The People You Meet At Climbing Gyms

I live in Boulder, CO and have recently been getting my climbing fix at Movement Climbing and Fitness, a new gym near my apartment. It is a fantastically cool gym with a Facebook page and a huge wall and other things as well, including people. I am an extremely cynical and judgmental person, so I tend to group these people into stereotypes. Hence this article.

UPDATE, JAN 5: I HAVE ADDED A NEW CATEGORY in response to an anonymous commenter who reminded me of “those new to the sport and too shy to hop on the wall and give a problem a try because of rock stars like yourself.” That is an excellent point, and I should have addressed that group in the first place.

The Thrutcher
This is the guy who has never been taught any technique at all, and is totally cool with that. Not only has he never been taught any technique, but he hasn’t picked up any on his own, a feat that requires no small level of obliviousness. Even without formal training, a fairly simple process of trial and error will make it obvious that wildly throwing your feet at the wall in the hopes that they will stick to something is not an effective strategy. You need good shoes, yes, but footwork is important.

Pictured: Bad footwork.

The thrutcher, however, is immune to things like “trial and error” and “the scientific method” and “learning,” so he will continue to leave gaping slashes of shoe rubber all over the paint, much to the chagrin of everyone else in the gym. He will grip every hold with absolutely every ounce of strength he can summon and then wonder why he is tired after ten minutes. He will grunt like a sexually frustrated rhinoceros on every single move and then fall off. He will eat Power Bars. And he will never go away.

The Juicer

This guy is simultaneously the most pathetic and the most laughable non-climber in the gym. You probably shouldn’t laugh at him though. He is less frequently spotted at hardcore gyms like Movement, tending to show up more often at the gym/rec center combo, but dedicated douche-watchers can find him anywhere. He spends his entire day lifting weights and making kissy faces at his own arms in the mirror, pausing only to chug Gatorade and cast not-at-all-veiled looks of contempt at everyone with only one visible vein per bicep. He is confused by the climbing wall, regarding it as a sort of tumor in the building with strange colorful pieces of plastic screwed to it up which scrawny 150-pound kids like myself crawl, insect-like, before jumping down for no apparent reason.

This is what I look like with no shirt. Not impressive.

At some point, he will see one such skinny bastard take his shirt off and, with no obvious muscle mass, climb up the wall. The juicer sees this as a challenge (he has a very primitive mind) and decides to step up. The problem is that the juicer has not thought this through. It’s not his fault, really, his brain has never moved past the idea that in order to do cool things, one must have back muscles the size of sea lions. He sets down his man-sized dumbbells and swaggers over, nodding a cursory “sup”—he may even say “bro”—to the real climbers who stand back, smiles barely surfacing on their lips, to watch. They’ve seen this before. The juicer picks a few holds similar in size and shape to the pull up bar he bent earlier and lifts his feet on to a few others. Easy. He pulls up. Easy. He reaches to another hold, just within his reach. He can only get the last pad of three fingers and a thumb on it, and now consternation starts to set in. The climbers watching elbow each other and whisper, now grinning openly. The juicer has encountered the two situations that lifting weights can not prepare you for: locking off and pulling from full extension. His muscles, unused to anything other than carefully controlled and calorie-monitored repetitive motions, fail. He falls, glowers at the skinny bastards, and stomps off to make out with his own reflection.

One of these people is among the best climbers in the world.
The other one has huge muscles and would shit himself if he knew about the first guy.

The truth is that being a really good climber has far less to do with having massive muscles than it does with having fingers of steel and incredible endurance and really good technique. Thankfully for climbers (from a spectator’s point of view), non-climbers with huge muscles will never know that.

Mr. Quick-Skins
I stole the name for this guy from a video about the people you meet playing pickup basketball, but the concept holds. There is never a situation in climbing where you need to take off your shirt, unless you are Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger and need to dive under a sheet of frozen ice to kill a man with a gun that shoots ice screws into rock. In that situation, a shirt would be a grievous mistake. Despite the fact that you generally don’t have to take your shirt off, there are several reasons you might want to. Sometimes a shirt feels confining even if it isn’t, sometimes it gets caught on sharp rock, sometimes there are women present, and sometimes you don’t feel like spending the whole day wrapped in a rag soaked with your own sweat. Some of you just said “eew.” So you understand. Mr. Quick-skins, however, needs no such reasons. His reasons for removing his shirt range from “there are other human beings near by” to “I am wearing a shirt.” He will walk in, strip, and carry on.

Climbing Women
Women are certainly the minority in climbing, though their numbers are rising now that they’ve found out that a) climbing gyms are full of muscular shirtless men and b) they can get toned and sexy like from yoga or pilates, but in a way faster and cooler fashion. For some reason, however, rooms full of muscular shirtless men tend to intimidate women who are not as toned and sexy as they would like (most women), so many women opt to take women’s-only classes or not climb at all. As a result, the women that do come to climbing gyms are mostly toned and sexy already, and all self-confident. A side tip here for the ladies: being self-confident is a good thing. Constantly disparaging yourself in the hopes that people will compliment you will make everyone hate you instead. Being one of the men (a loosely applied term) that frequent gyms a lot and are not freaked out by women with a BMI higher than their shoe size, I very much appreciate seeing and meeting lots of fit, self-confident women.

A fit, self-confident woman. Who could kill you with one hand.
Plus I like climbing, they like climbing, I like people who like climbing, people who like climbing in general like other people who also like climbing, so it’s just an all-around good situation. For more examples of cute women that could break your arm off and beat you to death with it if you attempted to make some kind of douchey pass at them, see Nicky Dyal, Emily Harrington, Beth Rodden, Daila Ojeda, Anya Miller, and lots of others. If you disagree about them being cute, well, fuck off. It’s my blog.
The Rookies
This may be the most important category, as these are the people that keep our noble sport going when the diehards drop out due to age or ruptured tendons. These are the people new to climbing. Maybe they’ve never tried it because it hadn’t occurred to them, maybe they just made friends who are climbers, maybe they’ve never lived near a gym before, whatever the reason, they are new and they are scared. Now, climbing is a scary sport to pick up. I started when I was not quite four, so I didn’t have that issue, but believe me I can tell. Most people have an intrinsic fear of heights, and overcoming that is a feat in and of itself. Besides that, climbing is not an especially intuitive sport. Sure we’ve all climbed trees, but as soon as you hit the wall you realize that there’s a hell of a lot more to it than that. And to top it off, new climbers are surrounded by intimidating, sweaty climbers who, in a genuine attempt to be helpful, will scare and confuse the living crap out of the new climber. As a result, they wander the mats in high-top tan La Sportivas from 25 years ago, poking furtively into their chalkbags and trying to muster the courage to ask for advice from some hairy ape-thing that just made some wild jump, screaming like a possessed being, only to crumple, defeated and bleeding, to the mats, panting like a bison and glaring at the world at large. This is not an inviting image to a new climber. As a result, I have decided to put together some basic guidelines for rookies and veterans alike.
– don’t be afraid to ask people in the gym for help. Some people may smile a little because you’re asking about something so far below their skill level, some people may choose to launch into a diatribe about how dangerous this sport is, some may be condescending dicks, but the vast majority genuinely want to help. Everyone remembers what it was like to be new, and whatever they’re working on is just as hard for them as your project is for you, so they know your pain. Climbers for the most part are just proud of their knowledge and want nothing more than to pass it on to the next guy.
– ask about the lingo. There’s a lot of it, and most of it is at least somewhat important to making progress. If a guy tells you to throw for a crimp and you don’t know what he means by “throw” or “crimp,” ask. Ask whether you need a chalkbag, what shoes to get, etc.
– don’t wear socks with your climbing shoes.
– if a rookie asks you what shoes to get, tell him to get Mythos. There is no reason why they should need any other shoe for quite a long time, and the Mythos will never wear out.
– do not get into a heated debate with the other guy that overheard about the difference between the Solutions and the Jet 7s. You will scare the rookie and he will stick to wearing high-tops with socks, and none of us wants that.
– don’t be a douche. If the rookie wants advice on a move that he’s just not strong enough to do, say something like “that’s a very powerful move,” not “oh, you just need huge guns LIKE THESE *kiss kiss*.” That is not helpful and it makes the rest of the gym hate you.
– let them go first. They already feel intimidated by you (doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you just flashed something with a 6 on it and they’re struggling on a 2), so don’t make them feel like they’re inconveniencing you too. Offer beta. Cheer them on. So what if they’re not as good as you? They’re trying just as hard, and they deserve equal credit. Be nice.

The Climber (almost forgot this category)
-Both. This category absolutely does include the kind of women I talked about above.
-All. I taught a class for 3-5 year-olds this summer and I (a reasonably fit 21-year-old) have been out climbed by humiliating margins by 11-year-old girls and 70-year-old men alike. If you’re dedicated enough, age is really not a factor.
-In shape. Climbers fall across the whole spectrum of build, from the skinny guy in the “juicer” section to hulking man-beasts like Dani Andrada, Chris Sharma, and Daniel Woods (below). There are equally good climbers in all different weight classes.

Woods is 18 in this photo.
Also you can’t tell, but his feet aren’t touching anything.
You might need a napkin, ’cause you just got served.

-Climbing. That’s really it. Some of us ski in the winter, some of us ride our bikes around town, but we’d rather be climbing. If I could climb for 20 minutes to get to school, I’d do that in a heartbeat.
– hands become sweaty while watching other people climb, watching climbing movies, talking about climbing, writing about climbing (I just discovered), or thinking about climbing.
– fingertips are hard like plastic. Fingerprints are often faded or gone entirely. Climbers whose calluses fall off in the shower are likely to become visibly upset and spend several hours poking a hot frying pan to induce them to grow back.
– prone to spontaneous pull ups on tree branches, store awnings, the backside of stairs, door lintels, sprinkler pipes, really anything we can pull up on.
– tends to be more comfortable with hands elevated. A climber’s hands will be on the lintel if standing in a doorway, the granny handle in a car, or clasped behind his/her head if there’s nothing to lean them on
– talks about climbing all the time. Says things like “send” and “crimp” and “I’m in the middle of projecting this desperate V7, but there’s a huge dyno to a pinch and I keep popping off and decking.” Do not be intimidated by the long strings of nonsensical words, just smile and say something like “Brutal, dude.” The climber will be temporarily assuaged.
Skill level:
– Irrelevant. Anyone who’s excited about climbing and wants to get into it should absolutely give it a try. The best climber in the world will give helpful advice to the rankest of beginners, and do so eagerly and willingly. Do not be frightened by the picture of Daniel Woods. He is not yelling at you. He is cheering you on. Go for it.

The Setters

Awesomest guys ever.

I saved them for last because they deserve the most appreciation. The setters, for those of you that don’t know climbing especially well, are the ones that screw the holds on, slap some colored tape on the holds to tell us climbing sheeple where to go, and grade them so that the sheeple don’t have to figure out for themselves what to climb. It sounds easy. It’s not. These guys have to set routes so easy that most of the gym’s patrons could climb them with one hand and a 50-pound pack and routes so hard that the average person is caused considerable pain just looking at them. Not only do the setters have to accommodate the vast spectrum of climbers that frequent the plastic mecca, but they have to set routes that are interesting enough to keep us working on them, rotated frequently enough that we (we being, of course, the sheeple) don’t get sick of training on the same old routes over and over and wander off. While most gyms set new routes on a fairly regular basis, these guys set so fast that if you stagger off the mats to get a drink of water and massage your battered ego and whine like a bitch about how much your fingertips hurt, they’ll have a new route up on which you can further embarrass yourself before you get back.

Hope this has been enlightening.

36 Thoughts

  1. great post..i am new to climbing but still when i read this article i feel a lot of things you said are things i feel daily mostly more about the passion of climbing then the dorky people that love them selfs a little to much hah. I am glad to know that i am not just crazy because i devote every second that i am awake to everything that has to do with climbing..anyways thanks for your thoughts hope to see more post in the future and maybe we will run into each other at movement (which i also agree is a great place and has great people)

  2. There is another a group left unmentioned. Those new to the sport and too shy to hop on the wall and give a problem a try because of Rockstars such as yourself (a group I certainly belonged to at first and still rejoin when in a new environment). Once this fear is conquered and the problem attempted, the Rockstar population is oftentimes found to be surprisingly supportive, a wonderful and somewhat unique to the climbing and moreover outdoor/nature loving community. Even though I'm sure involuntary snickers and amused faces are made at the sight of newbie ineptitude.

  3. Hey, fantastic post. Don't forget the number baggers – you know, the climbers who brag about the 5.14ds that they sent while no one was looking…

  4. Hilarious! It's almost like Wig decided to use his brain (I found this through the P&C facebook page).

    One problem: maybe at Movement the setters change routes constantly, but at most others gyms things are different…

  5. … How come there are never Miss Quick-Skins? *sigh*

    Funny post tho – Movement is a sick gym – pretty burly routes. And perhaps another category – the exceptionally old guy who shouldnt be climbing b/c he might kill over, but is still awesome b/c he's doing what he loves… And because back in his day, he used mountineering boots and twine ropes….

  6. this is great 🙂 I'd fall totally into that rookie category, as I am just getting back into climbing after doing a little bit in high school.. As a rockstar would you recommend any sites for us rookies to read up on cause honestly at this point I don't even remember the rating system for climbs….

  7. Which category do you fit into if you used to really like climbing. You probably would still really like climbing if you: A) Had time for it; B) Had people to go with. It's not like the good old days of high scholl when there was a group of people that were on the climbing team and would always be up to just walk to the gym and work on routes.

  8. You missed Lauren Lee in your list of “cute women that could break your arm off and beat you to death with it if you attempted to make some kind of douchey pass at them” section.

  9. That's one of the best comments I've ever gotten. As Trace Atkins says, “That's why we do what we do. It ain't for the money, it ain't for the glory…it ain't for the free whiskey. It's for the badonkadonk.” I don't have a clue about the quality of your posterior, but replace “badonkadonk” with “anonymous compliments” and there you go.

  10. Thanks so much for writing this. I'm super new to climbing and I'm shy by nature, so I was certain this would be all down on the newbies, and the fact that you aren't made me so happy and maybe now I'll muster up the courage to actually ask people questions.

  11. What a gross stereotype of women climbers. We climb because its fun, not because there are shirtless men in the gym, not because it's a good alternative for Pilates. How does “climbing women” even fit with the other categories? The rest are personality based and this one is a demographic. Women aren't all the same.

    Also this:
    “The Climber (almost forgot this category)
    -Both. This category absolutely does include the kind of women I talked about above.”
    You shouldn't have to point that out as if most people wouldn't include women in this category.

  12. +1 on the comment above. Lots of women who actually climb (and by that I mean, outside) climb because its a lifestyle we are passionate about. We'd rather send 5.11 on gear than see shirtless men spraying at the crag.

    Then again, it's your blog, so yeah, us women can fuck off. Careful how you generalize about the sexes. It's 2011.

  13. If by “people like you” you mean sexist people, I feel I should explain. It was never my intention to generalize about women in the world of climbing (at least not any more than I generalize about anyone else) or to imply that they only do it so they can stare at shirtless men. That's why I dedicated at least as much space to talking about how women like climbing because it's fun and promotes self-confidence. That said, the fact that women-only climbing (or any other) classes exist is an indicator that a lot of women don't feel comfortable learning or working out in the presence of men, so I applaud the women with the self-confidence to climb in a co-ed environment anyway.

    If by “people like you” you mean something other than that, then I'm afraid I'm going to need further clarification. And while I do very much appreciate your hiding behind your anonymity when criticizing my personal work, it does make it a little tricky to communicate with you. If you'd like to explain why I make you sad, I'd love to hear it. The blog is supposed to be funny, not saddening.

    1. I understand that you’re not trying to put women down, but it seems like you also understand that many women feel uncomfortable in male-dominated environments, and usually this is BECAUSE they fear that men will put them into a general “woman” category (kind of like you did in this article… you have quite a few different categories describing different men who climb, and then a single category to encompass all women).

      Just a thought.

    2. Hi, female here. I’ve taken a “female only” climbing class as well as a co-ed lead certification class. Being the only female in the lead certification class made me realize how glad I was to have taken the female class because all the guys in the lead class acted so cocky and refused to ask questions when they clearly had no idea what they were doing.

      Sometimes we take “women only” classes because we don’t want to deal with being hit on and actually just want to learn how to climb.

  14. Another group that you may have over looked:
    The Lurker; the climbers who 'lurk' in the background to watch people struggle on a climb that they can do, and when the opportunity arises, takes pleasure in demonstrating to those around how they can do the climb, most likely with out invitation.
    Three most likely outcomes; they fail miserably and embarrassment ensues, they succeed and walk off with an air of smugness or they succeed and proceed to explain to those watching what they were doing wrong and what he(/she) did.
    While I generally frown on the practice, it can be quite entertaining where the people doing the climb a some of the types described in your post; 'The Thrutcher' or 'Juicer'

  15. so damn hilarious (and now I have sweaty hands)

    I would add a new category, or maybe sub-category of Mr.Quick-Skins (probably a genetic mutation): The Beanies. There may be always a good reason for Mr.Quick-Skin to get rid of his T-Shirt, he may be even feel too warm…BUT…it's never to hot to take off his beanie. They alway keep on climbing hard, and even if it's 30°C or more they are still wearing a sweaty soaked woolen skully. It's probably a part of them, scientists think that they lost their hairs and then developed the ability to grow wool (possibly BD, Mammut, Prana, e9 or whatever brand).

  16. You forgot short, insecure midget men, like yourself, who climb cause they are too weak in any other sport and are always ignored because of being short, so they need to “climb” tall things

  17. I feel like I need to clue you in: we NEVER, NEVER talk to new climbers like that. Whenever someone new wants to learn climbing, we welcome them, we don’t put them down because of their physique, their insecurities, their predispositions, or their previous athletic endeavors.

    Maybe you should come down to Movement Denver and see how we do things, because I’m damned glad that the first time I climbed it was with better men than you.

    1. I’m not sure how you inferred that I was accusing the staff of Movement of being the bicep-kissing douches I described in this post. I didn’t. Not even close. The staff of Movement Boulder, where I have been a member since it opened, have been nothing but helpful and kind to me and everyone I’ve brought there. I’m also not sure why you felt the need to impugn me personally. You seem to be under the impression that I am one of the people I described. I don’t know why you think that. I’ve been climbing for almost 25 years, I have coached and instructed every age from 3 to 70, and I have never put someone down for any reason in a climbing context.

      Finally, regarding your second comment, I’m not pigeonholing women. The reason that “the Thrutcher” uses male pronouns is laziness and convenience, and is an approach often taken when describing a hypothetical person. The reason that “Mr. Quickskins” and “the Juicer” use only male pronouns is the same, combined with the fact that I’ve never seen a woman behave that way in any context, climbing or otherwise. If it’s important for the sake of equality for me to clarify that women can also be obnoxious assholes, then I apologize for not doing so.

      I will admit that it was reductive of me to imply that some women come to the gym to see sexy shirtless men, though it would be remiss to imply that it never happens. The phrase “I would like to lick ranch dressing off his back” is one actual example of something I overheard that reinforced that belief for me. OBVIOUSLY, women also come to the gym because they love climbing. That was amply addressed in the “climber” section, which was explicitly gender non-specific.

      Hope that helps.

  18. Seems like spending a little too much time caring about what people look like instead of climbing. Wear what’s comfortable and climb. Sheesh.

  19. Your generalization of female climbers is extremely misogynistic- to the point of being delusional. I suggest you delete this post.

      1. I was gonna comment about that too, from the article it sounds like you just didn’t go to a gym where a lot of women are present. I guess I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t recognize myself in any of the types you mentioned as you only mentioned women as “wanting to get sexier”. We are just as passionate and crazy about climbing as guys are! And I definitely don’t go climbing to look at guys or show off my body, I go climbing cause I love it and many other women do too! But I guess since you wrote this 10 years ago you’ve probably figured that out by now 😀
        Anyway, very entertaining post otherwise, I was surprised that I could think of at least one example for every type you mentioned.

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