Monday, April 2, 2012

Ethics - The Dos and Don’ts of Rock Climbing

Aubrey Wingo With Ethics in Climbing
By Aubrey Wingo

Aiguille is a very friendly community; everyone typically knows everyone and we are always welcoming new people. Together, we are all learning and developing physically and mentally in one of the fastest growing sports in the world. And like any sport, there are courtesies and standards one should follow to be a well respected member of the climbing community. For example, when you play golf, you are not supposed to talk while the golfer is teeing off. Below are some of the words of advice I would give to any new climber trying to learn the sport and how not irritate others more immerse in the sport already.

Climbing In General

Do not brag about your Sends: Congratulations! You sent a 5.12! The reality of the world is that not everyone cares. Coming up to a fellow group of climbers and announcing your accomplishments can seem arrogant, unwarranted, and downright annoying. Let your climbing be a personal accomplishment to share with you and your belayer, maybe a close friend, post it on Facebook or something, but don’t announce it like you’ve discovered the cure for polio. If you want to share your send with someone, find the person who set it, and thank them for giving you the opportunity to climb their route.

Downgrading and Upgrading: You might be a pretty strong climber, and I’m sure that once you have climbed at Aiguille long enough, you might get a sense of how difficult a route or problem is before it is even graded. But you are not always correct. Everyone is going to have different opinions on grading, indoors and outdoors, because of different climbing styles. So don’t go to a random climber and tell them that their V4 project is actually V3 because you think so. And don’t complain to your fellow climber because you can’t reach something, or you can’t do one move that there is no way that the route is 5.11. If the climbing universe revolved around you, you can be the climbing Moses and hold up the Ten Commandments of the definitions of each grade.

Pay Attention to the Direction of the Route/Problem: When you are climbing, the person who started climbing first has the priority on the wall. If you might have noticed, a lot of the routes and problems that coexist on the same walls intersect at times. You should NEVER start a route/problem without checking to see if they intersect. If you are leading and then you notice that someone is climbing right underneath you because they didn’t realize that the route crossed into the other, not only does it put both climbers in a dangerous situation, but it is obnoxious and typically forces one of the climbers to stop. Imagine, you are bouldering. You are on the crux move of your project. You stick the move. You go to move to the next move knowing that the finish is near. And then you see it. Another climber that started after you appears, blocking the last footchip of the problem. And of course you’re pumped and have to let go because you’ve got nothing left. Now you want to kill that climber! Think about it the next time you put your hands on the start hold.

Bouldering Specific

Do not Spray Beta: What is beta? And why would I spray anyone with it? Beta is a term used in the climbing community meaning tips or advice on how to climb a route. If are looking for direction on how to climb a particular boulder problem, you can look to your fellow climber and ask, “Do you have any beta for this problem?” The term “spraying beta” is something that you NEVER want to be characterized as doing. The term “spraying” means giving out excessively without want, typically while the climber is on the wall. There are going to be times when you are watching someone climb and you know they are messing up some aspect of the route or maybe there are missing a foot chip, but keep it to yourself! “Beta sprayers” look like know-it-alls. After the climber is off the wall, you can certainly inform them of the missing foot chip, or even ask them if they would like some beta, but ALWAYS ASK! Be under the assumption that all climbers do not want beta until you ask.

Take turns and follow the order: This seems like such a childlike concept however, it is a huge aspect of bouldering ethics. You know you have been to Aiguille on a Friday right after the setters have put away the ladders and everyone is jumping up on the wall at the same time. Remember that there are a lot of people who are looking to climb the same boulder problems as you. No one is asking anyone to form a single file like in front of the Wave, but you should keep in mind of the others around you. If you are sitting down, you are not “in line” for the wall. If you are chalked up and waiting for your turn, casually look to your fellow climber and make sure to let them know that you are going to go next. If you jump on the wall without any notion, and you just fell off less than 30 seconds ago, take a break and let someone else on the wall. Your turn will come. So next on the Aiguille After Dark, please take turns, it puts everyone in a better mood when you can all climb equally.

Cake Walking someone’s Project: Think back to your childhood. Do you ever remember being really bad at baseball and strike out every time but the other kid on your team that was next at bat would just cream it to the outfield? It’s kind of like that. Clearly, some climbers are stronger than other climbers and that’s okay! What is not okay is walking up to a V2 that someone is working really hard on and cruising it right in front of them... Do you think that your awesome finesse on something that you warm up on every day is going to be encouraging for that climber?! Use your head and be considerate; there are plenty of routes that you can warm up on.

Top Rope and Lead Specifics

Laps and Training on Rope: Laps are a great way to train for endurance and to better advance your rope climbing skills. But do remember that there are other people in the gym that might particularly like that 5.8 you are climbing. Thus, I recommend doing your laps as late in the night or as early in the morning as possible to keep from preventing other climbers from being unable to climb a wall for a period of time due to your lengthy training protocol. If you are lead climbing and are traversing the lead room for training, remember that that takes up space and there are other that want to climb!

Do not step on people’s rope: In our facility, it isn’t a surprise that sometimes space is limited, especially in the lead room, where lead climbers graciously share with the lead cave boulderers. When the lead room gets packed, it can be a little hard to move around but that does not entitle anyone to find a nice cozy space standing on someone’s brand new 10.2 Sterling Evolution Kosmos. To step on someone’s most expensive piece of equipment will make anyone fly off the handle so make sure to be considerate with other climbers’ and their gear.

Hangdogging: We encourage everyone to work their projects. But in relation to the section about laps and training, hangdogging is another major inconsiderate notion that you might not realize. To “hangdog” means to hang in your harness, typically after falling or taking, and usually for an extended period of time. Sure, if you fall, you have the option of taking a quick rest and jumping back on; no one is going to give you grief for that. Where the issue lies is when the climber is hanging in the same spot, not making any progress for a while. On the ground there are people waiting for you to finish because they would like to climb next. Be realistic. If you know that you’re pumped and stuck, come down and try it later and let others have the chance to climb. There is a good chance that you are not only in the way of one route, but multiple routes. You will always have more chances to try it again!

This is only an introduction of the things that I can teach new climbers and even experienced climbers to live in harmony together, but I also need ideas. If you have anything that peeves you and you want to share with the Aiguille fan base, you can always email me at

Just Remember: Climb Smart, Act Smart.
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  1. This is great information. I have been waiting for someone to talk about the often unspoken "ins and outs" of the climbing culture. Thank you!

  2. I have a problem with the "Cake walking section". Some people climb easier routes for reasons other than warming up. It is called a climbing gym for a reason and that means you should be able to train. Lots of training programs involve climbing routes...lots of routes..and having it be timed. Some gyms aren't quite as large or lend itself to having all the exercise equipment. So when you are doing say...4x4's or 10 climbs in 10 usually have to pick out your routes ahead of time and you are limited to what you can do. Therefore...I don't see any problem with jumping on a route that is "onsite worthy" for you for the sake of training even if someone is working really hard on that problem. it is just as easy for them to look away and I don't feel I need to dog my training because of it. Not everyone goes to the climbing gym to "project". My standard protocol is asking said person if it is ok that I jump on their route quick and leave it up to the climber. I feel that is considerate enough if I am paying the same amount for a membership.

    1. I don't think there is anything wrong with, as you put it, "asking said person if it is ok that I jump on their route quick..." and certainly no one is discouraging you from your training practices. For those who don't know, a 4x4 is a strength training exercise typically used in bouldering where you would pick four particular routes, climbing them in succession, take a rest (typically recommended to do twice the time it took you to climb those four problems) and then repeat three more times. And yes, not everyone goes to the climbing gym to "project" but some climbers do. And these climbers also understand that people are training as well. Warming up is only one example of this particular situation, but like I said, this "cakewalking" scenario in warm ups and training can be summed up very easily: "Use your head and be considerate."

      Thanks for your input!

  3. What about "Campus cake walking"? (i.e. campusing someone's project) Usually there are only a few campus options in the gym at a given time, so it's not always realistic to avoid campusing someone's project. Obviously it could be offensive to some, but at the same time I've heard "oohs" and "ahhs" when doing this so you might argue that it can be inspiring to a new climber.


    1. This is a very good point to touch on. Campusing, in my point of view, is a bit showy. I think that some people do it for training/downclimbing but I think a good amount of people do it for the "ooh and ahh" aspect or just to be a show off. I will note this for the next edition of Climbing Ethics! Thanks!

    2. I just do it for fun (for myself) but have settled for only campusing near close (11pm, midnight) because it still comes off as showy when there are other people around.

  4. One point that I thought was missing was making up routes on a newly set wall. I'm not against the idea of making up routes but it is quite aggravating when there's a new wall set and people who cleared it or people who get bored of projecting the wall just huddle up and make up routes while others are still trying to climb the routes. There are plenty of other walls for people to make up routes. What I'm askin for is wait a bit before making up routes on a new wall. It's just common courtesy to allow others to work on their projects instead of taking over the wall and hogging it for an hour or so.


    1. Thanks DK for your response. Since the birth of SETTER(, more and more of our members get equally as psyched to make up their own problems as a creative outlet as well as for training purposes. However, everyone should still follow the idea of taking turns allow others to climb what they wish on an equal playing field. Don't be afraid to step up to the wall and show that it is your turn. In the next article, we are going to discuss this a little more in detail when it comes to acknowledging others and when it is their time to climb.

      Also, it is very common practice to create your own boulder problems, like I said, for training purpose. Being creative is going to introduce you to moves that you have never experienced! Check out SETTER for more routes and ideas if you need a break from your projects. I'm actually going to be setting some V0s, V1s, and V2s tonight! Keep on reading and feel free to email me with any topics that you would like me to touch on in upcoming articles!

  5. This all comes down to basic consideration and respect for other people sadly most people don't have either these days

  6. Top-roping: Walking under someone's rope without asking drives me nuts...
    I understand if there isn't a choice but some people just do it anyway with plenty of room behind.

  7. Climbing can be stressful and dangerous ... The threat of a potential flight can lead to paralysis. Often the exposure itself makes us feel more heart beat. In such moments take some deep breaths and move ahead. You can also get out of the way if you feel you can not handle it. The road will wait … You have to see the climbing wall

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