We climbers love our labels: gumby, punter, everyman/woman, trad climber, sport climber, aid climber, ice climber, alpinist, mountaineer, boulderer, new-router/first ascentionist, gym climber, free soloist, highballer, gymbie, comp climber, weekend warrior, spraylord, power climber, enduro-pig, kneebar specialist, crack climber, offwidth climber, climbing-team kid, crusher, semi-pro climber, pro climber, etc. Yes, these labels are reductive AF and oversimplify an infinitely complex activity in which most of us embrace more than one discipline. But we do it anyway: It’s human nature to stereotype and to codify.
Like, if someone asked me right now what type of climber I was, I’d have a default answer at the ready. “I’m a sport climber and first ascentionist,” I’d say, since those are the things I do the most (besides falling). But I also spend time in the gym—slipping off routes, boulders, boards, and hangboards—and I like to scramble, boulder, and trad-climb, too. So, if you wanted to listen to me prattle on about all the types of climbing I do, that would be my answer, though I suspect you’d drowse off halfway through.
We also love our pecking orders, putting on a pedestal those who climb harder than us, competing with and comparing ourselves to those at our level (whether covertly or overtly), and looking down our nose at those who aren’t as strong or talented. Again, I’m not endorsing this—and I do my best not to do these things myself—but humans don’t exist in a vacuum. Try going to the rock gym and not noticing what other people are climbing, and then measuring your self-worth against them. I defy you not to look!
Along those lines, here’s a quiz to help you figure out where you land in the climbing hierarchy. Once you have your answer, simply append it to the type of climber you primarily identify as so you can self-label with greater specificity (e.g., “I’m a gumby trad climber” or “I’m an elite boulderer”). This then lets other climbers know exactly how to treat you.
1) The best way to carry climbing chalk is:
A) Tote it around in its original packaging—that’s what a “chalk bag” is, right?
B) Store it in a plastic grocery bag next to your wallet, keys, phone and water bottle directly under the bouldering wall so it doesn’t spill all over.
C) Put it in a chalkbag that you clip to the back of your harness with a giant locking carabiner.
D) Put in a chalkbag that you wear around your waist using the waistbelt that came with the bag.
E) Have a subman or subwoman follow you around with a chalkpot that’s at your beck-and-call the moment you screech, “Chalk!!! Fucking CHALK, right fucking NOW—I’m GREASING!!!”
2) What is bouldering?
A) Something you do below the painted-on red line in your gym with your harness on, to warm up while you wait for Ashley23 from Partner Finder to show up and “do ropes” with you.
B) Something they do in France, I think, like at Fun-thing-blow?
C) “I used to boulder when I was younger but now my knees hurt so I just toprope routes I can flash in the gym.”
D) A gymnastic activity that involves ropeless climbing close to the ground on boulders, and provides a useful way to keep the fingers and core strong for cruxes.
E) “Tune in to Mellow next Monday, fam, if your tryna find the latest V16 banger. Shit’ll be lit—no kapp!”
3) What do you call someone who puts up new climbs, on rock?
A) An Irish setter.
B) A “hangdogger.”
C) A route-setter
D) A bolter.
E) A first ascentionist.
4) What is your favorite type of move at the gym?
A) A double whammy.
B) A double dynamo.
C) A double-clutch dyno.
D) A highstep rockover to crimp deadpoint.
E) A quintuple paddle dyno
5) Night is falling at the cliff, a storm is rolling in, your partner is still up at the anchor, and you need to lower her and get back to the car ASAP. What do you do?
A) Scream for help at the top of your lungs.
B) Call 911.
C) “Shit, I forgot the headlamp again. Hey, Sally, did you bring a headlamp?”
D) Get your headlamp out of your pack, tie it onto the rope so your partner can pull it up and see what she’s doing while threading the anchor, then lower her, pull the rope, and calmly hike out.
E) Rig an 8:1, triple-backed-up SERENE ground anchor, zip your partner to the ground in seconds, pack up your stuff in a mad blitz, then set the trail-running FKT en route back to the car having onsighted every route at the crag that day
6) Your second can’t get a cam out on a multi-pitch route so you have to leave it, but you want to get it back eventually. What’s the best way?
A) “What’s a cam? Is that one of those metal thingies, like a cleeton or top-hook?”
B) Post on Mountain Project threatening to call the cops/rangers on anyone who booties your piece.
C) Post on Mountain Project offering a six-pack to whomever can retrieve and get the piece back to you.
D) Bring your second up, rap down with a nut tool and some water to lubricate the cam, and try to work it out of the crack yourself.
E) “I get gear for free because I’m so stinkin’ rad. I’ll just have my sponsor send me another one. What, you mean you don’t get free gear? Pfffttt…”
7) It’s the first nice day in spring and the rocks are finally warm and dry. What do you do?
A) Go to the gym, same as ever.
B) Put on your wacky unicorn onesie, get the hammock and your golden retriever Denali, charge up the Bluetooth speakers, and head out for a meet-up at the local roadside toproping area.
C) Fling yourself full tilt at an unvanquished project from last season.
D) Ease slowly back into rock climbing by revisiting beloved classics at a favorite crag.
E) “Bruv, I’m already in Rodellar. Slide into my DMs for that 9a bizz-eta.”
8) You’re on a road trip to Red Rock and the sun’s out after a few days of rain. How long do you wait to climb on the soft sandstone?
A) “Wait, there’s rock made out of sand? No way! How’d they do that?”
B) One minute.
C) One hour.
D) One day.
E) “Not my fucking problem.”
9) You see Alex Honnold, the world’s most famous rock climber, at the crag. What do you do?
A) “Alec Handhold? The guy who freehanded the highest mountain in Yellowstone? I saw him on YouTube teaching free solos to Magnum Mint-Toe!”
B) Run over and ask him for scrambling lessons: #yolofreesolo
C) Run over and force him to sign your rock shoes.
D) Leave him be—he’s just another climber trying to have a fun, peaceful day out, just like the rest of us.
E) “Oh, you mean A-Hon? We’re besties—he just texted me!”
10) How many rock-gym belay cards do you have on your harness?
B) “Well, I used to have one, but they took it away after I dropped my climbing partner.”
C) “Twenty—one for every gym I’ve been to since I started climbing.”
E) “None—I don’t belay; gets my hands dirty. You belay me.”
For every question:
A = 1 point, B = 2 points, C = 3 points, D = 4 points, E = 5 points
10–20: Congratulations, you’re a full-blown gumby. But not to worry: We all started there, and there is no shame in being a starry-eyed beginner. In fact, you have nowhere to go but up!
20–30: You’re edging into Regular Joe/Jane territory. Congratulations: You now know just enough to get into huge ethical/technique debates on the Mountain Project forums about “how things should be done”!
30–40: You’re an experienced climber with good self-awareness and a solid grasp of best practices. Sadly, this puts you in vanishingly small minority these days.
40–50: You’re an elite climber, the true cream of the crop. The rules no longer apply to you; you may do as you please in all situations, without any thought of the consequences (those are for peons).
Matt Samet is a sport-climbing gumby and a freelance writer based in Boulder, Colorado.