• Sarah Schlaefke

If we don't teach kindly, no one will


Spreading the love of top-belaying

It wasn’t long ago, back in the land of Milwaukee, I was at the town-rival-climbing-gym, practicing longer lead climbing with my friend Taylor, when she did something that everyone does at least once in their climbing lifetime, she backclipped her rope to a draw. Upon seeing the mistake and me letting her know, she flipped it around and finished the climb, only to find once she got down that another climber had ran over to the front desk, made a scene about her backclip, told on her and the gym staff was there waiting to take her lead climbing tag.

Now, I get that rules are rules. And I get if you backclip in a gym and don’t catch it you might need to have your tag taken, but I don’t get when she fixed her mistake, some other high and lofty climber went and told on her so she’d get her tag taken. I think that’s straight bullshit. And it has a lot to do with climbers looking out for each other and teaching each other what they know.

In my previous rant, I am under the impression that some gym climber decided that he wanted to rule the school and stick it in her face that she screwed up. Its negative reinforcement and just negative behavior, and I can tell you that made NO ONE a better climber.

When it comes to taking the skills you know, you really should be open to positively passing them on. Yes, you can do it the good, ole’ corporate way and go take a class teaching you how to climb, how to clip bolts, or how to plug cams. But most of the time, we climbers teach each other right out on the rocks.

Over the past couple years, I’ve been a teacher of climbing skills and still currently am. I’m also an avid learner, though, too. What peeved me is that the guy who obnoxiously tattled on Taylor could’ve easily made the same mistake five minutes earlier or five minutes prior. But a good person doesn’t run off and shame that guy, instead they offer help and guidance.

I spent the past couple weekends passing on some of my basic multi-pitching skills, teaching anything from how to re-rack an alpine draw to how to top-belay. I will be teaching my friend to belay tomorrow. When people come to me and ask me to show them how to do something, or express that they’re confused with something, I don’t shame them into not wanting to learn or not wanting to climb, I set some time aside, and I show them the ropes.

Whenever I take the time to explain the basics to someone, I remember that day with Taylor at AdRock. I remember the look she had and how angry I got that this guy who was no better than you or me went and made sure every single staff member knew Taylor momentarily messed up. I remember never wanting to go there again. And I remember Taylor telling me how she didn’t want to lead climb anymore for a while. No bueno.

To this day, I ask people to teach me all kinds of stuff. Aid climbing, top-site rescue, knots, hitches, what gear you need for what. You name it, I’ve probably asked for help with it in the last month. I’ve been lucky, though, I have people all around me whom I feel comfortable asking for this help. Others, not so much. There are plenty of people I know who have been scared away by our beloved sport because someone called them a gumby or made fun of them when they didn’t know what they were doing. Other times, someone is just too scared to ask for a refresher and that could be the end of someone else’s life. Again, no bueno.

I guess what I want to end with is this: beating down the little no-knowledger is not doing us any good. It’s not growing our passion, it’s not livening our community, and it’s not getting other people out to enjoy our beautiful outdoors.

I don’t think that dimwit wrecked Taylor, ‘cause she’s still out there crushing it, but it doesn’t mean he didn’t do it to others before. Climbing isn’t about beating everyone else out and down around you, it’s about advancement and passion, getting on the rocks and sharing them. And then about going home after a solid night of crushing and raving about the sick routes you got on, not the loser who decided to ruin everyone else’s good time.

*Sidenote: I think a lot of things about safety, too. And in this case, I don’t think that anyone was being unsafe, which is why it sticks out in my brain. I mean, we were in a gym and she fixed it, for crying out loud. Read later on, once I muster up the words to talk about safety on a future post of mine. In the meantime, just be damn nice to each other. It isn’t that hard.

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