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Ask Answer Man: Should I Rack Gate In or Out?

He knows climbing. And he KNOWS it.

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When clipping gear to your harness, such as quickdraws and cams, do you have the gate facing away from your body or toward it? —Cash Upton, Santa Barbara, CA

How dare you. This very question was not only the impetus of the Cuban Missile Crisis but also that of Answer Man and Mrs. Answer Man’s divorce (we’re friends again, with benefits). If any readers are unfamiliar with the nature of this debate, Hollywood made a movie about it called Braveheart. The characters disagreed about some other stuff, too, but Netflix it and you’ll get the gist.

But I’m here to tell you that, like most things in life (e.g., ice cream flavors), there is a correct answer, a best choice, and Answer Man will deliver it posthaste.

answer man
Illustration: Brett Affrunti

If you rack your draws with the gate facing away from your body, the extra wrist twisting and following pre-clipping biner adjustment causes a muscle to unnecessarily fire, thus further—and with great speed—pumping your baby forearms into failure. Therefore, you must rack your draws with the gates facing inside.

Amen. Let it forever be exalted as gospel. Let the people rejoice at this decree.

It should be noted, however, that when you’re cleaning a route, it is considerably more convenient to hang the draw back on your harness in the reverse configuration. Go figure.

Last winter, my partner and I were the first to climb a rare ice line on Indian Head in the Catskills, but we did it on toprope. Is it still a first ascent? —Skip Thompson, via email

Are you writing a book called Skip Thompson’s Minor Choss Routes and Other Self-Aggrandizing Achievements?

Ah, who cares. The answer to your question is no. But also yes. People bolder than you will say not really since TRing isn’t exactly the pinnacle of style. And we all know that style counts. Others, though, including myself, might say that if it has not been done in better style, your send counts as an FA. I say mark it, dude.

My partner yelled at me in the gym for “spiking” her after she fell. I apologized, but I have no idea what spiking is, how I did it, or how to stop doing it. Please advise. —Penny N., Portland, OR

Geez, yelled at you? In the gym? First order of business: Find a new partner whose general disposition isn’t on the fast track to a domestic dispute. Second: Find a way to curb your abhorrent belay technique so your new partner’s ankles don’t one day resemble the shattered dreams of your disappointed parents.

Spiking is the silent fear pervading every quaking bone of a lead climber lacking confidence in his or her belayer. This occurs when an unsuspecting (read: shitty, inattentive, useless, unsafe) belayer sits back in their harness and offers no give when the climber hits the end of the rope after a fall. The ensuing pendulum smacks the climber at full speed into the wall with whatever body part happens to be facing forward at the moment. You caused this.

You can fix it by offering just one tiny hop at the end of the fall. Belaying is a bit of an art and a real skill to master. Find an overhanging route and have your climber lead up to a bolt high on the wall and take. Now, give a little jump. Your climber’s weight should gently lift you off the ground a few feet. Next, ask your climber to take a controlled fall with the bolt at his or her knees, feet, then above the bolt completely. Work on your timing and how much slack is in the rope. Mind the ground and try to get better. It’s the only way anyone will trust you, ankle breaker.

And other topics…

What does the word “futuristic” mean in terms of boulder problems?
It means they haven’t f’n done it yet (and that most of us never will).

Are bigger crashpads better?
Oh, sure…but yours is great!