Ten years ago, when I first started sport climbing at the limestone crags of Vegas, my partner and I would be excited if we saw other climbers show up. We’d often be rocking out to techno, because we rarely saw any other climbers. But times have changed. Climbing is mainstream now, and the crags are much busier.
With two big climbing documentaries out—in proper movie theaters—and with climbing debuting as an Olympic sport in 2020, there’s no turning back to the crusty, dirtbag, semi-solitary days of yesteryear. There are kids’ teams and they’re all sending your gym projects, and as soon as they get driver’s licenses (if the ‘rents aren’t already rallying the kids to the cliffs), they’ll be at your local crags.
Living in climber-dense Boulder, Colorado, I know that going to any of the local climbing gyms after 4 p.m. is asking for death by social suicide. There are line-ups for routes, boulders, and even the fingerboards. Interestingly, many of these gym climbers have rarely climbed outside.
In today’s explosively growing gym culture, it’s no surprise that the Ps and Qs of crag etiquette have failed to translate as well as they could have from “gym to crag.” Particularly in the last five years, I’ve seen every one of the circumstances below happen in real life at the cliffs. To protect the not-so-innocent crag-offenders I’ve observed, we’ll call our archetypal crag offender “Bruh.” There are also plenty of dude-ettes like this, too—the “Brahs” of the world. Bruh and Brah are not respectful climbers at the crag. They are not fun to be around. They make the experience worse for themselves and for everyone around them.
Here’s how to not be a Bruh-Brah in the great outdoors
1. No music and no smoking, please
Bruh’s rocking out to some Bob Marley and smoking cigarettes at the base of your climb. He doesn’t ask if you mind the music, but even if he does, you feel bad telling him you don’t like his jams—it introduces a social awkwardness into the day you’d prefer not to deal with. So shut off the tunes—no one else wants to hear it. If you absolutely must listen to music to get psyched, bring headphones. And if you must smoke, don’t stand next to the climbs. Walk well away from the wall—like at least 100 feet—so we don’t have to breathe in your noxious secondhand smoke right before our send.
2. Tame your beast
I’m the world’s biggest dog-lover, but Brah’s dog, Brito, is running around the base of the climbs and over my rope, kicking up dust, and barking. Brito also took a dump and Brah, trying to be a responsible dog owner, picked up the poop but then left it in the bag on the trail, where she may or may not remember to pick it up later. Also, Brito picked a fight with another pooch, Frito, then bit a climber on the ankle. Leash your pet if they are running around disruptively. Bring poop bags and take them out with you, and please don’t bring your aggressive dog to the crag—just don’t.
3. Don’t be a route hog
Bruh has eight of his friends doing toprope laps on the 5.10 classic, which is also a common warm-up. A climber asks when they’ll be done, and Bruh says it’ll be a few hours. Be mindful of other climbers who might want to do the route and allow them to work in—you don’t own this rock climb.
4. Do not take draws off a route
Brah thinks this is her lucky day: “Someone left all their draws, and now they’re all mine!” She takes them off the route and puts them into her bag. Unbeknownst to Brah, this is not the moment of ultimate booty—this is stealing. There are certainly crags where leaving draws is not kosher, like if the community bans it for aesthetic reasons or land managers don’t want fixed or semi-permanent draws. But for God’s sake, if there are draws hanging on a sport climb, don’t take them off, thinking they’re abandoned. It’s fine to climb on them, but you should also ask to use them first if the person who left them hanging is around; you might also ask when they’re ready to go before starting up yourself, as the climber may be in redpoint mode, warmed up and ready to send.
5. Brush the holds
I’m trying my project, and Bruh wants to try it, too. It’s a hot day and the crux of the climb involves a sloper. Bruh forgot his brush at home again. He tries the crux moves over and over again, and finally with exasperation yells, “Lower me!”—without brushing the holds. My next attempt, I slime off the slopers and curse Bruh under my breath. Carry a boar’s hair brush in your chalk bag, please. If you’re trying someone else’s project and you don’t brush the crux (at least), you’re being extremely inconsiderate. If you forgot your brush and you’re trying my project, I’ll have you go in direct, then I’ll throw mine up to you and make you brush the holds. Also, if you ticked up your project and did send, brush off your big ticks when done.
6. Don’t spray beta without permission
Brah just did the route I’m about to try to onsight and she wants to tell me all about it. I’m lacing up my shoes, and she won’t stop giving me a play-by-play. Maybe Brah was just being enthusiastic, but she just blew my onsight. Simply ask the climber if they’d like beta before spraying them down unsolicited. On the other hand, if I tell you I’d like to try to flash it, then spray away.
7. Pick up your poop and trash
Bruh was preparing for his project, and ripped off his finger tape and threw it on the ground. Then, looking up at his climb, Bruh felt nature call, and proceeded to take a poop just around the corner, leaving toilet paper and a big rock covering his mess. Use a Wag Bag and hike out all of your trash—even micro-trash like finger tape. Leave no trace.
8. Don’t wobble
Brah just fell off one move from the top of her climb, and she is throwing her shoes down and screaming obscenities at the top of her lungs. Now the little four-year-old that cruised Brah’s project learned a new word. I get it—climbing can be frustrating. But we don’t all need to hear about it. Cussing and screaming set a poor example. If you really need to let off some steam, take a walk away from the crag and go scream your obscenities to the squirrels—they like nuts.
9. Be supportive
Bruh is the strongest person at the crag that day and just sent your project. He comes down and immediately says very loudly to his friends how easy it was and downgrades it. Just because you’re the strongest climber that day doesn’t entitle you to be a jerk. Spare everyone the cockiness—when climbers like Adam Ondra exist, we are all humbled. And if you sent someone’s project as your warm-up, don’t spray to everyone and their sister how easy you thought it was—it’s insensitive.
10. Keep your voice down
Brah is telling us all about her wild weekend in Cancun right beneath your climb. You’re trying really hard on every move, but all you can hear is “Tequila shots, whooooo!” It’s distracting, no matter how mentally focused you are. If you want to talk loudly, move away from the cliff for a moment. It’s not only a courtesy, but also a safety thing—it’s hard to hear “take” over “tequila.”
These 10 tips may seem intuitive, and you may be thinking, “I’d never do that.” But coming from the girl who used to rock techno in limestone caves, I’m telling you I’ve experienced this stuff and still see it outside all the time. So please, there are more of us now and our crags will continue to be more crowded with each passing year. I’m looking forward to seeing you all out there, but just turn off the tunes, bring a smile, and leave Bruh-Brah—and maybe Brito—at home.
Want more tips like these, to help introduce you to the exciting world of sport climbing? Then check out our Intro Sport Climbing online education course, with pro climber Heather Weidner. This 8-week course takes you through all the fundamentals, from the gear you need, to how to safely belay, to how to lead, to how to fall, and so much more. Whether you’ve only ever climbed in the gym and are ready to take it outside, have never climbed at all, or want to refresh your skills, this class will teach you how to sport climb efficiently, be safer, and maximize your fun. Price: $75