#LETSTALKABOUT Crag Etiquette and Transitioning from the Gym

Here in the PNW, the dry(ish) days have arrived and climbing season is in full swing. If you’re just getting your toes wet in the world of outdoor climbing, here are a few tips to keep in mind as you hit the crag.

Matt Fineman on Chain Reaction at Smith Rock

Matt Fineman on Chain Reaction at Smith Rock

  • Sharing is caring. Whether you’re climbing with a big group or working your project solo, it’s important to make space for other people. Of course, there are some nuanced points here depending on the discipline of climbing you’re engaging in so let’s unpack this a little:

    • Bouldering: whether you’re set up and working a project or approaching an established group to give it a go, consider these things:

      • offer to share your pads, especially if additional protection will make for a safer landing.

      • brush holds between burns (attempts to climb the problem) so the next person can give it a go without greasing off and let other folks work in while you rest.

      • whatever you do, make sure you’re paying attention to where you’re climbing and sitting to avoid falling-related accidents.

    • Single pitch climbing:

      • It can be frustrating to arrive at a wall to find ropes on a lot of routes with no active climbers. If you’re going to put ropes up, be conscientious and considerate about it. Don’t hog the most popular routes on a wall and make sure you’re being flexible and communicative with other parties. For example: you want to keep a top rope (TR) on a route for a member of your party who isn’t ready to climb and someone else wants to give it a burn. No worries—simply communicate the issue to them and sort it out. Perhaps they are happy to take a TR burn. Perhaps they want to lead it but would be happy to tag your rope up and set it up for your friend. Either option is a great solution, you just need to chat it out.

      • Pay attention. If you’re gearing up to climb, take stock of your surroundings. Does the route you’re hopping on cross above or below someone who’s already climbing? Is there a shared anchor with a rope already on it? Check it out, then adjust accordingly to avoid accidents.

    • Multi-pitch climbing:

      • There are several things to be cognizant of when you’re getting on a multi, but I’ll focus on speed and environmental awareness to mitigate safety hazards.

        • Speed: if you’re on the wall and there’s a party that’s climbing noticeably more swiftly and efficiently than your party AND there’s a safe opportunity for them to pass, let them by. This will make the entire day run more smoothly and avoid traffic jams at belay and rap stations, which in turn prevents accidents. Further, pay attention to your progression throughout the day and make sure you’re on schedule. Rapping in the dark without headlamps and unexpected shiver bivvies aren’t that fun, I promise.

        • Environmental awareness: pay attention to what’s above and below you as you climb. Loose rock abounds and you’ll be managing ropes, gear, and other essentials. You don’t want to drop something or knock a block off onto your belayer or another party below you.

  • Hold the Spray:

    • Unless someone specifically asks for information about a route, don’t start spraying them down with beta (giving information about the climb) without asking!

  • Mind your gear:

    • While you’re at the crag, it’s important to keep your gear tidily organized and out of the way. This prevents accidents and gear mixups.

    • When you’re home, take care of your stuff. Check your ropes for any flat spots or core shots, inspect your pro (carabiners, quick draws, cams, etc), and make sure you’re storing all of your soft goods (harness, ropes, slings, etc.) away from hazardous chemicals that can compromise the integrity of the material. Remember, DEET eats through nylon so be particularly careful when using bug spray around ropes, harnesses, and other gear.

  • Be respectful: we share our crags with other recreational land users and in many areas, access is a sensitive issue.

  • Watch for rock fall:

    • If you see a block with an “x” on it mid-route, this usually indicates that the rock is loose and in danger of falling if you pull on it. Avoid doing so. As you climb, be aware of any loose or hollow sounding rock and avoid placing gear or pulling on anything that might come down. If you accidentally pull something off the wall, yell “ROCK” as swiftly and loudly as possible. Encourage your belayer to use a helmet and stay safe.

  • Triple Check your knots:

    • Develop a consistent method for safely tying in, belaying, building anchors, and cleaning them. Use it every time until it’s second nature. Communicate it to your partners and triple check yourself and others before you climb. Safety first.

  • Get involved! There are so many ways to give back to the community, from mentoring to trail work to donating time, money, and effort to rebolting and other safety projects! Reach out to local climbing and land management agencies to inquire how you can help!

  • If you see something, say something.

    • If you notice an objectively unsafe situation occurring, don’t be afraid to approach and offer some kind yet firm feedback. Check yourself before you approach and consider this: is the situation objectively unsafe or is it a matter of personal preference? If the latter, perhaps it’s best to leave it be! Unsure? Check in with your crew.

Other suggestions? Let’s hear them!