Everyone knows climbing’s essential dos and don’ts:

Do wear a helmet. 

Do tie knots in the end of your ropes when you rappel. 

Do double check your knot and belay. 

These are just your most basic Freedom of the Hills types of life-saving actions that ought to be as rote to our climbing routines as slamming Red Bulls. This guy knows how it’s done:


So why is it that those three life-saving Dos almost never get Done?

Climbers rarely ask their partners to double check their knots or belays.

Climbers never tie knots in the ends of their ropes.

And climbers definitely never, ever wear helmets!

Yeah, we “know” what to do … we just don’t do it! OK?!?

I know this is true because every other issue of Rock and Ice contains an Accident Report reissuing another reminder—that ought to be entirely forehead-slapping tedious by now, yet, tragically, isn’t—to “knot your rope ends!”

How many times does it gotta be said?  What do these disobedient people think the hundredth time they read these reminders?  It must be something like: “You can’t possibly be talking to me? This is surely advice for the layman, the gumby, the punter, the noob. Not MOI!”

Well if the essentials ain’t sinking in, perhaps the nonessentials will. I’m here today to provide a few entirely nonessential Dos an Don’ts of climbing. My thought is that if no one bothers listening to the important, life-saving stuff, well, maybe the completely inane, self-absorbed and useless information will sink in. After all … this is the Internet.

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Don’t Touch the Holds

You see a bunch of boulderers trying a sweet-looking problem. It starts on a shaped incut crimper for the right, and a rad-looking sloper for the left.

Here’s what you do: go right up to those holds and start touching, fondling and playing with them as if they are a set of beautiful, mesmerizing breasts, while meanwhile you’re drooling and saying something erudite like, “Dood! So rad! This problem looks so dope, dude, ohhhhhhmygoooood, dooood! Can I try this with you guys?”

Here’s the deal. The late-night Carl’s Jr. grease is now leaking out of your hungover skin and fucking up the starting holds for everyone else. Unless your climbing shoes are on, your fingers are bone-white and Sahara-dry from a liquid-chalk base layer plus an added addition of loose Frank Endo magnesium-carbonate, and you have the intention of actually climbing, then don’t touch the holds.


Do Brush the Holds

There’s nothing better than sharing your current sport climbing project with your friend. You show him the beta. You tell him how to do the moves. You watch as he gets stoked on doing the route, too.

It takes your friend an hour to work on the project, but whatevs. You’re happy to be climbing with your bro, and happy to see him get psyched on the same route that you’re trying.

One little thing. He didn’t bring a brush. Dammit.

Now, when you fall, which you will, there will be some small part of you that will absolutely, positively blame your friend for the fact that he just spent the last hour caking his greasy, chalky muck onto the wall, and didn’t brush any of it off.

You don’t say anything. You pretend everything is cool. You’re out climbing, bro!

But deep down, you secretly hold it against him for the rest of the day.


Daniel Woods on Punt X (9a). Photo Joe Kinder


Do Understand the Pyramid of Shit

The Pyramid of Shit (POS) is an important, unspoken social rule in climbing. And it goes like this:

At any point in time there are between one and three climbers in the world who can “take a shit”—to use today’s climbing vernacular—on everyone else’s projects. Currently, those people are Adam Ondra, Chris Sharma and Alex Megos. They’re at the top of the pyramid, and everyone beneath them makes up the rest of the pyramid.

Here’s a real-life example of how this works. Take your latest project. You’ve been working on it for months. You have all the beta dialed in, and you’re using every tricky rest in the book. There are hard clips that you can’t quite manage to clip, so you skip them and take scary falls. If you ever send this route, it will be the hardest redpoint of your life.

Then, one day, Daniel Woods shows up, flubs all the beta, skips all the rests, doesn’t use a single drop knee or heel hook, and basically just robot-arms his way up the route like it’s made of pull-up bar rungs.

What in holy hell just happened? you think.

Simple: Daniel Woods took a shit on your project, and by the basic laws of mutual association, he took a shit on you, too.

You now feel pretty down. So, what do you do? You go run a warm-down lap on a route that someone else is desperately projecting. That is to say, you go shit on someone else.

And down and down it goes the proverbial toilet.

The Pyramid of Shit is how we establish hierarchy in climbing. You can’t ever escape it. All you can do is claw your way up the sides and, through dedication, perseverance, and training, slightly decrease the amount of shit being taken upon you.


Don’t Pretend you Haven’t Done that Problem only to “flash” it

This devious little scheme takes place in the gym or at the boulders, and it is one of the most annoying and horrible things you can do to a fellow climber. It’s been done to me, and I’ve even done it myself back before I knew better.

It goes like this: A group of people, typically strangers, are working on a problem. You’ve done the problem. You know you can do it. Yet, you pretend that you haven’t done it in order to “flash” it and impress the random people watching you.

If you’ve done a problem, don’t pretend you haven’t. No one cares and it makes you a douche.


Don’t Crap At the Crags

2014-01-01 11.25.43-1My dog Brooklyn had snuck away from us at the Solar Collector wall in the Red River Gorge. Jen was cleaning the draws off a 5.11. I knew Brooklyn was up to no good.

My friend Ray went around the corner to look for her. He came running back, looking rather panicked.

“I called her but she won’t come!” he said, genuinely concerned. “And She’s smells real bad! … I think she’s covered in shit!”

Sure enough, Brooklyn was covered in a thick layer of “Kentucky Mud,” as I dubbed it. We had to wash her off in a creek before putting her in the car for a stinky three-hour drive to the nearest bathtub.

Dropping a stinky two-pound loaf before you try to redpoint your project might help you climb a tad bit harder. But so what? This isn’t Europe, and there’s no reason to turn our playground into your toilet.


Don’t Let People Know You’re a Nerd

Watching climbing videos is a sure-fire way to get psyched on climbing. But as with all porn, watching climbing porn is best kept your own little secret.

You don’t want to find yourself up on West Mountain in Hueco Tanks reciting move for move beta to a V14 that you’ve never done and never will do all because you’ve watched Dosage IV over 100 times. “No way, man! Dave grabbed that hold with his left hand! But in Best of the West Sharma did it with the toe hook. And it only took him 6.5 tries …”

Dude … just stop. We’ve all seen the videos. We know. We’re all nerds too. But this is one of those things we just shouldn’t talk about.


Do Introduce Yourself at Crags/Boulders

We’d been standing at the same boulder, trying the same problem for the last five minutes, and this guy had yet to even make eye contact. Then, he looked at me, grunted while pointing to the start. Apparently it was too much even to say, “Do you mind if I go?” let alone, “Hi, my name is Whatever and I’m from Wherever. How are you today?”

This common scenario in which a group of people find themselves standing at the same wall or same boulder problem and not talking to each other has to be one of the strangest and lamest things I’ve encountered. What’s so funny is that no one likes it. They all complain afterward about “what a scene” it was at the crag. Well, it wouldn’t be a “scene” if you just acted like a polite human and introduced yourself and made normal conversation!

When you roll up to the boulders or crags, make sure you shake people’s hands and introduce yourself. I’ve found it makes for a much more pleasant experience, and helps everyone keep the stoke higher.

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  • mike

    Great article! From experience, I believe most climbers pay more attention to the non-essentials rather than the essentials!

  • http://sunnieclimbsforacause.com Sunnie

    Nice! I’m a newbie and don’t have a ton of experience climbing outside, so these are actually helpful tips. One definite “don’t” I’ve discovered from indoor rock climbing…men, please don’t wear polyester athletic shorts. Just don’t.