Crusty Corner is a monthly column written by Climbing Editor Matt Samet, a climber of 30 years. When he's not at the gym or the rocks trying to stave off the inevitable performance decline of middle age, you can find him in his basement playing Xbox.
If there’s one universal truth in climbing, it’s that we were all gumbies at some point. All I have to do is think back 30 years to 15-year-old me on my first climbing course, and I shudder. I wore ratty sweat pants with racing stripes up the sides, a bike helmet, and a Swiss seat harness made of webbing, and climbed in running shoes. I was pumped out of my gourd when I finally thrashed my way up a 5.5 chimney—how one gets pumped on a 5.5 chimney, I’m still not sure, but I was redlined. Fortunately, I had mentors, older, wiser, stronger climbers to help save me from myself and who taught me which gear to use, how to use it, and how to move on rock. Yes, there was a long transition out of gumbyhood into becoming a full-fledged climber (I’m still working on it), but eventually I sort of got my shit together.
We’re not all so lucky. Some climbers, either through lack of mentorship or the wrong kind of mentorship or willful cluelessness or just being idiot-knowitall-showoffs-who-refuse-to-learn, fall into the category of “perma-gumby.” Despite the amazing tools and wealth of knowledge at our fingertips about best practices, they still do inexplicably lame, backward-ass things. I’m not sure where they’re learning these behaviors; perhaps there’s a Hogwarts-style Gumby Academy somewhere churning them out, because there doesn’t seem to be any other explanation other than the explosion in gym culture. (For photographic evidence of such shenanigans, I would refer you lolchufferz.tumblr.com, the best site ever on the Internet.) But that’s only the half of it, because many of these behaviors are also manifest at the cliffs, sometimes by seasoned climbers who didn’t just stumble out of the gym, clueless and unmentored, but have been around long enough to know better.
Along those lines, I’ve come up with the Top 10 Perma-Gumby Behaviors, as well as suggested a solution for each. Perhaps you have some ideas of your own about symptoms and cures. Feel free to leave them in the comments—together we can Make Climbing Great Again (MCGA)!
1. Bouldering with a harness on
Why? Just why? I see people doing this at the gym all the time—bouldering to warm up for route climbing, or cooling down from route climbing by bouldering, with their harness on. There is no reason for this. Bouldering involves physical, dynamic, gymnastic movement, and if you don’t need to have on an impediment to that movement, such as a harness, basket full of cobras on your head, or backpack full of pots and pans, then don’t. As a scientific experiment, I timed myself putting on and adjusting my harness (25 seconds) and taking it off (9 seconds). That is just over half a minute total for harness donning and doffing. Surely you can spare half a minute to ensure a proper bouldering session and not look like an unmitigated tool?
Find a good friend and entrust him with the care of your harness: “Jürgen, I’m going to be route-climbing from 10 to 12 today, then I’m going to boulder from 12 to 1. Can you come take my harness away at noon and put it somewhere secure?” Like that former Vicodin addict who had a motorcycle crash and now needs a trusted caregiver to mete out his Oxycontin every eight hours so he’s not eating it like Tic-Tacs, you’ll need outside help until you develop the necessary willpower.
2. Draping the rope over your shoulder before the first clip
“Oooh, look at me, I’m an elite-level climber and this route is sooo hard and this first clip is sooo tough I need to drape the rope over my shoulder while climbing up to it so I can clip it more quickly. Hey, hey—are you looking at me? Please look at me!!! Goddammit, somebody, anybody, for the love of all that is right in the universe, look at me!!! Me, me, ME, ME, MEEEEEE!!!!”
Take the rope that’s over your shoulder, make an extra wrap or two around your neck, clip the first bolt, and then have your belayer take really, really tight. Hang there for a good minute or two to test the system.*
(*Don’t do this; it will kill you.)
3. Leaving your keys, iPhone, and water bottle at the base of the gym bouldering wall
You know what I don’t want up my ass when I fall in the bouldering cave? Your keys, your iPhone, and your water bottle. Believe it or not, there is a place called a “locker room” with these metal things called “lockers,” inside which you can store your items using an amazing invention called a “combination lock.” Or you could even use a “backpack” or a “gym bag.” Or leave your phone and water bottle in your “car” and get water from the “drinking fountain” in the “lobby.” The possibilities are endless.
Either use one of the solutions proposed above, or, to save other patrons the pain of having your sundries lodged in their backside, simply store these items in your own backside for safekeeping. It may take some doing to get them up there—I’d suggest setting them below the yellow-tape V3 then falling off backward repeatedly onto them, without lube.
4. Double Dynos
There is no reason, ever, to do a double-dyno. There are no good rock climbs anywhere that have this type of move on them—if a route has a mandatory double dyno, then it’s time to move on. That route is broken.
The only person I’ve ever seen doing a double dyno was Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger. And the only reason he was doing this was to get away from himself, because he knew, deep down in the depths of his soul where we can’t hide from the lies we tell ourselves to get through the day, that he was the type of total loser who does double dynos. And so, with each dyno, there he’d be, poised to latch the hold, free from the trappings of gravity and finally having escaped his existential prison. But then as soon as he landed the hold, it was back to square one: “I’m a double-dynoing poseur gumby loser,” Sly would think. “And everyone knows it.”
If you must dyno, do one-handed dynos, though even those can be iffy, especially if you’re doing them in approach shoes to impress other climbers.
5. Rappelling from lowering anchors
Where this one started, I have no idea—there seems to be this notion that lowering through thick stainless-steel lowering rings somehow causes profound, immediate damage, and so you must rappel “for the good of the community.” Hogwash. The only kind of rings you can’t lower through are the thin, flimsy aluminum rappel rings; the stainless rings, such as you find atop most sport routes, are meant to be lowered through many, many times before there’s wear or grooving. In fact, a clean, well-maintained rope will have negligible impact on the rings—it’s dirty ropes, laden with soil, sand, or moisture, that act as mini-sawblades. Moreover, cleaning draws while you rappel is much sketchier than grabbing them on the way down, lowered on toprope, especially if a route is overhanging or traversing and you need to stay trammed in.
Put up a few routes of your own, check out the specs on anchor hardware at fixehardware.com or rapbolting.com, and/or find a first ascensionist or active bolt replacer to mentor you about anchors and hardware. If you really want to do something for the community, keep tabs on anchor hardware at your local cliff and replace any lowering hardware as needed—all you need is a wrench and replacement hardware. It’s not rocket science. Even a blockhead like me can do it, and I used to do double dynos in the bouldering cave with my harness on.
6. Belaying with your rock shoes on and/or taking them halfway off and standing on the heel
If your shoes are so comfortable you can keep them on for the entirety of your gym or climbing session, then they’re way too big or they’re just crappy. Even if they’re tight and you need relief between pitches, you shouldn’t take them halfway off and stand on the heels—this deforms the heel cup and, over time, turns a nice pair of rock shoes into floppy, sloppy choss.
Wear clown shoes, everywhere, always. And maybe a dunce cap. And while you’re at it, go sit in the corner and visualize yourself doing double dynos.
7. Climbing with a bunch of unnecessary shit clipped to your harness
You’ve seen that guy at the gym or the cliff, toproping, with no need for anything on his harness but who still insists on rocking: a cordelette, prusiks, belay knife, belay device, quickdraws, water bottle, laminated belay card or route topo, etc. These cats remind me of the rich jackoffs who go skiing at Aspen or Vail then leave their lift tickets on their jackets when they walk into the gas station on the way home, as if to telegraph “Look at what I did today. Aren’t I so very #blessed, you impoverished, sorry fuckers?” Ditto for the “Batman harness”—“Look at all this stuff I need, because I’m so core. Sure, I might not need it right now while auto-belaying on 5.4 in the gym, but I definitely needed it last weekend on Death Offwidth (VII 5.11 X) and will certainly need it again soon on Grim Reaper Headwall (VI 5.13 X), unlike the rest of you punters.”
Hang piñatas off the offender’s harness when he’s not looking, then give some birthday-party kids bats and sticks, and tell them to go for it. That will correct this unseemly habit.
8. Campusing up jugs in the bouldering cave
“You are so strong. Wow, campusing on those jugs is just, like, so epic. Can I make love to you, right here, right now, in front of everyone, to express my awe and admiration and passion for you with the whole of my physical being? Can I have your babies? Like, let’s just remove our clothes and do it? I see you already have your shirt off, so we’re halfway there…”
Campus up campus rungs on the campus board in the campusing area.
9. Bringing a crash pad to the sport crag
Usually the crashpad wanderers are at the wrong crag, mouth-breathing, confused, consulting a guidebook or app with puzzled looks on their faces, in search of the most used-up, over-traveled, over-sprayed trade route around: “Hey, do you know where Deck Chairs on the Titanic is?” And here they are for some reason going sport climbing with a crashpad lashed to their back. Maybe there is some truth to the old joke climbers tell tourists who ask about the pads, “We’re going off into the woods to have sex (or film a porno).” I can’t think of any other reason, can you? I mean, like, picnicking? Loafing around? Not enough trees to string a hammock from? Seriously, what?
Swap out your crashpad for a cragging pack. Inside this cragging pack bring the things you need for cragging. Then, when you go bouldering, bring your bouldering pad. It’s all so very simple.
10. Putting on your harness, quickdraws, and helmet in the parking lot
Oh, boy. This hit a new low for me the other day when I saw a guy in a common meet-up lot in Boulder sitting in the passenger seat of a car with his helmet already on. Maybe he was worried the sun visor was going to spontaneously break off and give him a head injury…or maybe it already had.
Don’t: Just. Do. Not.