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Unbelayvable: The Tranquility of Nature

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See something unbelayvable? Email unbelayvable@climbing.com and your story could be featured in an upcoming edition of the column. For more Unbelayvable, check out the Unbelayvable Archives.

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\”Sweet, Animal World isn’t that crowded today.\”

I just saw the recent Access Fund article that cited a 300-percent increase in visitation to destination areas since the coronavirus pandemic took hold, driving climbers out of the gyms and to the crags. And I do have to say, it’s accurate from what I’ve seen locally. There are way more of us climbers outside, whether it’s because we don’t want to go inside and risk catching the virus, because we were laid off, or because we can now work whenever, wherever. But here’s the deal—it’s also gotten very loud at the cliffs. I was up at a hardperson sport crag last weekend that has a steep, stout, 45-minute approach that usually keeps crowds down, but even there was busy, like 15 or 20 people. Which meant lots of talking, beta spray, belay and rope commands, and just general cliff-base chatter. That’s all well and good at a larger cliff, but here with only five routes close together it was impossible for my belayer and I to communicate, and I started to feel sketched out while working a route. Is there some way, short of shouting “Hey, everybody, shut the hell up!” to get climbers to tone down the noise?

—Brandon D., Colorado

About 15 years ago, I went to see the American remake of the J-horror film The Grudge with my girlfriend. It must have been a spring-break evening or something, because the theater was packed full of middle-school kids. As the movie went on, the kids got louder and louder and louder, joking amongst themselves, shouting at the screen, making fun of the characters and silly jump-scares, feeding off each other’s raucous energy until it grew so chaotic you couldn’t hear the movie anymore. I tried everything to get them to pipe down. First, sitting there, I asked, “Hey, can you guys be quiet?” Then, I stood up and said, “You really need to be quiet or I’m going to get the usher.” Then I stood up and screamed, “Shut UP!” Then finally, over and over at the top of my lungs, standing on top of my chair like a madman, “Hey, shut the EFF UP!”

The result? Nothing, really. The little terrorists would quiet down for a few seconds, then the tittering would start again, then it was back to full-blown anarchy. Finally my girlfriend and I left, got a refund in the lobby, and went home. I watched the movie later on DVD—it wasn’t as good as the original. In fact, it kind of sucked. The lesson? Shouting “Shut up!” at a crowd of people rarely, if every, works. You’re outgunned and outnumbered—and it’s an ugly, angry tactic that will only backfire in your face.

I’d suggest a more one-on-one, interpersonal approach. Basically, just have a pact between you and your belayer that, if it gets too loud for your belayer to hear you effectively, it’s incumbent upon him or her, being on the ground closest to all the action and being the person responsible for your safety, to do something. It need not be confrontational, or judgmental, but she should be ready to ask any violators close at hand to pipe down.

A few ideas:

  • “Hey, I’m having trouble communicating with my climber—do you guys think you could adjust the volume?”
  • “Sorry to interrupt, but my climber and I are having trouble hearing each other. Is there some way to lower your voices?”
  • “I’m worried about my climber’s safety, since I can’t hear her anymore due to the noise. Can we all do our best to quiet down, for everyone’s sake?”

Basically, you’re framing the problem as an “I statement,” then proposing a solution that any reasonable, logical human being would agree to. If you start here, instead of making it a “You statement” (“You’re loud and stupid and I wish you would shut your mealy gob”), you’re going to see better results. The climber could take part as well, if the yelling is coming from a fellow hangdogger next door. In either case, the point is to take polite yet direct action before you get so frustrated that you’re yelling “SHUT UP!!!” to an unreceptive audience that will probably only double down on the noise in the face of your comical fit.

One final note: If bluetooth speakers and “crunchy jams” are part of the noise problem, you’re fully in your rights to pick up the speakers and fling them down the hill without asking the person to turn them off. The speakers will safely land in someone’s hammock anyway, since hammocks and speakers (and general obliviousness to others) seem to go hand-in-hand these days.

Read more Unbelayvable.