Don’t Stop — A Case for Improving Even While Climbing Below Your Limit

In no way do the thoughts or ideas expressed in this article reflect the opinions of Moja Gear. We do, however, support a platform for freedom of expression and open discussion within the climbing community.


It’s the first climb of the day. Warming up I believe is the technical term. With your Lululemon-clad, Whole Foods-shopping, “doesn’t-really-like-the-outdoors- but-likes-that-you-like-the-outdoors,” boo-boo-kitty-f***, whom you’ve been begging to break in the pair of Evolv Electra’s you bought her two Christmases ago. You got them hoping to share your interests, but not necessarily precious long weekends …

… Green Butterfly (5.5). You set up the top rope and are on belay duty while your better half is asking you frantically,

Where do I go?

Your mind wanders away to the sweet lines of bolts your buddies are on, sweating bullets out their finger tips. Stop.

top rope climbing
Photo: Lam Thuy Vo

Stop right there and be present because even though you may be able to side-step up that juggy slab, you’ve not only got someone wearily squealing for direction, but you’ve also gone all lax with your belay posture. Shit, you may even be hands off that auto-locking device and sitting down. The top rope you set up comes down the belayer’s side and flosses your partner from camel-toe to ear-lobe, and let’s not even start with the “what-ifs.”

One of the best ways to advance your expertise in a field of study is to learn from those who know more than you. This holds true in rock climbing and we should be very thankful to those teachers.The hardman-uncles who handed down their racks; sexy Mission Cliffs gym staff who showed us how to belay; short, frizzy-haired South Americans who showed us how to bolt; expat sport climbers that forced us to project their warm-ups, and other transplants that may have even taught us how to make money off it all!

That’s not every day at the crag, though, and many of us have foregone certified, recognized, previously tried-and-true methods that advance us from route to route; instead sourcing belay and rescue techniques from the internet or ad-libbing in the harness.

However you have arrived at your current knowledge base and whatever that level may be, don’t write off cragging days with less experienced climbers as stagnation in your own development. Now you are the one charged with the responsibility to teach as well as continue to perfect your own skills repertoire.

Teaching rock climbing
Photo: Billy Fung

These are some of the questions I ask myself when going out on a less-than-extremely-stoked day, where I am fortunate enough to be able to afford the gear, petrol, and entrance fees to climb:

1. So my partner is stuck in this sequence or hang-dogging the crux.

  • Could I practice tying off the belay?
  • Reposition myself so the top rope is not flossing my partner’s butt-crack?
  • Consider the advice I am offering and voice of motivation?

2. I don’t climb this 5.5 anymore because I am too good of a climber to waste my time on it.

  • Could I place my pro and extend the draws for a more perfectly straight running line?
  • Consider a more efficient racking system?
  • Belay my partner from the top even though it’s a one-pitch climb and rehearse my rope stacking techniques?
  • How much pressure do I really need to keep my belay plate locked?

3. My partner is still stuck at the crux and I don’t want to tell them to come down because they’re still trying really hard.

  • What do I have around me to tie them off to a ground anchor?

Hey Max take 5, I am going to put you on this tree and belay from there.

I never have wasted climbing days, and whether or not I send my project or enjoy my partner I always have something to get better at.

An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing.

– Nicholas Butler

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