This past May, I spent two weeks in Yosemite. I’d trained all winter and spring and arrived fitter than I’ve ever been in my life. And then I spent the whole time battling poor weather, time limitations, and my own weakness and ineptitude at big wall climbing and ultimately had to be satisfied with topping out El Cap rather than my real goal: to free climb the Salathé Wall. All that hard work and adversity motivated me for two things. In the long term, I’m even more committed to going back and attempting to free El Cap next year. And in the short term? I got really psyched to go sport climbing.
Which leads me to my actual point (No, this is not the “Top 10 Epic Big Wall Fails,” even though this would definitely be more fun to read): I’ve spent a lot of time at sport crags recently and have observed many different styles and tactics. To be frank, not all are equal. And so, I’d like to submit a proposal for good crag style (and I don’t mean this kind of style).
Pull the rope after you belay. There seems to be no consensus on who pulls the rope (or, in the case of someone wanting to top-rope, pulls the rope through), but it’s pretty clear that the best person to do it is the person who just belayed. The belayer has been holding the rope for the last twenty minutes anyway, is probably wearing comfortable shoes and maybe gloves, and isn’t preoccupied with spraying/whining about how well/poorly that redpoint burn just went. So, after your climber lands of the ground and unties (and commences the spray), just go ahead and pull the rope before you walk away and start pantomiming the route at least three grades harder than what your partner just tried (and failed) on.
If climbing in a group of three, use this rotation: belay, climb, relax. Lots of folks refuse to climb in threes because it’s too slow. When this rotation is employed effectively, climbing in a group of three can be great: a bit more social, another person to manage other random things (dogs and children mostly), and more rest in between burns. The rotation starts with belaying (because you want to send someone else up there to work out the beta so that you can make the flash!). Then, you’re psyched, so you quickly pull on your climbing boots and tear it up. But climbing is hard, especially “tearing it up” climbing, and you need time to count the reasons you should’ve sent, so you need time to relax, the third part of the rotation.
Share and care for the real estate. This means the cliff base and the cliff itself. It’s just not a good idea to put your crap at the base of a route, even under an unclimbed line in the Karakorum. Rocks could fall and tear your teal micro-puff. Or your partner could step on your peanut butter and jelly sandwich while putting on their climbing shoes. Or it will just be in the way when someone else wants to climb the route. Instead, find a nice little cove away from the base of the routes to set up shop for the day. And put your junk on a surface that won’t get killed/destroyed.
Likewise, remember that all the other folks at the cliff probably came there to rock climb, too. You came here to climb the five-star mega classic? Guess what route they came here to climb? It’s the not-entirely-unspoken rule that the rock is first-come, first-serve, but that doesn’t mean you have laid claim to a certain chunk of rock for infinite hours.
If others are waiting, please be efficient (like not elaborating on a recent romantic intrigue or deciding you need to make a Paleo Panini just as you’re about to tie in). Likewise, folks who actually have a chance at sending the climb should get deference, especially when conditions, like sun or darkness, matter. But ultimately, it’s simple: Just like crayons in kindergarten, share.
Know the difference between booty, someone else’s gear, and fixed gear (and treat each appropriately). Booty is gear that someone left on the rock because they had to bail. This ranges from a carabiner left on a bolt to a full rappel anchor. If possible, take this stuff off the wall, and if you’re really feeling nice, try to return it to the poor soul who bailed. I say it’s bad juju to booty nice gear off a route you don’t send.
On the other hand, when there’s a line of fresh draws hanging on every bolt (possibly excluding the first one or two) on a climb, that’s not booty; it’s someone else’s gear. Of course, unless that someone – or another someone – has just tossed their rope down below that rope, you are welcome to climb it as long as you leave it the way you found it. There’s a tricky nuance here: At some point someone else’s gear does in fact become booty, but that takes much longer than you might think. We’re talking years and/or extreme wear to the point of the thing hanging from the wall is no longer booty, it’s straight up garbage that is a real danger to climbers. If this is the case, first try to figure out who’s it is and tell them to clean up their mess. If you can’t figure out the responsible party, clean it up yourself. If you’re going to leave your draws on a popular route, might I suggest something that is a tad more durable than the typical aluminum variety: Trango’s Blue Steel draw.
Finally, there’s fixed gear: gear that’s been (semi)permanently fixed to the wall because it’s just so darned convenient to have it there. Again, there’s a range. It could be a stopper in a particularly critical and challenging spot to place, or it could be a string of metal quickdraws up a popular sport climb. All you need to do is use the gear, appreciate that someone invested money and time to make it so convenient, and pay attention to whether the gear is getting worn out. If it is, don’t be lazy/cheap and improve it, or at least tell someone who will.
And by the way, if you’re going to install fixed gear, do it right. This basically means stuff that won’t be trashed by the sun, rain, wind, or just the next, say, 1.3 million climbers who will use it. A good guideline: steel.
This list is in no way exhaustive. There are lots of ways to ruin your own or someone else’s day out climbing, so I’ll end with a final criterion for good crag style. The next time you’re out climbing, take a moment to do a quick scan of your crag style. Now, imagine everyone else present is doing exactly all the same things as you. What would that scene look like? An endless junk show or pleasant send-fest? Modify accordingly.
For the record, we’re going for the pleasant send-fest. Otherwise, we’d quit rock climbing and go on tour with Ke$ha.