5 Must-Know Etiquette Rules for the Climbing Gym

climbing-gym-crowded-malachi-brooks
When the gym is crowded, you’d better know your climbing etiquette.

Tuesday nights, I have a standing climbing date with my longtime partner. For the last 5 years, we’ve consistently roped up (unless he can convince me to boulder) and had cycles of training, skipping out on climbing all together to get a beer, or projecting to our heart’s content. Over that time, we’ve seen the crowds on Tuesday nights ebb and flow …

Tuesday nights have developed into a consistent group of partners, so it has started to feel more or less like a sub-culture with a core group of players. It’s common for the core group to see newer climbers trying out their skills and finding their way in the gym’s crown jewel “the cave.”

We have a large, overhung, lead-only feature that thwarts most newer climbers. When they attend their lead class, most say their motivation is, “I want to climb in the cave.” There is nothing special, really, about this area; it simply is more overhung than the rest of the gym, so developing the endurance to summit “the cave” takes a bit of time.

Over the last few weeks, we have noticed a significant number of newer climbers making their way into “the cave” who appear to be unaware of general climbing etiquette. Some gyms have started to incorporate this into their class curriculum but it does not seem to be known across the board that there are unspoken rules in the climbing world …

Here are a few:

1. Order

Similar to surfing, routes and boulders often have a slew of people waiting to try them and there appears to be some organization to who goes when. It is considered rude to walk up to a wall and, without checking in or acknowledging those standing there before you, start climbing.

To get your turn, join the group first and watch for a minute. If no one makes a move, then try to make eye contact, or even ask,

Do you mind if I give it a go?

Most people are more than happy to have another person to project with … it just takes a little communication.

2. Crossing routes

In the same vein as order, it’s important to look at where the route you’re about to climb leads you … Sometimes, route setters will create these winding routes that take up half of the wall and cut across three other lines.

Before climbing, make sure you know if your route is going to do this, and be sure to check if other parties are on or about to climb the route your project traverses. If it does, and they started first, wait. If you accidentally realize this halfway up the wall, they have the right of way: either practice resting or hang.

climbing-gym-alone-Photo-by-victor-xok
When the gym is empty you can yell till your throat hurts.

3. Projecting

Projecting … one of the tokens of our sport. Most of us love to get on climbs way above our pay grade and wail in hopes of gaining enough strength to eventually send.

When the gym is full and you’re trying the same single boulder move 25 times without breathing, or hang dogging on a route, I’m going to call that bad form.

Be aware that you are not the only person in the gym. After an attempt or two at the boulder move or a few tries on the route crux, take a break and walk away for other people to give it some love.

4. Noise

I am one of the biggest advocates for climbers learning how to make noise when trying hard. That said, there is a fine line when it comes to try-hard grunts and loud breathing.

In the gym the other night, a single, shirtless, 17-year-old boy stopped everyone with his epic growls. This was beyond the Sharma/Ondra grunt … and I’m pretty sure every move of the problem got a loud yell.

Please try hard … but please also reserve the noises for the hard parts of the climb and ask yourself,

is the attention you get by yelling and flailing what you really want?

*If you are grunting like Adam Ondra in the video below, then it may be time to tone it down.

5. Brushing

Similar to knowing how the “climbing queue” works, conduct around brushing is another nuance that escapes many novices in the gym …

When someone takes the time to scrub down a boulder or the crux of a route, it is polite to give them the next attempt. They took the time to get everyone else’s grease off of the route, they should have the benefit of enjoying the crisp holds.

If said “brusher” cleans the route off then sits down to scroll through Instagram, it would be considered reasonable to ask if you can work in while they rest. Once you have finished your attempt, brush everything for them so that they can enjoy the same.

Final thoughts

Many of these unspoken rules would do well to be shared in gym belay classes. There is a reason for them, and similar to the rules of driving, when everyone is aware of how to exist together, things work out pretty well.

Much of this is simply being aware and understanding that there are other gym patrons who also enjoy climbing. We all come to the gym to have a good time, and if we are all aware of one another, we usually make new friends and create lasting relationships. And, in the end, that’s what climbing is all about.


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