Invisible Ethics of Climbing

We’ve probably all done these at one time or another. I know I’m definitely guilty of at least half of these. I’m not trying to lecture. And… it’s important to be aware of how we act as climbers, as human beings, and try to follow these often unmentioned ethics of climbing.


1) Don’t make a habit of calling every problem “soft.” Okay, we know, you’re soooo strong. But calling every climb easy will eventually make you sound like a pompous jerk. If one climb doesn’t fit it’s grade, then yeah, call it soft. But if you make a habit of calling everything soft, you will probably find yourself without a lot of climber friends.

2) Along those lines, don’t call everything under v4 a “warm up” if you’re climbing with people who aren’t as strong as you. Once upon a time, that v4 kicked your butt. Don’t forget it. It’s demoralizing to people who have just started climbing to be told that something they are still struggling on is a mere warm up for you. So if you see someone projecting your “easy warm-up,” try to find somewhere else to run laps and leave them alone to find their precious glory of sending.

3) Be supportive of anyone who is trying hard, regardless of grade. I don’t care if you crush v10s. If you see someone sweating and pushing and straining on a v2, cheer them on! If they send, smile and give them a fist bump. Tell them they did a great job. Allow yourself to be impressed by their determination, even if they can’t crimp as hard as you or campus that crazy move that you did a moment ago. Get over yourself and just be a nice person.

4) Don’t (always) be a selfish climber. (Yeah, I’m bad at this.) Some days, you might really want to send a problem. And it might take you a long time. That’s totally cool. We all get obsessed at times. But don’t forget that there are other people who want to climb. The universe does not revolve around you, even if you “really really really” want to get a problem. So let other people get on the rock. And don’t expect your friends to spend their whole day spotting you, when they were wanting to get on something else. If you’re going to hog the spotlight, at least take turns, and maybe spend a day or two primarily spotting others so they have a chance to send.

5) Watch your greasy paws. THIS HAPPENS ON A DAILY BASIS. I know some people become a little too overprotective of their problems, and nobody really owns any of the boulders, but still try to be considerate of the fact that some problems are very friction-dependent. If a person is clearly working a problem, don’t wander over and say, “Oh, is this the start hold?” and rub your completely unchalked, super greasy fingers through all the moves. Most people won’t say anything, but they will wince, glare, and then quickly brush all of those holds. Your excess finger grease could potentially end their chances of sending for that day. Don’t be that guy. Similar to greasy fingers are dirty shoes. Wipe your feet before getting on a climb. It is never okay to rub mud all over the holds when you have a crash pad right there to wipe off on.

6) Takes turns, more or less. I’ve seen someone try a move five times in a row without rechalking, oblivious to everyone else who is trying to climb. This is most often people who are super new to climbing. Outside, or in the gym, you get one or maybe two tries, and then let someone else on. Take turns. You should have learned that skill in kindergarten.

7) Don’t force other people to be responsible for your idiot life. Everyone probably has a story like this: The other day a guy we didn’t know just started climbing next to us. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have a pad under him. The rock was wet and icy. He got really high off the ground. He didn’t look super secure. I asked if he needed a pad and he said he was fine. I stayed for a moment to make sure he didn’t die, but then bee-lined out of there as soon as he fell down (he missed the pad we had quickly shuffled over and landed hard on dirt and rocks). Don’t be that guy. If you’re going to be stupid and put your life in danger (something I’m not recommending), don’t do it next to strangers who weren’t aware of your existence until suddenly they feel obligated to protect you from yourself.

8) Here’s one I wish every climber thought about: Don’t automatically assume that it’s okay to play music or smoke cigarettes near other people. Both of these things might be fun for you, but they might be violating other people’s space. Some people absolutely love climbing with music. Some people hate it. And some people like it some times, but not other times. There’s no right or wrong way to get psyched, so long as it doesn’t infringe on other people’s space. If you are listening to music, try to pick something unobstrusive (e.g. not hardcore screamo rock), and ask other people if it’s okay. Similar to music, smoking is one of those things that is fun for you, but not necessary fun for others. Yes, smoking cigarettes near a non-smoking climber is rude. They are breathing heavy while trying to perform athletically and they need all the fresh air they can get. Again, ask if it’s okay, and if it’s not, walk away until your second-hand smoke is no longer an issue. Treat everyone with the same courtesy and respect you’d treat your sweet asthmatic grandmother.

9) Never bully someone into climbing. A person either (a) wants to climb, or (b) doesn’t want to climb. People who fall into the first category might benefit from a little psyche, but they would probably climb anyways. Nobody should climb because they feel guilty. Unless you’re a professional athlete, you don’t have to climb. Rock climbing should be a choice. If you actually want to climb, you will. If you have a friend who is always making excuses to not climb, chances are they just don’t want to. Your persuasive skills might get them to the boulder field, but you can’t make someone try hard. So let it go. Focus a little more on your own life, and stop caring about what other people do.

10) Don’t make a habit of talking crap about other climbers. I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard the same judgmental comment being made about the same person who just isn’t cool enough to be in that elite social circle of climbers. So-and-so is a chuffer, so-and-so doesn’t climb hard enough stuff, or they don’t try hard enough outside, or they don’t know how to use 8a. Okay, fine, maybe they don’t. But why does it have to affect you? Focus a little more on your own life, and stop caring about what other people do. How does talking crap about other people actually benefit your own life? Are you so insecure that you have to put other people down just to feel a bit superior? Notice your proclivity for this and find something else to talk about. You are more than just a rock climber, and so is everyone else. That “chuffer” at the gym is going to become a doctor, and some day they are going to put your spleen back into your body.  So watch your words and try to decrease your noise pollution.

You might have noticed a theme. It’s very simple. Do be nice. Don’t be a jerk. Do be aware of how you might be affecting others. As I said, I personally have done almost all of these. It’s not the end of the world. If you find yourself guilty of these, it’s okay, just work on it. If you find someone else guilty of these, try to find a nice way to point it out. In time, we can change the climbing community for the better.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, 
Your thoughts become your words, 
Your words become your actions, 
Your actions become your habits, 
Your habits become your values, 
Your values become your destiny.”
-Mahatma Gandhi

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