Climbing Ethics -- Etiquette on Passing Parties


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August West

Trad climber
Where the wind blows strange
May 17, 2010 - 06:26pm PT
Mostly, I do manage to only do classic climbs when they are clear and have passed very few parties in the last few years. But on some of the really popular routes, it can be hard. I would say that it is not that uncommon for the first party on royal arches or EB of middle to start at first light and for there to still be a party on the route as it gets dark.

I usually do RA as an aerobic, get-back-into-fast-mode, climb each spring. Even during the week, even with a 6:00 am start, I have passed two or three parties on the lower sections. Yea, the route might be clear at 6:00pm, but I'm not going to climb up there and wait behind an epic on the final pitches. I guess a midnight start with headlamp is an option...

There are certainly better (and worse) ways to ask a party to be allowed to pass, I certainly understand that. But really, threatening to shoot someone who is going to take 3 or 4 minutes to simul-climb through? Really? Sheeish...

Trad climber
Las Vegas
May 17, 2010 - 07:29pm PT
I passed a party yesterday and did not feel at all unethical about it!

I went out to do a Sunday hike of Frogland. We expected some traffic of course. When we got to the base there was a party starting up. Turns out to be a party of four. Their tech was, leader leads on dbl ropes and one of those seconds trails a rope for the fourth.

The leader was solid but very cautious and slow. The belayer told us about the size of the party and that they planned to do only the first two pitches of the route and then rap.

Knowing that the first pitch ended on a sizeable tree covered ledge my partner and I picked an alt first pitch and started up after all of the first party members had left the ground on the original first pitch. I followed the first pitch. Upon reaching the first belay the other party's leader was well up but still working on the second pitch.

A few things were apparent and a few facts were learned at this point:
1. The party was almost at their high point.
(the higher of the two typical belay points for the 2nd pitch)
2. The party was large, slow and not very familiar with the route, approach and descent.
(They told us they drove the wrong road in and hiked for hrs in the morning sun
and that was just to gain the entry to Black Velvet cyn.)
3. I could not (conveniently) ask their leader if I could start up and pass in the process.
In talking with the crew on the ledge I got a tentative go ahead.
4. I could easily climb to the side and fully in the clear of their rope/belay/protection system.
I could get to a ledge 40' below their leader and set up a belay before the second would even be leaving the P1 belay.

So I did just that. I took off up P2 purposely staying almost off route and always to the same side of their line. I never crossed their rope or got near their gear. I ran it out a few times because the available placements were occupied. I reached a belay about 40' below their leader that was substantially to the side of their 'plumb' rap line.

Their second came up and passed me. I waited and as soon as he was passing me I put my second on 'B'. My second climbed through and linked the 3rd into the fourth pitch and set up a belay the better part of a rope length above the other party as they brought up the rest of their entourage and prepped to rap.

There was a little tension at first. The (non leading) members of the first party were a little wary of the idea at first yet they were obviously not very experienced. I assured them I would stay out of their way and give them time if they needed it here and there to facilitate a smooth transition for everybody. They gave me the go ahead.

When the party was rapping off they were all smiles and no complaints.
Things went very smoothly.

Sure I agree with the up thread post about the speed climbers on Birdland on a crowded day.

But on the other hand:
I am still trying to figure out why a party from out of state,
would drive all that way, hike that far up an approach
and drag a party of four up only the first two pitches
of an uber classic multipitch?

I think I did it as gracefully as possible but...
I passed'm damnit !


Trad climber
Bay Area
May 17, 2010 - 09:00pm PT
There was a little tension at first. The (non leading) members of the first party were a little wary of the idea at first yet they were obviously not very experienced. I assured them I would stay out of their way and give them time if they needed it here and there to facilitate a smooth transition for everybody. They gave me the go ahead.

This encapsulates the basic play of emotions with a reasonable outcome for all.

Some have compared passing climbing with passing on the freeway (or any other road for that matter). e.g. I've got the right to pass.
The passing driver has the legal obligation to do it safely and stay clear of the passee. Freeway or goat track. Try telling it otherwise to the Officer who's writing you up or to the Judge.

Now is not the time to be taking Japhy to task for anything he or Brian did or didn't do nor to point out their errors. Japhy survived a most dreadful accident and in his other thread has shown great maturity and courage in telling us what happened only a week ago. He clearly told us what went wrong. There's been a good discussion of what went wrong on two other threads and I'm sure most of us have learned something from it.

We all know it's our personal responsibility to keep our S&^t together when things aren't going smoothly. To stop and get our heads together before proceeding. No need to lecture any of us on that point.

And on the question originally posted: what's the etiquette?

Screw the etiquette.
When we choose to start behind another party we know the possible scenarios.
If we want to pass them, it's our RESPONSIBILITY to not f*#k up their climb. It's our RESPONSIBILITY to do it safely for ourselves AND for them. That ALWAYS means with their consent. If they don't give it, take it to the parking lot.

If they ask us to not pass we must respect their wishes. We have no automatic right to push past. They have their reasons. If you want to argue about it, wait until you've caught up to both of them at a belay where you can piss and moan and hopefully pass safely.

Just because you're a hot sh#t and trying to knock 10 minutes off your best time up the route doesn't give you the right to run roughshod over others.

If someone's asking to pass you, say yes unless you've got a good reason (and there are a few). Then ask them to wait till YOUR party is safe. If the anchor is bomber, get a sling rigged for their leader to clip to. You'll be saving yourselves time in the end and it's safer for you all. If the anchor's not bomber for both parties tell them they'll have to set their own someplace else.

I was going to mention some of my personal situations in passing/being passed. But no, the basic etiquette and responsibilities are not situational. So I am back full circle to etiquette....etiquette with possibly dangerous consequences.

It's not Australian Rules Football, climbing is far more dangerous and there are no referees on the rock.
Fred Glover

Gym climber
May 17, 2010 - 10:19pm PT
I always thought that you pass tequila. Why would you pass a party?
Big Mike

Trad climber
Jun 18, 2012 - 02:14am PT
If that b&6tch tried to pull that on me, she would find herself clove hitched to the anchor so fast her head would spin.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Jun 18, 2012 - 12:35pm PT
Two rules apply to all civilized societies:

1) Say please.

2) Respond with thank you, no matter the response.

A lot of jerks out there who weren't around long ago when there were no lines in Yosemite Valley and Lover's (I can't speak for the Lily Rockers of them days) would have been sorry they were born if they tried sh#t like they do now. We welcomed the Euro crowd. Halcyon days are no more at my old haunts...

Jebus H Bomz

Reno, Nuh VAAAA duh
Jun 18, 2012 - 01:18pm PT
My partner and I got caught up with on Lucky Streaks recently. An Italian guy whose gear was pulling out as he climbed, cruising along as fast as we were following pitches was in the lead of the party! He caught up with my partner as I led the last pitch and I guess was pretty cool, waiting while I got my partner on belay before continuing to the anchor.

We weren't going slowly, he was just cruising. I led out that last pitch pretty fast when I saw he was nosing up to us. At the base we saw his follower was still on the climb (technical difficulties maybe - he'd dropped a cam all the way into the snow at the base), so they'd slowed down considerably. I guess we'd been his rabbit to chase as well as him being the flame under our asses. The cross-cultural etiquette of the pass was thankfully avoided.

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Jun 18, 2012 - 01:38pm PT
It doesn't always have to be a bad scene. A few years ago, I was on Frogland, a climb we had chosen specifically in order to have a leisurely day recovering from some after-dark returns. A very fast British team came roaring up behind us. I immediately offered to let them pass, but they were, apparently, out for a stroll as well, "no problems mate, it's all about the day," they said. And so it was, we had a lovely day on the route, chatted amiably on all the belay ledges, took photos of each other on the top, and parted on the best of terms.
mouse from merced

Trad climber
merced, california
Jun 18, 2012 - 03:16pm PT
You even have a Virgin River in the veecinity, don't you? Or is the name no longer valid? lol, & how's the fishing today?

Social climber
carmel, ca
Aug 24, 2016 - 12:16pm PT

I never wanted anyone to get hurt on one of my climbs and was very saddened to hear of your accident and loss of your friend. I myself have had near death experiences (similar to Melissa above) from distracted moments leading to poor knot tying/communication etc. and am lucky to be alive. Nearly every single experienced climber can say the same. There is no need to beat oneself up over such things, we are humans not robots and unless some truly willful negligence is involved all are blameless, caught up in moments and lives and thoughts and dreams or even in the wonder at the beauty of Yosemite on such a day. I hope time has softened your grief and you have come to terms with that.

Dwell instead on a fine spring day with the sandpaper kiss of perfect granite on the back of your hands, the gust of the wind through spindly oak branches, the call of a Peregrine below you and a lazy Merced pausing in her journey seeming a little stream so far below...and laugh, laugh for him as you denied gravity far above the Earth feeling your strong body climb, climb and climb...You lived so well that day, a special day and one that few humans ever get to experience...I think he would want you to remember that too.

I did not know Brian but I will remember him. I am sorry for your loss.

John Tuttle

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Aug 24, 2016 - 01:32pm PT
I re-read this thread after a six-year absence, and find that the last few posts make up for all the rest.

When I read the OP and made my comment in 2010, I had no idea of the circumstances giving rise to the question. The back-and-forth between the "I always have the right to pass slower parties" proponents and the "I got there first precisely because I didn't want to follow anyone" ones reached a limit of usefulness long ago, but the posts by Mouse, rgold and kingtut made reading the whole thread again worthwhile.

I guess we will always encounter some people whose idea of their entitlement differs from ours, whether on the road, on the climb, or in life. It gladdened me to see so many expressing concern for others, not just for themselves, and having stories showing that they express that concern in their actions.

I have a great deal of sympathy for Japhy, simply because I, too, have real difficulty letting go of perceived injustice (usually to me) quickly. Perhaps for that reason, I am not ready to let people who provoke others by inappropriate behavior off the hook because the provokee didn't "recover fast enough." Fortunately, that's not the real issue here, and it clearly was not in the OP or in Japhy's more detailed description of the incident. Well, at least it was clear to me, though obviously not to others.

The real issue remains how we treat others engaged in our wonderful sport. Whether we like it or not, we really do have plenty of unwritten rules of etiquette that require local knowledge. The accepted ways to climb K-2 differ from those to climb the Lost Arrow. Fortunately, most of the replies here convince me that climbers as a whole still understand why politeness matters and leads to a better experience not just for others, but for themselves, too.

the Fet

Aug 24, 2016 - 05:02pm PT
Missed this thread before. I'm surprised anyone would pass when denied permission. Total dick move. I'm glad I read this thread because I wouldn't have expected that to ever happen; it's never happened to me. Now I'd be prepared to physically block someone's passage if they were being a dick like that.

I've allowed parties to pass when they've asked and I've seen they are faster, or we just offer. I've told a few parties no, who act all put out, then we proceeded to climb faster than them anyway. My partners twice allowed people to pass us, who said they were fast, without consulting me first, and the parties who passed were slower than us and made us wait. I've had parties ask when we are in a conga line and told them no, we are waiting too, them passing us won't get them anywhere but in front of us, although I did allow a party to pass us in a conga line because they weren't dressed warm enough and were freezing so we did them a favor.

If there is an alternate route it's fair game. If it's a foot race on the approach, it's fair game.

Free soloers are a different story. Although they have still pretty much always asked me if they could pass. Which I guess they should. If they fall they could kill you. I guess I would just never say no to a free soloer because they'd be pretty screwed if you said no.

I do believe in first come first served is the primary rule. I've had enough rocks and gear dropped past me that I understand if someone gets up early they have the right to climb with no one above them, even if they are slow. On 90% of climbs you can see how fast the people are moving on it and decide to wait or climb something else. Yeah it's a dick move when a part of 4 slowly crawl up a classic line, but again you can almost always see a cluster f*#k and decide not to climb it or resign to a lot of waiting.

And bad situations DO mess with your focus. It's not the cause of error but it can be a factor. Once a partner got a call with bad news at the start of a trip. It really messed with his head the whole trip. We had to scale back our plans and be super cautious. It's almost like being over tired or shell shocked. You just aren't operating at 100% capability.
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