The top roping problem
I wrote the following on a climbing website. Someone was complaining about all the top ropers, and how he couldn’t get on a climb all day because large groups had showed up early and tied up all the climbing routes with beginners. I am posting it here because it is reasonably good writing…for me…and I have been feeling bad about not updating this “blog”.
Here is my post:
Ah we are back to this. Crowded cliffs. Whether it is one leader, with 6 non leading top ropers, or an organized group tying up an entire cliff for top roping. It’s basically the gym mentality coming outdoors.
I hate starting lines with “Used to be…” or “Back when I…”
What used to be doesn’t matter anymore. These people are here, and they aren’t going away.
There are a couple of solutions:
Always carry a trad rack. Many times I’ve been at Smith Rocks where all the bolt lines are tied up. But right next to the bolt lines is an old trad line…and no one is on it. Have you ever done Old Testament? Or both pitches of Lycopodophyta? Fridays Jinx? Pack animal? Or routes that can’t easily be TR’d like Tammy Bakkers face? How about Bookworm? No one ever does bookworm (except me), and it is right next to Bunny face.
The next time you mentor a new climber, teach them to always lead, never, ever top rope. Have them follow you up a few easy cracks, pulling gear, and examining placements.
Then make them lead. This means you will have to search out the really easy 3rd and 4th class cracks, sometimes even short boulders with cracks. Stuff that is so easy they could free solo it. Have them put in their own gear.
Follow them up and critique the placements. Teach them the value of being a leader from day one.
The Icicle canyon in Leavenworth is a great place for that. It’s how I learned to climb, and how I taught my family, and many friends. If I can’t lead it, I won’t climb it until I can lead it. I don’t even like following routes I can’t lead, but I will do it occasionally for a good partner.
If all you are doing is following or top roping, it’s a sign you have the wrong partner.
I can’t stop the top ropers anymore than I can hold back a river. But I can choose not to participate. And anyone I teach to climb learns to lead from day one. If it’s too hard, skip the top rope, find something you *can* lead. You will be a more competent climber for it.
And don’t be afraid to lead trad routes that are too hard. Hang dogging your way up a route is a tried and true technique for learning the moves, refining your gear placements, and generally wasting huge amounts of time. You will anger people waiting in line, but they should have gotten up earlier. Next time you do it you will know the moves, and it might go clean.