Gym Climbing Etiquette

The insanely hot, humid days of New England summer and training in preparation for an upcoming trip, have left me putting in a lot of gym climbing hours. During that gym climbing time, I’ve been noticing a lot of annoying and honestly dangerous behaviors that people use probably from a lack of knowledge. While my normal approach is to just sigh and shake my head in amazement at the stupidity, I figured maybe getting the word out and educating might work a bit better.

First off, this is not intended to belittle or insult new climbers. I understand perfectly that when you enter the world of climbing, there is a lot to pick up on. I never judge or laugh at common, innocent new climber mistakes. For instance, if you are a new climber that doesn’t know a technique, what something is called, what these climbing terms mean, etc that is fine. I think it’s fine when new climbers rainbow routes even though it’s so weird they pick random like V9 holds that suck instead of the huge jug meant for their climb, but its not hurting anyone and they are learning. Most new climber behaviors don’t bother me at all, and I’m all for people engaging in the sport and learning. In fact, this article isn’t even entirely based on new climbers, because there are some really good climbers that do some ridiculous stuff too. The bottom line is there are some mistakes I see a lot that frankly just need to stop.

1. Please learn the basic concepts of climbing safely before climbing:

I’m not saying you need to take a complete how to use a crash pad and fall safely course before bouldering, though I’m not discouraging that either if you want to. However, there needs to be some awareness of what is safe and what isn’t. Honestly, it probably has more to do with courtesy than safety awareness. Recently, I was at the gym climbing a boulder route, that thankfully was just part of my warm up. I was just past the middle point and heading to the highest part of the boulder. A man several routes away from me needed a crash pad and asked his partner to quick get him one. There was one to the left of him, just patiently waiting to be used, and then there was the one under me. The girl grabbed the one under my climb and rushed it over. Luckily, this man was aware of these basic concepts of safety and told her she needed to bring that one back because I was climbing. The girl was embarrassed when she realized her mistake, she apologized a lot, and seemed like a nice enough person. I have no negative feelings towards her as a person, and since it was a warm up I was fine. The thing is, what if it wasn’t? She realistically had no idea of where my climbing ability was and if I could handle the climb I was on. I’m sure she wasn’t thinking about me at all. It was probably fast panic to help the climber shouting he needed a pad. However, it is important to be aware of which crash pads are being used and where to position them best. This story teaches two lessons really. The first being to prepare your crash pad before climbing. Maybe this guy really thought this climb would be a breeze and was surprised by this crux, I don’t know, but there were many crash pads that weren’t being used and quickly pulling one over to be on the safe side makes sense. I get that sometimes people are just warming up and know they won’t fall and the gym is busy and there is nothing available, but really you should set up a crash pad. The second lesson, and most important to me, is not to take a crash pad from underneath someone! This unfortunately isn’t the first time this has happened to me and as someone who has suffered through two ankle injuries already, it gets to me.

Another thing that can land in this safety category is to watch out where you are climbing, and be careful of other climbers. I was watching my climbing partner on a warm up, really just cause I was waiting to climb it after chalking up. This girl got on a climb that traversed through his climb while he was climbing. As he started to down climb, he couldn’t because she was in the way. It was a warm up and he could hold on while waiting for her to pass, but it’s not fair to assume someone can. I couldn’t believe what I was watching, but I gave her the benefit of maybe not having the foresight to realize it would traverse across his. I forgot about it and started to climb a route. I was working on foot drills and trying to be precise. When I looked down to place my foot, I was startled to see this girl’s head was right there where my foot wanted to go. She wasn’t stopping. She was apparently ready to attempt climbing through me. Though I’m not a ghost, so I have no idea how she thought that would work. I actually had to climb over to the side to avoid her. This is, for one thing, completely annoying. Sure it was a warm up, but what if this had been my flash attempt? It’s also  dangerous. What if I had fallen, she could have gotten knocked out. The chances for both of us to get injured would have increased. I felt like kicking her in the head to show her, because honestly, it could have happened naturally. Again, I’d like to say this was a one-time what a crazy person case, but this has actually happened to me countless times. Though, more often with children.

I’m sure there are tons of other stories people have of basic safety being bypassed, but you get the idea. Yes, climbing is risky and has it’s dangers, but there are many ways you can stay safe. If I fall and get injured in a free soloing accident, I can’t accept that because I picked that risked. If I carefully set up my crash pads for a safe fall, and then fall and get injured because some oblivious newbie moved all my pads while I was mid climb, I’m going to be fucking pissed. Learn the basics of climbing safety. If you learn them through paying an instructor a ton of money or learn them through asking random experienced climbers or learn them through reading climbing magazine articles, I don’t care, just know them and use them.

2. Know you are not the only climber, and be respectful in regards to time on the wall.

I’ve run into a lot of problems lately with climbers of all levels and experience in regards to this. If it’s a quiet, empty night at the gym, by all means do whatever you want. When there are other climbers around, please be respectful. I often see large groups of friends projecting climbs together and I think this is really cool. It can be so much fun working on a climbing together. There is a lot of psych and motivation involved and I’m all for it. The thing is, sometimes people get together and just totally take over. I get this is sometimes unintentionally, and it’s honestly not so much the act that bothers me. I often make my presence known somehow and get on my climb, give my attempt, and then back away for the group to continue. Sometimes the group is rotating while resting and since the majority are sitting, it’s super easy to get in. Other times climbers are just great and realize you are there and give you a chance. There are a couple situations where this becomes a bother. The first being attitude. I’ve heard from others at the gym that they sometimes run into problems where not only is a huge group blocking them from getting to climb, but that group also acts like they aren’t a good enough climber to be on that wall. This superior attitude drives me nuts. Being a stronger climber, does not entitle you to have ultimate say over the gym. People who climb at lower grades often love it just as much and deserve the chance to work on their goals just as much. While I often have good experiences with climbers and have known lots of perfectly fine projecting groups, there have been times where I had to settle for climbs I didn’t care as much about because of really intimidating bad attitudes. I have a decent amount of confidence and often don’t care what other climbers think, but it is a tough mental game to be climbing knowing a group is looking at you like your the worst climber ever and when will you just go away so they can go back to having fun and doing it better. It doesn’t happen all the time. From what I’ve gathered talking with other climbers, it happens more often to female climbers. Either way, it’s not cool.

The other thing that bothers me is when people crowd around on top of the pads. Hey, if you are spotting a buddy, that’s cool. If you five people hovering around below them on top of the mat and so close to the wall that it is hard to climb any of the surround routes, it’s not so cool. You can watch and cheer back a few feet, so others can get near the wall. That’s all.

I’m also really in support of projecting. It’s my favorite. I don’t mind people climbing the same climb over and over, but please, when others are waiting to climb, take breaks. There are so many people, usually newer climbers, that fall and get right back on the wall. If you only make it to hold two, and then slip, fine go ahead and quick try again. When you’ve slipped off that hold 20 times and quickly jump back on so fast you probably didn’t even take a breath, it gets a bit annoying. I don’t mind waiting a couple minutes for you to work it out. The truth is though that break you take isn’t just nice to other climbers, it’s probably better for you to. Sometimes we need to step back and rethink things. So sure, if you’re having a hard time just getting off the ground, give a few gos and try to figure it out. Realistically you’ve taken the same time you would have if you climbed the whole thing, and no one cares. If you look around and no ones there again, keep on going. However, please don’t just stay there for an hour and never even bother looking back to see if anyone is waiting. I’m a very patient person really, but after so long it runs thin for anyone.

Basically respect and safety are the bottom line concerns. Is there anything you’d add to the list?

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