dru says. “But if you can’t donate your money, then donate your time,” like at trail days, where volunteers can maintain trails to the Red’s amazing crags.

It was a great event, and we’re so glad the RRGCC and Dru came out to talk to us. Follow them both on Instagram to stay up to date and learn more about outdoor climbing!

Red River Gorge Climbing Coalition: @RRGCC
Dru Mack: @drumack5

Climbing photos by John Wesley @lightningsnaps