I wrote the following piece for Alpinist's website, and even though it was fun to write something a little bit light-hearted, I actually really do stand by the assertions made in the article.
General Dirtbaggery: Saving time, wasting time and explaining climbing on the Internet
POSTED ON: NOVEMBER 2, 2012
This article was written with the author's tongue placed firmly in his cheek. It is not meant as a "How To" for beginning climbers, and it assumes a certain level of pre-existing technical knowledge. --Ed.
As a beginning climber, I would read Internet forums and climbing blogs for hours. I justified these pupil-glazing sessions as "research" into a world I knew nothing about. As a more experienced climber, I still read Internet forums and climbing blogs for hours. I just no longer attempt to justify this patently unproductive behavior. And rather than continuing to learn about climbing, I sometimes wonder if my caffeine-powered screen time is having the opposite effect. Will these multi-page discussions of the same five subjects eventually make me afraid of micro-fractured carabiners and unwilling to climb without double-secret backup belay loops? In the interest of helping others avoid such hours fraught with peril, I'm going to attempt to answer nearly every Internet climbing conundrum in the span of a single Q&A session. This is the literary equivalent of a 5.8 in the Gunks. Everywhere else, it's 5.10. I just hope you can make it through before your eyes glaze over.
A: No. But you can make it safer by worrying about the things that actually cause the most accidents, such as falling while unroped on exposed, "easy" terrain, rappel-rigging mistakes and communication errors.
A: Temporarily repurpose a sling or two, and keep them weighted/taut even if there's a nice ledge at your anchor. This way you can't prematurely unclip yourself or anyone else.
Q: Do I need to shell out the big bucks on one of those dry-treated, bi-pattern ropes?
A: No. Get the one that's 70m long and costs the least. Skinnier ropes wear out faster, but a 9.2mm 70m weighs about .8kG (1.7lbs) less than a 10.2mm 70m. Learn how many of your arm-lengths will pull in half the rope. After you take it out of the package, mark the middle with a Sharpie.
Q: Won't that weaken the rope?
A: No, evidence shows that ropes break when stretched across sharp edges. People die by rappelling off their ropes. Nobody has died because of Sharpies, but every year people rappel off the end of a non-centered rope. And if you're like 95% of rope buyers contemplating spending more for a dry-treated rope, think about how often you'll be climbing in the rain.
A: These are pairs of skinnier ropes that you use together and treat as a single cord. You clip them both to every piece and belay them at the same time. They make the most sense when surrounding yourself with sharp implements in the winter, or expecting long rappels to get down.
A: If it says UIAA on it, probably. Climbers all over the world design and produce great products. They also tend to warm up on our projects, and eat tastier food in the process. Though we generally surpass them at owning lots of stuff, inventing products we don't need and arguing on the Internet.
A: Stand directly beneath the first piece of protection while belaying a leader. Hang your guide-style device off the anchor to belay up your follower.
Q: Isn't belaying directly off the anchor dangerous because the belayer might pay less attention?
A: No. Distracted climbers will neither suspend nor circumvent simple physics.
Q: Do I need a second belay loop on my harness?
A: No. Belay loops have broken one time. This was from being repeatedly sawed-through by a thinner sling fixed in one spot. Whenever you are on your way up a multipitch climb, you've already got a second belay loop, where you tied into the rope. Use this if you need a second option.
Q: I climbed a route the other day and it was easy for me. Doesn't this route have too many bolts on it?
A: Only if someone other than the first climber placed them, or if they are next to protectable cracks.
A: It's a marketing gimmick. If you're only going cragging, you don't need to buy a fancy pack. You do, however, need to bring tasty food.
Q: Why should I worry about food?
A: Because when you move beyond cragging, you'll have to eat chalky bars and dehydrated pouches of food-like substances. Yet somehow you'll still always want more of it.
Q: So should I bring more food into the mountains?
A: Yes. Always.
Q: What else will I need when I move beyond cragging?
A: More lightweight clothes, less heavy hardware. Bring a fancy windshirt and leave behind your cordelettes, heavy lockers, radios and rap rings.
Q: Without a piece of long cord, how will I build anchors?
A: Place solid gear in solid ice/rock/snow, everything else is situational. Sometimes a cordelette makes sense. However you build an anchor, clove hitch yourself into it with the rope; it's the strongest and stretchiest thing you have and you are already connected to it. You can adjust the length of your connection without disconnecting from the anchor.
Q: Didn't I read that my anchor should be static, redundant, equalized and have no extension?
A: Probably so. You were also taught to floss daily, always sport clean underwear and never reuse your camp dishes for three days without a thorough washing. Some things make sense on paper but prove naively optimistic in the mountains.
Q: What if a piece rips out, won't it shock-load the others?
Q: Doesn't it mean weighting a piece all-of-a-sudden?
A: "All-of-a-sudden?" Without getting too technical here, Mr. wizard, this mysterious shock-loading sounds like falling. And falling directly on an anchor, even if one or more of your pieces pull, will not magically multiply the kiloNewtons exerted on your system. In fact, the failed pieces will often absorb part of the load.
A: Won't hurt, might help, but it's not very important overall. As desert canyoneers will attest, dirt and grit makes your rope more likely to groove your hardware and stain your hands. If you've got a filthy cord, just use Woolite or warm water and a gentle washing machine cycle or bathtub. Although grit within the fabric of a dirty rope can cut the inner fibers, even a dirty rope will still be strong enough to handle the stresses of climbing. But while your wet rope is flaked out and drying, you can practice your knots. Just not too many.
Q: Which knots do I need to know?
A: Clove hitch, overhand, figure eight, clove hitch some more, one-handed clove hitch for style points.