"You walk without a sense of purpose," a Berkeley bar manager once told James "Peaches" Lucas before firing him. A dedicated climber who spent 15 years living out of caves, tents, and then a Saturn station wagon to pursue the sport, Lucas stumbles through life but marches to the boulders, crags, and walls. Peaches Preaches is his monthly column.
These days, squarely in my mid-30s, I suffer from a bad case of “I used to be rad.” Gone are my care-free dirtbag days of climbing across the country, checking out limestone big walls in Morocco, crushing compression problems in British Columbia, clipping bolts in Rifle, and getting tradical in Yosemite. Now, I work full-time in a cubicle. I climb outside sometimes, but mostly fester grabbing plastic. When I climb indoors, the guy in the rental shoes and Umbros sends my gym project. But I don’t let my embarrassing lack of radness tarnish my image as a core climber. I’ve learned how to sound rad without being even close. Just follow these tips and people will think that you’re the world’s top crusher. Hey, we live in a post-truth era, right? Might as well lie a little to impress people.
1. Be Generous When Describing Your Lifestyle
Highlight the good parts of your life and then embellish them. You don’t live in a beat-up station wagon in the parking lot at Polished Holds Climbing Gym, where you power wash holds for wine money. You work 9-5 in a mobile startup incubator.
So spin your story a bit: Talk about how you’re five minutes away from parking your #wagonlife rig outside the Google offices in San Francisco, picking up some wealthy-coder climber wannabes, and leading them up El Capitan. You'll probably even translate this guide service into shares in their chalk-identification app, which can tell the difference between Frank Endo and Friction Lab’s in two seconds simply by reading the label. It’s very 2020.
Make sure you insert the crucial “five minutes away” and the word “could.” They legitimize your story because theoretically anyone “could” be five minutes away from doing back flips on the Moon with Michael Jackson’s monkey. It's highly unlikely, but we’re talking about what could happen in five minutes, not what will happen.
2. Curate Your Social Media
Get pushed into the crux of a boulder problem or grab the holds of a super-gnar sport project. Ask an exposure-hungry photographer to snap a few pics and then post to Instagram. In your caption, talk about how tiny the left-hand crimp is and how much the right heel sucks. Add an esoteric quote from Rumi, George S. Patton, or Katy Perry. Be specific and vague at the same time, offering just enough information to mislead your 13 Instagram followers into thinking you’ve sent or are within range of sending. Try: "The right hand credit card crimp gaston of the #megaproj tore my skin, but as Rumi says, 'Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.'” If that doesn’t work, post a picture of the boulderfield, crag, or wall and write, “Swish, swish, bish —Katy Perry.” That’ll throw your audience off kilter, and they’ll nod their heads in amazement.
Make sure to post during peak social media hours, which vary depending on your audience. Boulderers wake up late, so post after 12. Sport climbers hit the crag early so get your gram on by 9 a.m. And trad climbers and alpinists don’t own smartphones so save the pictures of your iron skirt rack for your parents, who will be impressed no matter what you do. Make sure to take at least 10 photos so that you can post a different one each day of the week and still have a few for Throwback Thursday, Flashback Friday, and Remember When I Sent Monday.
3. Be Associated With People Who Climb Better Than You
Name-drop. First names only. Refer to your strong friend "Alex." It could be Megos, Puccio, Johnson, or you could be part of the Hontourage. You don’t have to be an amazing climber if you hang with great climbers. People will assume you are badass by association. Try this one: “Alex and I were just climbing on El Cap a few days before he went cordless on the thing.” People will assume you mean Alex Honnold instead of Alex, the dude that cleans the Camp 4 bathrooms at night, and when you say “on El Cap” they’ll assume you mean The Freerider, a 3,000-foot 5.13a, instead of Pine Line, a 70-foot 5.7.
Move even further up the strong-by-association ladder by taking your belaytionship from mere subby to full-on cheerleader. Date a strong climber. My girlfriend has climbed 50-foot highballs, which I can now tongue-in-cheek refer to as “Girlfriend problems,” while I work lowball traverses next to them. It doesn’t matter that I’m fighting to keep my knees off the ground if I know someone who’s pushing the limits. People will assume that you’re strong if you surround yourself with strong climbers. They couldn’t be more wrong!
4. Consider the Tense That You Speak in
Past events should be talked about in the present: “When I send V8, I grab the holds and pull them down to my waist.” You may have only done this once, 20 years ago, but by changing the tense, you do it all the time. When speaking about a goal a month, a year, or even a lifetime away, make sure to also speak in the present tense. Tell people you’re training for your 5.16 trad project that cuts out the easy climbing on the Dawn Wall. Sure, you’re still struggling to get up Pine Line, but everyone needs to start somewhere, right?
Add to the vagueness by never saying whether you sent. Instead, say you climbed “on” the route. I like to tell people I climb up to 5.14 on El Capitan. It’s true: I climb up to it and then aid through it. Also, ignore any rules of style. Count toproping the same as leading. Count pre-placed gear the same as fidgeting in tiny wires on lead. Count sit-starting on top of 25 pads the same as standing on none. Just count it. First try on your third day of your second season on your project is technically a “first try.” There’s a big difference between redpointing, flashing, and onsighting, but most newer climbers (your target audience, as experienced climbers will have figured out by now that you’re full of shit) won’t know the difference. It’s about making it to the top, not how you got there. So be vague.
5. Smudge Grades
People do this on a regular basis. 5.11+ becomes 5.12- with a bit of a pump; V6 turns into V7 because someone used a slightly lower, albeit better hold. I mean, aren’t climbing grades subjective? When possible, translate YDS and V grades into French grades, then conflate them. Tell people you’ve soloed 10a, which is a full grade harder than the most difficult route in the world, Adam Ondra’s 9c (that’s French for 5.15d, btw) Silence in Flatanger.
Remember the age old fact that grade inflation increases as you get further from the parking lot. Check out How to Lie Your Way to The Top for further proof on this matter. But it all boils down this: The further you walk, the more you can inflate the grade. Are you bouldering in Upper Chaos Canyon, hiking two hours for a project? That V4 can bump to V6. Going to do a first ascent next to Lotus Flower Tower in Canada? That Grade V suddenly becomes a grade VI big wall. Head to Africa, fail to top out your objective, and add a whole number that 5.12-. Who’s gonna repeat a 5.13 deep in the desert of Kenya anyway? Just avoid Yosemite, where the old school V4 problems are extremely sandbagged and locals will chop your head off if you try to uprate them.
6. Climb Obscure Styles and Destinations
Do some upside-down inverted offwidths. Hop on runout slabs. Go trad climbing—nobody trad climbs. Adventure climbing means great scenery, epic stories, and easy objectives, as long as you can get yourself out there. Moving away from the normal road cut crags will make you sound daring and bold. The reality could be miles from the truth though. You could bluster your resume just by booking a plane ticket. Anyone that goes to Antartica is badass. Even if you spend the whole trip watching Game of Thrones, people will just bob their heads when you tell them, “Winter is coming.” “He knows,” they’ll whisper. “He’s been there.”
In summary, if you wanna look like a better climber without being one, work the most important muscle you got: your mouth. Jiggle those cheeks, purse those lips, and spray as much as possible.
And if anyone ever questions the legitimacy of your claims, look them right in the eye and say, “That sounds like a YOU problem.”