Sweating the Small Stuff

Let’s talk about snatch links and R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

Julie Schoenfeld grapples with "Poetic Justice" (5.13a) at Rifle Mountain Park. Photo by Derek Franz.

Julie Schoenfeld grapples with “Poetic Justice” (5.13a) at Rifle Mountain Park. Photo by Derek Franz.

Long draws. Mini draws. Old draws. No draws. Where do you draw the line? To say anything about people’s tactics on sport climbs is to risk being branded an elitist a-hole. When and how is it OK to say something?

The other day I was at Rifle Mountain Park, climbing a lap on a popular 5.12c called “Extended Family.” It’s a long extension to an 11c warm-up dubbed “Choss Family.” Overall, the 35-meter route is steep and juggy with a couple long pulls on small holds at one-third and two-thirds height. As I set up for the high crux on “Extended Family,” something hit me in the face. It was two 2-foot-long slings connected end to end. And since that wasn’t quite long enough, a draw dangled from the slings as well. A fixed cable draw was clipped at my waist. More than the annoyance of being feathered in the face by the ridiculous slings, I was concerned how to clip the cable draw buried under the nylon wad once I made it through the crux. I can’t stop shaking my head that someone projecting 12+ would be that scared of a short, clean fall onto a relatively new, half-inch stainless steel bolt.

“You should have taken the sling down and clipped it to the first anchors or something,” my partner said.

I’ve run across this dilemma before. So far I’ve always been very reluctant to mess with someone’s stuff. However, someone’s stuff is starting to mess with me more often. Who gets to say the gate of a carabiner faces this way or that way? I think if a climber dusts off a route and hangs good quickdraws, he or she is the one who has more say. If you want to do it another way, you have two choices: respect the first climber’s efforts and the fact that you get to put wear and tear on his gear, or wait until you can hang your draws the way you please.

No one really talks about this stuff as a community, but someone cares enough to flip my draw around at the traversing crux week after week while I change it back. Other times I’ve found that my draw has been extended so that the gate hangs at an awkward place by my thigh, and the bottom carabiner of my original draw is now occupied by the extended draw. WTF?

These are tiny matters not worth arguing about, I tell myself. But let’s face it, places like Rifle are similar to a golf course: a crowded place full of strong egos and people with spare time on their hands. In short, the issue of quickdraws on sport routes is very much a “first-world problem.” Who am I to care so much? There are much bigger problems anywhere everyday, but it is a legitimate problem when it starts to interfere with people getting along. If we are to enjoy the time we share together in a narrow canyon, we have to respect some basic etiquette.

For example, I felt less friendly toward a visiting climber at Rifle a couple years ago because of the way he moved my quickdraw. I’d met him about a week earlier and he pumped me for beta on “Slice of Life” (13c/d). One day I climbed up to a crux where I clip at the waist, but the bolt hanger was empty! The other climber had moved my quickdraw to a higher bolt that I skip. He apparently preferred to skip the bolt that I would clip. You can imagine my fear and surprise to climb through a crux and not be able to clip in very readily. Was he too cheap to leave one draw of his own on the higher bolt? Did he borrow my draw and forget to replace it? Either way, it shows a lack of consideration.

Making the matter more awkward to address is that when I hear myself vocalize these concerns, the words sound petty and overblown, so I let it go. It seems some people are taking advantage of the silence, however.

At least twice I’ve expressed my opinion and felt like it changed the way someone treated me. In one case, a woman and her husband lobbied for a bolt to be added to a safe 5.11 runout above a 12d crux. In no way did I feel or assert any judgment toward the woman other than suggesting she might enjoy the route more if she projected some other 5.12s first. Yet now I feel like she can hardly look at me when I see her around. I can’t say for sure my comment is the reason, but her demeanor seemed to change pretty quickly while I tried being extra friendly. Somehow the idea of bringing it up in person feels like it might make the minor past disagreement more personal.

As for the super-extendo draw on “Extended Family” (oh, the irony), why should the multitude of people who climb it without such means have to suck it up for the one person who’s probably not quite ready to project that route? If the route is so important to the person, why can’t he or she remove the sling before going home each weekend? But it seems I’m the dick for suggesting this person is slightly in the way and should be more considerate.

All I’m asking for is mutual respect on these things. Are they your quickdraws on the route? No, then don’t mess with them unless they are obviously unsafe. Is it your route? No, then don’t add an extra bolt without a real discussion with the community, and accept that the consensus might disagree with you. No need to act funny about it if that’s what happens; you did the right thing.

It seems simple, but climbers continue to trammel on each other’s toes while asserting they have every right to romp where they please. Let’s get better at respectfully vocalizing ourselves before the passive-aggressive games reach heights disproportionate to the original issues.

I really don’t mean this to sound negative, and that’s my point – why is it so hard to talk seriously about silly things like draw etiquette?

My personal reaction to this essay right now is, Wow! Did I really just write a thousand words about quickdraws? Yup.

Happy Rifle season, everyone. Thank god we have sport climbing to take the seriousness out of climbing. (Wink, wink.)

Derek Franz writes a blog for SplitterChoss.com the first Monday of every month.

5 Responses to Sweating the Small Stuff

  1. this is why I make sure I am never a good enough climber to get on any climbs others consider worth projecting. just kidding. but seriously.

    marshall moose May 5, 2014 at 8:34 pm
  2. You make great points Derek. I wasn’t ready to project Extended Family when I started to, so I just didn’t go to the top. The beauty of Rifle (or climbing areas with fixed draws) is that you can do stuff like that. Otherwise, there’s no need to mess with people’s personal stuff.

    Mary Harlan May 8, 2014 at 5:40 pm
  3. Thanks, Mary.

    Derek May 9, 2014 at 10:11 pm
  4. so if the first guy on the ‘project’ chooses to hang a 96 inch runner he has prime rights to have that mangle respected because he owns the bolts until he tires of the exercise? or is it the beholders approval that grants primacy. haven’t climbed for 20 years but restarted and want to understand the rules.

    edh May 21, 2014 at 10:31 am
  5. Thanks for engaging, EDH. The answer is that there are no hard and fast rules, and these matters, like much of climbing, lie within a vast grey area. The route in this case, “Extended Family,” is very popular and fixed with cable draws because there is pretty much a constant train of people climbing it. In my essay I suggested that the person who hung the 96-inch runner from one of the bolts was inconsiderate of the many people who had to deal with that sling. There are other routes that are hardly ever climbed until someone cleans them up and leaves draws hanging on the bolts. In these cases, if the draws are in good condition and not yours, leave them alone, at least for a little while or talk to whoever else is projecting the route. Consideration and communication is basically what I’m arguing for here.

    Derek May 21, 2014 at 1:09 pm
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