In climbing, there will be routes you want to do but, despite your best efforts, are never able to. This is a fact, and it happens to us all. Adam Ondra really wanted to repeat the Alex Megos 5.15c pocket testpiece Perfecto Mundo in Margalef, Spain, but despite his best efforts—including having his wife hang on a rope behind the route blowing a fan onto him at the crux—he did not succeed. After 44 days at the cliff and 10 days spent projecting Perfecto Mundo in mostly hot, humid conditions, even mighty Ondra had to bail.
There are two basic ways to give up on a route. The first one we’re all familiar with: rage quitting, a term borrowed from video games that applies here. In video games, rage quitting happens when you’re so fed up with how a game is going you simply shut off the console without saving or exiting the game. Or maybe you hurl the controller at the TV or wall, as my friend Scott did when he was losing at a car-racing game on my Xbox and then had to buy me a new controller. If you’re in a multi-player scenario like a raid or MMORPG, raging leaves other gamers hanging. If it’s a single-player game, the only person who suffers is you; ditto for climbing.
I’ve rage quit in climbing too many times to count. Usually it involves rapidly stripping the draws or petulantly hollering to be lowered (“DIRT ME!!!”) while cursing the rock and—on a more self-aware day—my own weakness and ineptitude. The last route I rage quit was a four-star line in northern Colorado, an iconic climb with a super-annoying, tweaky, 1990s drilled pocket on its bottom crux that is too tight for my swollen fingers. After four days of being able to do every sequence except the one using this stupid, asshole, loser pocket, I lowered into the gully below the cliff in a huff, and then went around the corner to channel my angst into climbing slabby, cobweb-covered, consolation-prize choss.
The longer you climb, the better (hopefully) you’ll get at moderating your rage-quitting response. I’m usually over it within one to five minutes, whereas in the past my black mood could last all day. In my twenties, I got so mad while rage quitting some chosspile in the Skull Cave at Rifle, Colorado, that, while down-aiding, I threw a quickdraw at the wall that then bounced off and hit my belayer in the head. It was actually my friend Scott, mentioned above, who promptly said, “Not cool, dude!” while rubbing the welt on his dome. And he was right—though throwing my Xbox controller at the wall was “not cool” either!
A new term has entered American parlance: quiet quitting. Despite how the phrase sounds, quiet quitting is not quietly quitting your job; instead, it’s doing the bare minimum at work, accomplishing only what’s in your job description and not going above and beyond in terms of effort or hours. In soulless corporate America, with its constant “restructuring” and “right-sizing” to gin up numbers for “shareholders,” this may be a surefire way to get laid off, because you know that some overstoker, triple-latte-guzzling, SEO-proficient (whatever the fuck that is), Linked In–savvy kiss-ass will happily take your place—and probably for less money. But I digress.
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In climbing, quiet quitting is tied directly to our fragile egos. As my friend Chris Weidner so astutely pointed out during his recent appearance on the Clipping Chains podcast, this usually takes the form of complacency: falling back on the old canards of “I don’t have enough endurance” or “I’m too weak” or “Conditions suck” when you fall; failing to step back and ask your belayer and friends to help you critically analyze why you’re punting; and working the same difficult project ad infinitum without ever giving it your all, because you look good for the peanut gallery styling hard moves you have wired.
As Weidner put it, “I’ve noticed that people seem to get pretty comfortable having a project. They get comfortable doing the same moves over and over, and it feels good to be able to do these moves, even if they’re falling near the top,” describing it almost as an addiction. To send risks having to move on to an even harder project and actually apply oneself, so climbers stay stuck on that one climb forever. I’ve seen this play out especially at beta-intensive, projecting areas like Rifle, where at least half the climbers seem miserable, going through the same warm-up, redpoint, fall, rest-day motions over and over like it’s Groundhog Day.
They’ve essentially quiet quit their projects, but are hanging on in a depressive limbo like that office worker who quiet quit their uninspiring job years ago but is too mired in inertia to look for something better. You might also quiet quit climbing overall by only climbing routes you know you can flash or do in a try or two, or by doing laps on climbs you have wired—again, this may be fun and it may keep you fit, but are you applying yourself or just going through the motions because it’s what you’ve always done?
Rage quitting can be obnoxious, but at least it shows passion for the sport and a desire for self-improvement; it shows that you care about something. Quiet quitting, on the other hand, is a slow death and leads to burnout, to spinning on a purgatorial hamster wheel until you’ve come to hate that which you previously loved.
For me, I’ll choose rage quitting any day—it is a fleeting storm that passes. My belayers may not say the same, but at least I warn them now when I’m flinging quickdraws at the rock. Hell, if I’m in a good mood, I’ll even loan them a helmet.
Matt Samet is a climber of 35 years, and a freelance writer and editor based in Boulder, Colorado.