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Ask Answer Man: Can I Landscape Landing Zones?

He knows climbing. And he knows it.

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This article originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of our print edition.

Rock Climbing Bouldering Answer Man Trees Vegetation
Illustration: Meen Choi

What are the rules for pruning trees, moving rocks, and cleaning landing zones in climbing areas? I won’t go full lumberjack, but what CAN I do? —Jordan A., Boston, MA

Just like the stripper who popped out from the oversized cake at Answer Man’s last birthday, the answer to your query is both surprising and tragically obvious. Unless you own the land, do not permanently alter the vegetation. Assuming that a tree, bush, cactus, rock, flower, whatever, is an OK thing to pluck from the earth so that you can climb a problem no one else will remember is adolescent, borderline-toddler behavior. If you can’t reach the starting holds on that thing, stand on your bag or your partner.

But, but, but what about so and so and such and such crag! I can hear you whining it out right now. You’re right, he or she did do that at that one place, and yes, your crag is rife with relocated rocks and unearthed roots. But it was done so either in error or with the wisdom that comes from years of development, and if you had to ask me for the answer, in the words of prolific Western author Bertha Muzzy Sinclair, “Ye ain’t there yet.”

What’s the deal with simul-climbing? —Jennifer S., Spokane, WA

Ah, simul-climbing, that mobile belay technique that puts your very safety in the climbing skills rather than the belay skills of your chosen partner. Here’s the general idea: You take a length of rope, typically between 20 or 30 meters, and tie one of you to each end. A shorter amount of rope is used because A) it’s a pain in the ass to communicate over a whole 70 meters of rope and B) there’s less rope to manage or snag.

One person sets off on the route of choice, plugging gear as they go while you belay them. Near the end of the rope length, you put your shoes on and start up the route, careful to leave enough protection in between you and your partner that if one of you falls, you don’t plummet to your doom. The rub is that you shouldn’t be simul-climbing if you think there is any real possibility of falling. Answer Man’s personal rule, however extreme some may think it, is that if you wouldn’t solo it, you shouldn’t simul-climb it.

Always put your strongest climber on the bottom of the rope. He serves more of a belayer role. If you don’t believe me, consider what it would be like when your candy-ass follower biffs and drags you down into the last piece you placed. See how you really can’t fall when you’re simul-climbing?

How do I deal with old tat on routes? It’s particularly bad in desert spots. What’s the protocol? —Arthur M., via email

Repeat after me: “Hail Mary, full of grace, may this piece stay in place and may this anchor remain together.” Nah, I’m just kidding. That won’t help. We all know that if you want gear to hold you have to pray to Bill “Dolt” Feuerer, Lord of Unconventional Pro. (Google him you uneducated plod—know your elders.)

Look at all the tat around you and decide whether it can bear body weight or not. If it’s a rat’s nest of eight old slings, you’re more likely to make it to the bottom at a rate of decent that won’t end in your untimely demise. However, if you have any hesitation, you’ll likely want to add your own piece to the web of misinformation (which contributes to the problem for the next wayward climber).

Once you’ve made it safely to the ground, talk to some locals, or find them on the message boards. Many communities are privy to the problem of crap anchors and want to know what and where the situations are most dire so they can tend to them. Don’t go bolting something that shouldn’t be, and don’t add to the problem if you don’t have to, but most importantly, don’t risk your life on something you don’t trust. Assess the situation and be smart. If you can’t make those decisions, you shouldn’t be out there.

And other topics…

What’s a Funkness Device?
Basically a Geiger counter for the effectiveness of Parliament records.

Why are there so many acronyms in climbing slang?

I got yelled at for texting while belaying, WTF.