The List: The 7 Dumbest Things About Climbing

Climbing is like nothing else. Thousands of men and women have heroically explored frontiers literal and metaphorical while pushing themselves

Let's start with the fit...

Let’s start with the fit…

Climbing is like nothing else. Thousands of men and women have heroically explored frontiers literal and metaphorical while pushing themselves high on cliff faces and into remote mountain ranges, sometimes with uncertain odds of success and survival. Countless of essays have been poetically written about it, idolizing the mountains, climbers and climbs, and creating a mythology around the sport.

But some things about it are kind of dumb. Like, for example, when everyone wore Lycra to do it. And some other stuff:

1. The Fit of Shoes
Have you ever listened to a climbing shoe salesperson try to describe to a first-time climbing shoe buyer how shoes should fit? They might as well be trying to explain an eggplant parmigiana recipe to a space alien. “So, you want them to be tight, but not uncomfortable, and your toes should be bent, but not curled, and there should be no room in the end of the shoe, but enough room that blood can still circulate, but barely, in your toes. The rear part of the upper of this shoe is leather, and that will stretch one-fourth to one-half size with use, but the front is a synthetic material and sticky rubber, and that won’t stretch at all. How do those feel? Do they hurt when you walk in them? That’s great.”

2. The American Difficulty Rating System
So, rock climbs are rated from 5.1 to 5.15c, and the higher the number following the decimal point, the more difficult the climb is, and after 5.10, we start using letters to denote the next levels of difficulty, i.e., 5.11a is harder than 5.10d, and so forth, unless you’re climbing without a rope, which is called bouldering, and that’s a scale from V0 to V16, which roughly equates to the 5.1-5.15c system, except it’s way harder — V0 is roughly equivalent to 5.9 climbing, and V5 is approximately 5.12, etc., and then ice is rated on two different scales, WI (which means “water ice”) and AI (which means “alpine ice”), except if there’s rock on the ice climbing route, in which case a “mixed” rating is added to the end, like M4, M5, and so on. Got it? You know what, just forget it.

3. Uphill Walking
Fact: To get to most climbing areas (besides a few things in Joshua Tree and a couple other places), climbers have to walk uphill, which is a strenuous, often sweaty, activity. Climbers will shoulder heavy packs full of ropes and gear and spend hours, even days, to get somewhere promising. Wait, you say there’s six pitches of marginally exciting rock climbing and it’s only seven miles and 2,500 vertical feet away from the trailhead? Where do I sign up?

4. People Don’t Get It
People who don’t climb understand the process of moving upward on rock. The gear, how you get the rope up there, not so much. Try to tell someone that you spent your weekend trying to send your project, which in layperson’s terms is, “Well, I tie a rope to my harness, take my shirt off, cover my hands in chalk and try to climb up 65 feet of overhanging rock, where there’s a set of chains…” — and they start to glaze over. I mean, come on, it’s easily no more ridiculous than, say, golf, or cricket, right?

5. Ice Climbing
When a block of ice the size of a toaster falls and smashes your kneecaps on its way to the ground, and you caused it because you’re hacking at a frozen waterfall with ice picks and crampons, and you grit your teeth and deal with the pain, and you finish the pitch and find that you have the painful “screaming barfies” (the phenomenon in which your fingers fill with searing pain for several minutes as they warm back up from being numb and held high above your head hanging onto ice tools, and you become nauseous), and you’re freezing through several layers of clothes and dodging chunks of ice that fall from above, and on Monday people ask you if you had a nice weekend and you say “Yes, it was nice — I went ice climbing,” well, you know. It’s a little hard to rationalize, isn’t it?

6. Using A Toothbrush To Clean Off Rocks So You Can Climb Them
One of those things that makes sense when you’re doing it, but in the broad scheme of things, seems a little … dumb. And by “dumb,” I mean, like, making artificial snow to ski on in drought-prone areas, stripping your bike down to one gear, hiking out to the middle of nowhere and risking getting eaten by a bear in the name of finding meaning. You know, stuff like that.

7. Free Soloing
Thousands of words have been typed on the internet endorsing and condemning free soloing. As a sometime practitioner, I can attest that free soloing is exciting and totally worth the experience when you don’t fall and die. When you fall while free soloing and die, you’re not on earth anymore and people miss you. And probably nobody thinks that last free solo was a good idea.

Brendan Leonard is a contributing editor to Adventure Journal. Follow him at his blog, Semi-Rad.
Showing 23 comments
  • Deb

    Hilarious! Thanks for the laugh!

  • Ryan

    “And probably nobody thinks that last free solo was a good idea.” Hahaha

  • Nico Parkinson

    climbing gyms should probably be on this list.and having projects in climbing gyms especially.

  • BoonesDaddy

    Nico — You are right on. Projects in climbing gyms is number one!

  • Nicole Parkinson

    how about being elitist toward any form of climbing and being unable to realize that different people enjoy climbing in all its different forms.

  • Richard F

    This list could go on forever… I’m going climbing.

  • Andy Busse

    I’m sure to the layperson it looks inherently wrong witnessing a bunch of dudes wearing cushions, headed into the woods in big groups, all carrying ballerina-like shoes and makeup pouches, using such odd terms as pink point, red point, & inquiring as to the hardness of these “projects”, followed by hours of groaning and screaming. And then everyone comes out with smiles on their faces, WTF??

  • nic lazz

    You could have said people who dont climb dont understand the word “sufferfest”

    • steve casimiro

      Sufferfest isn’t unique to climbing. I had quite a nice little one Saturday on a bike…

  • liz

    i love climbing but cricket is NOT ridiculous.

    • Jake

      No, but it is considered “in poor taste” by most of the universe.

  • Ben

    Supergluing flappers back on has got to be somewhere on this list.

  • Phil

    lol… As an ice climber I laughed at the toaster size ice and especially the screaming barfies. Was out this past weekend and I told my climbing partner to prepare for some yelling and swearing cause my hands are on fire lol. It was a great day.

  • Chris

    Well said and very true! I’ve seen more guys cleaning up the rocks than their home 😉 Anyhow, climbing is still the most awesome sport from them all.

  • Dale

    bad article. Should have been a real statement about the stupid parts of climbing. Like 1. drilling holes 2. Shoes 3. Chalk. 4 Cimbing gyms. 5 magazines. 6 professional climbers. Here are 6 all time stupid things about climbing.

    • Scared to write my name

      Dale climbs barefoot, without chalk and never trains in the gym. He dislike making climbs safe with bolts. He gets jealous reading about other peoples achievements in magazines. He is an angry, bitter man because he wants to be a professional climber but just isn’t good enough. Poor Dale.

  • Scott

    Dale – Really? Shoes? Climbing gyms? The rest could be debated.

  • Jeremy

    Woah bro…..those are some of the most brilliant parts of climbing, but its cool.

  • Dawn

    Loved all of it… especially #7. I experienced all of #7 just last week and it was totally worth it.

  • Lynn Jones

    re #7 IF you fall long and die, cool, but if you take a short one off a boulder or start of a climb or whatever and survive crippled, then unfortunately we not have to think about you, but pay for you. So don’t fall until couple hundred feet off the deck, ok? Thanks!

  • James

    HA as I climber, I found this slightly entertaining. As a cyclist, I thought the single speed reference was a little weak.

  • Tony

    No. 2 isn’t so strange, we are in the US of A after all where the foot is 12″, the yard is of course 3′ and the mile comes in at an obvious 5280’?

  • Jake Kruse

    riding fixed or singlespeed is actually really awesome, good for health and technique, and practical…

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