10 Climbing Deal-Breakers
Brace yourself for the half-mad rantings of the world’s saltiest, crustiest, least-patient-ever climbing partner.
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Back in 2007, my friend Rolando (Rolo) and I were climbing at the Patio, a short sport area in Boulder Canyon, Colorado. I’ve always felt like I’m an efficient, goal-oriented climber who doesn’t waste time at the cliffs, and who aims to get in as many pitches as possible. I strive to be streamlined with my processes, minimizing time spent prepping for climbing or dithering with attendant activities in favor of actually spending time on the rock. This has earned me the label of “impatient”—and I’m OK with that. It’s who I am; it’s how I’m wired. But Rolando, a hyper-driven alpinist and rock climber with accomplishments like a free solo of the Naked Edge (III 5.11) in Eldorado Canyon, the one-time speed record of 6:49 on the Tetons’ Grand Traverse (VI 5.8), and the first ascent, with Colin Haley, of the Torre Traverse (VI 5.11 A1 WI6) in Patagonia, may have me beat.
That day at the Patio, as we wrapped up after a morning of climbing, I slowly coiled the rope in order to lash it to my pack.
“Here, give me that!” Rolo said, snatching the rope out of my hands. He threw the cord over his shoulders and, in a blur of motion, had it sorted in less than a minute. We didn’t have to be back in town at any particular time—when he wasn’t climbing, Rolo hung out at his house reading, drinking maté, and petting his cat, and I was still unmarried, without kids or a house to take care of. No, Rolo just couldn’t stand to see me coiling the rope so slowly. This was a new level of “crag impatience,” and I stood there in awe until he flung the rope back at me, tightly wrapped and ready to carry out.
“OK, good, let’s go,” he said.
For once, I had been outdone. It was a thing of beauty, an education in how I might take impatience to the next level. Since then, I’ve striven to up my game. In fact, as I’ve aged and the demands of life dilute my free time, my lack of patience has only gotten worse.
As a diehard climber at it now for 30-plus years, I devote any waking moment I’m not working, hanging with the family, or doing household chores to climbing. Because there aren’t as many of these moments as I would like, I aim for maximum efficiency at the cliffs and at the gym. Fucking around is anathema; sure, I could get away with a laissez-faire attitude a quarter century ago as a college kid with his whole sending life ahead of him. But now, in my late forties, with my body slowly breaking down and many projects still left to do, I cannot and will not accept any squandering of my precious climbing time. If you climb with me, you come to climb.
To avoid frustration, I try to climb with likeminded friends who are equally focused on maximizing their climbing time, and who get equally annoyed with dithering. Over the years, I’ve taken note of and catalogued the many ways we all waste time at the cliffs, in order to link up with partners who do not exhibit these behaviors. Call them demerits or “deal-breakers” or whatever you like, but these are the top 10 things that will move you lower on my potential partner list. Yes, I’m an unreasonable, petty asshole—and in many cases a hypocrite, since I’m guilty of many of the below sins as well. But I’m also not going to change. I don’t have time for that.
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1. Perpetual shoe changing/poor footwear selection
This bizarre activity begins well before reaching the crag and is a red flag of the highest order because it shows what the day will be all about—doinking around. The culprit usually has one pair of shoes for driving, another for approaching, and—in extreme cases—a third pair of “crag flip-flops” (WTH?) to wear between climbs. The shoe-changing ritual begins at the carpool meeting place, with you standing there awkwardly while the perpetrator fusses about with various shoes, laces, Velcro straps, etc. while making a footwear switchover. Or they’ve only brought flip-flops for a rugged, technical approach and so walk slowly and spend half the day slipping and sliding around, going, “Man, this ledge is really exposed. I should’a brought my other shoes.”
Thirty-plus years ago, Five Ten began selling the first commercially available approach shoe with a sticky-rubber sole, the Five Tennie. Since then, dozens of other footwear companies have followed suit. For a mere $100–200, you too can own and wear these “approach shoes,” a versatile solution for climbers en route to and at the rock. This isn’t just crazy talk: One, single pair of shoes will meet all your driving, hiking, scrambling, and belaying needs. And if your feet are so tender and precious that you somehow need two or three different shoes to get through the day, then your feet suck. Cut them off to turn into Soylent Green.
2. Packing/unpacking junkshow in the parking lot
You’re so psyched to climb that you packed your climbing bag the night before, with draws, rope, and shoes neatly at the bottom, and water, chalk, and snacks on top. You’re all dialed in and ready to go, and you sorted out who was bringing what the night before with your partner via text. However, when you get to the rendezvous, your partner has her stuff strewn everywhere—all over the trunk of the car, in pools of antifreeze and battery acid on the asphalt, half-draped out of her pack in various tangles and piles. “Hey, you think we’ll need these today?” she asks, holding up some 20-lobed titanium camming unit from Eastern Europe, then a batch of ratty quickdraws, then a set of walkie-talkies. “What about these?” As sand slips through the hourglass, you can feel the precious morning sending temps burning away.
Swat your partner on the ass with a broom to get her moving, like in those old “Benny Hill Show” skits. If that doesn’t work, sweep all of her gear into a pile, throw it in her pack in a jumble, and say, “Yes, we will be needing all of this today—and you’re gonna carry it.”
3) Surprise curfews
You’ve just gotten in the car with your friend, fired up for a long day at the cliffs with a slow, considered warm-up and plenty of time to give three or four burns on the project. It’s gonna be great! But then: “Hey, I forgot to tell you I need to be home by 11 for an Amway presentation, goat yoga, and pony rides with the kids”—and it’s already 9 a.m. And you weren’t informed of this at all while making plans. With your day unexpectedly cut short, do you proceed? Like, is it still even worth it?
You know those serial-killer podcasts and Netflix shows that are all the rage? You may want to give those a look—lots of good tips in there about how to make someone disappear so that no one finds them again, ever.
4) Secret errands going to and coming back from the crag
Similar to No. 3, these are often sprung upon the unsuspecting victim once you’re already in the car, allegedly en route to the rock: “Hey, if you don’t mind, can we stop at Jiffy Lube, Walmart, the mall, my mother-in-law’s funeral, and the DMV on the way to the canyon? I just need to do a few quick things.”
If you’re driving, you can of course say “no,” as I had to do one day when my fellow-climbers asked if we couldn’t make a “quick stop” at Whole Foods on our way back through town from Boulder Canyon—I’d rather perform open-heart surgery on myself using a shaving mirror than battle for a space in the Audi-infested parking lot, much less set foot in that narcissist-packed, orthorexia hellhole. However, if you’re a passenger in the car, then all bets are off. As with the advice to someone who’s been kidnapped and locked in the trunk to kick out the taillight and wave at other cars to alert them, you may need to take extreme measures. I’d suggest making a chain of quickdraws and launching it out the window into the car next to you at a stoplight, to get the driver’s attention.
You’re all geared up and ready to go when your partner suddenly announces, “Hold on a bit—gotta visit the woods! Be right back.” And so you stand there like an idiot, painfully tight shoes on, hands coated in chalk, waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting while your partner takes off their harness, runs to the woods, does their business, then stumbles back over with a sheepish look on their face and puts you on belay—10 goddamned minutes later.
There is a magical throne filled with water, with a handle to flush it all down, that you’ll find next to the sink in your bathroom. It’s called a “toilet” and is a very nice thing to crap into before or after going climbing. There is also a sphincter muscle at the end of your rectum that you can pinch shut until you can get to a toilet after climbing. And while your local climbing organization might even have a kiosk with wag-bags near the cliff, do not heed its siren song: You don’t want to be the kind of person who carries around bags of their own shit, do you? I mean, what’s next—starting fires and drowning puppies? Remember, defecating is a vile, dirty, shameful act and should only be performed behind a locked door in the safety of your own home—before or after climbing.
6) Making the day all about eating and/or drinking
Does this make your blood boil: “Can’t wait to finish warming up so I can tear into this sweet lunch I packed. Roast-beef au jus, baby kale salad, and goat-yogurt parfait, here I come!” Can you already calculate the lost climbing time while you sit there watching and listening (nom-nom-nom, smack-smack-smack) to your partner stuff their fucking gob and then laying around later complaining about feeling too bloated to climb? Or were you forced to go by a liquor store for some “post-climb beers” and then find a stream to chill them in? Or for a true double whammy, have you had an unannounced food-procurement errand dropped in your lap while driving to the crag (see No. 4) to queue up the snacks/lunch for later? As in, “If you don’t mind, I know this great little artisanal bakery 20 miles out of the way I want to stop at and pick up some lunch. They get busy in there midday with the hipster crowd, but you usually don’t have to wait more than 45 minutes for your $15 avocado toast.”
If you’re bringing anything other than a quickly consumed, handheld food item like an energy bar or simple sandwich to the cliff, you are the problem. Pretentious little Whole Foods salad boxes? No! Greasy food-savers with last night’s leftovers that you need some stupid spoon you can never find in your pack to eat? No! Spit-roasted pig with an apple in its mouth? No! However, energy bar? Yes! Peanut butter and jelly sandwich? Yes? No food at all because you have crag-o-rexia and don’t eat all day while climbing? Sure, I guess—I mean, it’s really bad for you but at least you won’t be wasting your partner’s time.
7) Adding on last-minute tagalongs
You show up to meet your partner, and what is that you see there but another human being standing next to them? “Mind if Lacey tags along? She couldn’t find a partner for the day.” Suddenly your fun, brisk, efficient day of swapping leads with a known and trusted partner has turned into a three-way shitshow of having to belay—and learn to trust, and worse yet converse with—another climber, who may or may not have their shit together. Yes, sometimes this works out, but not always, and all it takes is one undialed, rope-hogging, or mouthy add-on to nuke the vibe. This most egregiously happened to me at Joshua Tree in 1991, when the mustachioed tagalong I’d been saddled with began bloviating about “not getting on routes above his level” from the safety of the ground while I went bolt-to-bolt on Father Figure (5.13a), struggling to figure out its bouldery beta. Hey, thanks for the encouragement, opinionated-bumbler-guy-I-didn’t-know-I-was-having-to-climb-with-today! Let me know if I can ever return the favor….
Like single people in their thirties and forties, these stragglers are often the ones no one else picked for dodgeball. Beware, beware, BEWARE! Should you find yourself confronted at the rendezvous point with a surprise third wheel, feign 24-hour Ebola-cancer-AIDS (Cough, cough, cough—shouldn’t have licked that toilet seat down at the bus station last night) to get out of it, then go to the gym and auto-belay. With headphones on. And a sullen, forlorn look on your face. While listening to emo.
8) Epicking on a pitch without going in direct to let you rest on belay duty, then coming down to eat, drink, and hang out when clearly it’s their turn to fucking belay
Your partner is trying a route at his limit, maybe putting in an initial beta burn or just otherwise struggling and taking a long time to get up the pitch. An hour passes, then two, then three and there you are still on the ground, holding the rope and having your leg loops jammed painfully into your crotch while your partner falls, flails, and falls some more—and he’s “forgotten” to bring a dogger draw to go in direct with, so you never stop holding his weight. Then he comes down hot, tired, hungry, and thirsty—and proceeds right into “snacking and chilling” mode even though you’re clearly impatient to get on the rock and it’s long since been your turn to climb.
If you’re belaying someone and they start up a difficult pitch without a dogger draw, then that person is not your friend. If your partner is up on a route, falling repeatedly, cussing and screaming, and rapid-fire batmanning without giving you warning so that you end up on your ass in a pile of pointy blocks, then that person is not your friend. And if your partner descends off said epic without evincing any awareness that you are itching to climb, then that person is not your friend. And since this person is not your friend, it’s time to teach them a lesson: Eat their lunch and drink all their water while they’re up on the wall epicking. Then when they come down and are sitting in the dust sweaty and panting and frustrated, run over, slap the Grigri on their belay loop, and say, “Belay time, yo. And by the way, I ate all your food.”
9) Elaborate kneebar and taping preparations
Considerate partners try to take no more than 45 minutes or an hour on a pitch; at least, this is a rule I try to live by. However, that time allotment does also include pre-sending prep and post-sending “tear-down”—and some of us like to milk it more than others. Like that partner who has to tape each and every finger, including a pre-tape spritz of adhesive spray (“Just gotta give it five minutes to dry!”), and can’t seem to leave the ground without double kneepads, involving more adhesive spray, high-hassle kneepad wrangling, an obscene amount of duct tape, then a slow waddle over the base of the route to tie in because their legs are so bound up they walk like the Tin Man. Then, of course, all of this must be dismantled and reapplied for the next burn as well (sigh…).
Buy a neoprene wetsuit and have it covered in sticky rubber at the local resoler. Give this to your partner as a birthday gift—hint, hint, hint, “This might help you be more efficient at the cliff.”
10) Your partner is a snarky climbing writer who’s often in a hurry at the crag and passive-aggressively nitpicks your time-wasting foibles and follies on the Internet to garner cheap laughs from an anonymous audience.
As stated above.
Not sure about this one. This sounds like an exceedingly rare situation. I can’t imagine why someone would behave this way. How terrible!