The five stages of “backing-off” climbs.


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Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 19, 2009 - 03:04pm PT
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's book, "On Death and Dying” identifies five stages of accepting death.

• Denial (this isn't happening to me!)

• Anger (why is this happening to me?)

• Bargaining (I promise I'll be a better person if...)

• Depression (I don't care anymore)

• Acceptance (I'm ready for whatever comes)

When I think about the many climbing “back-offs” I achieved attempting new routes in Idontno, and difficult routes elsewhere: the five stages sound remarkably similar.

Most all the below happened to me BITD. I even won several of the annual "Most Backoffs" awards from the "Decker Flat Climbing & Frisbee Club."

“I don’t think that lightning storm is heading for us.”
“It won’t rain for long.”
“You really think this belay won’t hold a lead fall?”
“The rock just can’t be that bad everywhere.”
“There must be someplace to get some protection in.”

“I can’t believe you don’t want to try that next lead.”
“What the hell are you afraid of?”
“Do you think we’re going to melt in a little rain!”
“I really don’t know where the hell we are going, or how you propose to get there.”
“When is a belay, ever, ----really good?”

“If it quits raining in the next ___ minutes, the rock will dry out real soon.”
“If that lightning storm doesn’t get closer, I’m cool with continuing.”
“If you can get up this lead, I think it gets easier above.”
“I think we just need to hope that there’s a place up there to put a belay.”
“If I carry both packs, can you lead this one?”

“It sure got cold fast when the shadow hit.”
“There is no way we can get up this before dark, and we are not equipped for a bivy.”
“We are in way over our heads.”
“I think the lightning is getting way too close.”
“If it keeps raining like this we’re f*#ked.”

“It would be nice to be warm again.”
“I sure am so looking forward to being off this.”
“I vote for trying this again, with the right gear, in better conditions.”
“Think this tree would hold a rappel?”
”I can nearly taste those couple beers we put in the creek.”


Trad climber
Dec 19, 2009 - 03:08pm PT
Quality work.

I like when acceptance hits- Just go numb and go along for the ride.

Trad climber
Dec 19, 2009 - 03:10pm PT
nice jeans there; great for waiting out a thunder storm. ha

I've never backed off anything, so I wouldn't know about stages... lol

Mountain climber
Monrovia, CA
Dec 19, 2009 - 03:23pm PT
Bonatti backed off the Croz Spur 7 times before doing it.
I believe he said "Great climbers die in their rocking chairs."
lars johansen

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Dec 19, 2009 - 04:17pm PT

I've sure had my share of self imposed failures.

Bailing, for good reason....

Boulder climber
Dec 19, 2009 - 04:36pm PT
you know, i get the same feeling every time i over pack the bong?

1) crap, this stuff can't be that good, but it's still expanding!

2) how could i be such a fool, been smokin for 50 years, can't happen here,

3) please stay down, i promise to pack a lighter bowl and not be so greedy!

4) diesel #1, - oh shit! diesel #2 and #3, crap, it's gotta come out!

5) i don't care about my burning lungs and throat, i feel so frickin good!

serious, the only bud i backed off of was the Big Sur Holy Bud

jeezus H Crap!

Got Chronic?

Return to your homes, ladies and gentlemen, there's nothing to see here.

Trad climber
Portland, Oregon
Dec 19, 2009 - 05:06pm PT
I tend to short-circuit all that and go directly from the true stage zero - fear - directly to acceptance, but then I can be fairly gracious that way.

Trad climber
New York, NY
Dec 19, 2009 - 08:22pm PT

Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 19, 2009 - 09:50pm PT
I just received a reply to my post from my "rope rocket" friend Kim.

After a couple months guiding treks in Nepal, she and her husband are "warming up" in Thailand.

I tested the post on her this morning and this is her comeback.

//From Kim:

Things are a little different for us sport climbers here in Thailand

But it's only five ten!
This sunburn is ruining my concentration
If I send it, I won't eat drink any more beer
But I might have to leave A biner
Hey! Grab that Singha lady!//

Eric Beck

Sport climber
Bishop, California
Dec 19, 2009 - 10:23pm PT
On many of what I now consider to have been some my best climbs, if my partner had even mentioned the idea that we might not have to really do this we would have been down in an instant.
Scared Silly

Trad climber
Dec 19, 2009 - 10:23pm PT
Speaking of five stages ...
'Pass the Pitons' Pete

Big Wall climber
like Ontario, Canada, eh?
Dec 19, 2009 - 10:25pm PT
Fritz - that is ABSOLUTELY CLASSIC, and a great throwback to the 70's and 80's when climbers used to write lots of cool stuff like this, but don't seem to any more. This is the type of thing that belongs in the anthology Games Climbers Play. Man, I miss that stuff.

I think you should dress it up a bit, and send it to the mags who are sure to publish it, because it's really good and funny and original.

You should also more precisely quote your reference, and its year of publication which is 1969. Most of us are familiar with it, but I had to look up to confirm that you referenced the original, which you did - well done.

Surely one of the best posts of the year.

Peter Haan

Trad climber
San Francisco, CA
Dec 19, 2009 - 10:54pm PT
Can't find it right now, but wasn't there a Tom Patey article (Perrin's anthology, Mirror in the Cliffs maybe) about "gracefully withdrawing"?? that presages this thread? I like this thread of course, just keep remembering something I think Patey wrote. Loved him! Or maybe per above, it was Lito Tejada-Flores in the games climbers play thing of his.

Trad climber
Hagerman, ID
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 19, 2009 - 11:27pm PT
I am sure that Patey’s “The Art of Climbing Down Gracefully” was perhaps lurking in my sub-conscious when I concocted this post. However I was exploring similar ground with a different approach.

After checking my library: I find

“The Art of Climbing Down Gracefully” was part of a series that Patey wrote for “Mountain” before his death. It was published posthumously in both Mountain and then in the Patey bio “One Man’s Climbs.”

Later it was fully published in “The Games Climbers Play.”

The story contains 16 different ways to avoid climbing, or if forced to climb, ways to immediately and gracefully remove yourself from a route.

BITD: It was one of my “must reads” in “Games Climbers Play.”

I always favored the ploy in #11: Various Time-wasting tactics.

Commando Pace!
I did learn a lot of ploys from Patey.
The annual “MOST BACKOFFS AWARD” was highly coveted -----BITD.


Trad climber
Leading Edge of North American Plate
Dec 19, 2009 - 11:38pm PT
Karl Baba

Trad climber
Yosemite, Ca
Dec 20, 2009 - 01:45am PT
Nice post OP!

That photo above looks like are real pain picnic~!



Trad climber
Leading Edge of North American Plate
Dec 20, 2009 - 03:00am PT
Just another outing with Bill McConachie to do some ice climbing during a snow storm on Upper Sentinel Falls, December, 2008.

Trad climber
The beckoning silence
Dec 20, 2009 - 03:07am PT
Awesome... I'm crackin' up!

Big Wall climber
Seattle, WA
Dec 20, 2009 - 03:16am PT
Classic stuff here. I think the reason for my first successful El Cap route was picking a route that was way hard to back off of. 1982, the Trip, in winter. If for some strange reason you find it necessary to deal with your Ego, learning to back away with grace is an art form or a lesson in futility.

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Dec 20, 2009 - 12:20pm PT
Delightful post! I was raised in the Vulgarian tradition, which viewed The Fiasco as one of the highest forms of climbing achievement. But of course we've moved on, and with "progress" seem to come fewer and fewer ways to enjoy the manifold delights of abject failure.

Indeed, perhaps as a side-effect of the self-image industry, the entire concept of failure has been nearly erased from the climbing lexicon, being replaced instead by various finely titrated degrees of success. Think about the dictionary's worth of terms in sport climbing used to describe, in some positive sense, the fact that the climber was not capable of doing the climb. (I recently heard the celebratory announcement, "I one-hung it!" and only barely managed to suppress the reply, "Well hung, dude!")

To paraphrase an Yvon Chouinard quote about a route a did in the Gunks years ago, "I could have a thousand such successes and forget them all tomorrow, for it is only the great failures that live on forever in one's mind."
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