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Climbing Deal Breakers

Lots of people are potential climbing partners. Problem is that many come with flaws, foibles and habits that you just can't stand.

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Deal Breakers are everywhere! Illustration by Meg Bisharat.

Life is full of Deal Breakers, those habits or fashions that trump any redeeming qualities an individual might possess. No matter how good things might have been or how good you imagined they could be, when you hit a Deal Breaker the relationship is over in a flash, never to be the same again. Cute, handsome, sexy, a stud in the sack, a smokin’ ass, nipples that could cut glass, whatever … they are all eradicated by a Deal Breaker—e.g., owns a bird; has an inspirational quote in their e-mail signature; has a “sweet” Lego collection; saves bread to feed to squirrels; has a Twitter account; rollerblades or kayaks; un-ironically uses “holla,” “word” or “dawg;” has a modified exhaust pipe (found on everything from jacked-up F350 trucks to lowered, rice-rocket Honda Preludes … both of which are also Deal Breakers); Facebooks with his or her parents; owns any album or song by a former American Idol contestant, etc.

It’s important to note that Deal Breakers are not obvious during an initial encounter—they are subcutaneous characteristics or habits that you have
to stumble upon after the initial fly-by assessment. For instance, you would never hang out with a guy who has a neatly groomed goatee or ask out a woman smoking a clove cigarette. Those are blatant, all-systems-stop, non-starters and your involvement with that person would never go beyond a quick judgment from afar. Now, if a person was initially deemed non-offensive and you engaged him or her in a second- or third-level interaction, and then the next weekend he started growing a neatly groomed goatee or later that night she lit up a clove cig, well, then those would definitely be Deal Breakers. ¿Comprende?

The twisted beauty of Deal Breakers is that everyone has them, and yet most people are unaware of what theirs are. Sure, they may be worried about obvious stuff like their dandruff or weight, but they are oblivious to the fact that their hair-sculpting gels or skinny jeans are major Deal Breakers that, left unaddressed, will leave them socially ostracized—no matter how dandruff free or shapely they are.

The twisted beauty of Deal Breakers is that everyone has them, and yet most people are unaware of what theirs are.

In over 20-plus years of climbing around the world, I’ve witnessed dozens and dozens of Climbing Deal Breakers (CDBs), ranging from subtle to glaring, and have diligently compiled a list of these transgressions. Without question, the largest collection of CDBs can be found in one of two locations: climbing gyms and Smith Rock, Oregon. Both are stacked with the misguided gumbies, uninformed hacks and clueless college-aged newbs that are most susceptible to shocking CDBs. My friend and Smith Rock super-local Ian Yurdin, has, over the years, helped me compile and refine the CDB list. Ian recently sent me a flurry of text messages detailing seven or eight new CDBs. When I thanked him later for thinking of them, he said he didn’t, that he was just texting me what he saw in the 50-meter expanse between Magic Light and 5 Gallon Buckets at Smith Rock.

With climbing currently expanding at unprecedented levels and CDBs at the crag and gym becoming more and more brazen (wearing a Bluetooth earbud while climbing; running on a treadmill at the climbing gym—while wearing climbing shoes), the time for action is now. The CDB list has to become official and be published here in order to save the climbing world from itself.

Please do not think of the CDB list as a mean-spirited rant that singles out or belittles specific people or peoples. The point of this list is to help people, to enlighten and empower them, thereby freeing them from the embarrassment of unknowingly showcasing one CDB transgression, a handful of them or, in the case of an unfortunate few, many, many (if you have more than 10 CDBs, may God have mercy on your soul).

Now, some of you may read this list and be stunned that you have been running a CDB for years. Fear not, all is not lost—you can recover, you can rebound. Hell, I taught myself how to climb while growing up in Oregon and for the first few years of my climbing career I wore basketball shorts and a bandana do-rag; I had an anklet, and one day I even clipped climbing shoes to the outside of my pack—at school. But through careful
and persistent peer counseling from knowledgeable, experienced climbers and deep personal reflection I was able to shed my CDBs and become the legit, ultra-steez’d baller that I am today.

I have chosen to detail the rationale behind the inclusion of certain items on the CDB list, both in an effort to highlight all that encompasses the CDB, as well as to explain exactly why the CDB is so egregious. Read the list, learn from it and clean up your act. Don’t delude yourself any further with thoughts that this shit is OK. It’s not. It’s bad. Real bad.

The CDBs:

Topropes with Extraneous Gear on their harness.

You don’t need an ATC, belay gloves, nut tool and/or random single locker for toproping. What the hell are you going to use any of that stuff for? Double negative CDB if you’re in the climbing gym.

Daisy Chains.

If this Deal Breaker list was organized in order of importance—which it is not—daisy chains would be at the top. Why are people using daisy chains while rock climbing? Who started this? Who is teaching this as a method for clipping into anchors? Why do so many people from Oregon and Washington use daisy chains? Why? Why? Why? Daisy chains are for aid climbing. Period. They are not for clipping into anchors while rock climbing. Not only is it dangerous, it’s completely unnecessary. If you get to an anchor, be it a sport climb or a multi-pitch trad route, and think, “Man, it would be sweet to have a daisy chain right now,” you need to go get some professional instruction. And for God’s sake, stop, stop, STOP threading daisy chains through your crotch like a G-string—that is the ultimate Climbing Deal Breaker.

Has biceps tattoos (barbed wire, tribal glyphs, interwoven flowers, dancing bears, etc.) pierced nipples (female exception), hemp anklets or massive wooden ear-lobe plugs.

Has Dave Graham’s scorecard as their web browser’s home page.

Plays any of the following at camp or in the parking lot:

Harmonica. Didgeridoo. Triangle. Rainstick. Harp. Guitar. Sitar. Kazoo-flute-plastic-thing.Accordion.

Has a climbing grade of any kind in their e-mail address

(e.g., or

Drinks mate at the crag from one of those gourd/straw things.

Wears sunglasses pushed up on the head while climbing.

Has a climbing-related vanity license plate (e.g., TRADCLMR, ONBLAY or RK N ICE).

Wears Crocs, Chacos, Dansko clogs or those five-toed rubber shoe things. Birkenstock clogs are on the cusp of inclusion. It all comes down to whether you have the style to pull them off. I do; you probably do not.

Wears manpris. Why are manpris on the CDB list? Put on a pair and stand in front of a mirror. That metrosexual poseur you see? Yeah, that’s you.

Dudes cuffing their jeans up to manpri-length. See above.

Hollers non-native language encouragements such as “Allez,” “Venga” or “Jiyo” to partners.

Sports the no-shirt/beanie combo (female exception)

This is when things can get really, really bad, and someone will run this op along with manpris, pierced nipples and screaming on a toprope. No joke. I’ve seen it.

Has Canadian flags sewn onto their pack.

Why do Canadians think anyone gives a shit that they are from Canada? My friend Kolin is the worst Canadian-flag transgressor I have ever come across. His chalk bag, his coffee mug, his camp chair are all covered in Canadian flags, yet where does he live and work? The good ol’ U.S. of A. I keep calling the INS and hopefully someday soon I’ll be able to get him and his goddamn Canadian flag-covered shit deported.

Has (or ever had) a “Climbers for Kerry” sticker on their helmet.

Has (or ever had) a “Canadian Girls Kick Ass” sticker on their helmet.

Considers self a “major contributor” to an online climbing forum/message board.

Uses eco-colored chalk and/or a chalk ball. And, no, making either of those items yourself does not make it OK. Basic loose chalk—use it.

Has a pet named Denali, Lhotse, Makalu or Sharma.

Kneebars on a warm-up. If you really need to kneebar to do a move on a warm-up, you aren’t warming up.

Talks loudly on a cell phone at the crag. To borrow a couple of lines from the Beastie Boys: “I didn’t ask to be part of your day, so please stop shouting in your phone, OK?”

Updates Facebook or scorecard on smartphone while at the crag.

Screams on moves while dogging a route, toproping or in the gym (or all three).

Stick clips. Ranks right up there with daisy chains. How, when and why did stick clipping become so damn common? Unless there is some terrifying consequence if you blow the first clip, you do not need a stick clip. A stick clip is not, and never has been, a mandatory piece of climbing
equipment, so don’t make one, don’t bring one to the crag and don’t swap route-specific stick-clipping beta. Just sac up and lead it.

Goes into the bathroom at the climbing gym barefoot.

Wears a visor. Double-negative CDB if wearing it backward. Triple negative CDB if wearing it backward and upside-down.

Calls successfully walking a slackline a “send.”

Uses the term “tuque.”

Brings a barking dog to the crag. No one wants to hear that shit while climbing. Leave it at home.

Brings a crying kid to the crag. Same as above.

Has a chalk bag that looks like a Starbucks coffee or Crown Royal bag.

Has a quickdraw hanging from the rearview mirror.

Has a framed climbing poster.

Uses a blue Ikea bag for a rope bag.

Uses a haulbag for a cragging pack.

Has anything clipped to the outside of their pack. Shoes, helmet, water bottle, etc. do NOT belong dangling/clanging on the outside of a pack. Put it all inside or buy a bigger pack.

Extends draws with an additional draw or sling and then double clips them.

Climbs while wearing headphones.

Walks from crag to crag fully racked up.

Toprope belays with a Jumar as the top hand on the rope.

Harnesses up in the parking lot.

Boulders at the climbing gym with a harness on.

Wears any sort of mainstream sportswear while climbing (e.g., soccer shorts, football jersey or basketball tank top).

Overuses the word “crush.”

Has cats on a leash at the crag. The best of Ian’s CDBs texted directly from Smith Rock.

Fist bumps.

Belays in gym or at crag with climbing shoes on.

Clips chalk bag to harness with a carabiner. Double negative if this is a locking biner.

Gives beta on a route she hasn’t done. Double negative CDB if she hasn’t even been on the route (e.g., “Have you done that route?”… “No, but I belayed my buddy on it and he definitely used that left crimp.”).

Writes a Letter to the Editor to complain about the CDB list.

Also read The Coolest Climbing Deal Breaker