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The Dead Horse Graveyard: the Ongoing RC.com Climbing FAQ


Submitted by admin on 2009-02-17 | Last Modified on 2009-02-25

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If you have suggestions for The Dead Horse Graveyard, please post them HERE.

Welcome to the Dead Horse Graveyard: a catalog of many of the questions that have been asked way too many times in Rockclimbing.com forums. If you have asked one of these questions, it’s possible a moderator locked your thread and directed you here for answers. This catalog has two major components. You’ll find many of these topics have the answers right there next to the questions. But, as is common in climbing, answers are not always cut and dried, so whenever possible, we have added links to helpful threads that already discuss the answers in detail. Though your thread may have been locked, please feel free to participate in anything you find listed here. In return, please be mindful of our forum rules. Flames and off-topic posting won’t help this resource. It’ll hurt it.

NOTE: the Dead Horse Graveyard is and always will be a work in progress, much like our CLIMBING DICTIONARY.

The Dead Horse Graveyard is set up FAQ style. To use it, click on any question to rocket to the answer.

General Climbing:
How can I get started rock climbing?
I’ve been climbing indoors. How do I transition to outdoors?
What are some good books for getting started?
I found a rock and I want to do first ascents. What do I need to know first?
I have to design a new piece of climbing gear for my school project. What would be cool to see?
What’s a “running belay?”
What’s a “dynamic belay?” Where can I find a mentor to teach me hands on?
What’s the difference between toproping and leading?
What’s the difference between sport climbing and trad climbing?
Do bolts automatically equal sport climbing?
Does “free climbing” mean climbing without a rope?
What’s aid climbing?
What does “5.10 R IV” mean? In other words, how are climbs rated?
How do I get the rope back after I rappel?
How do I get my draws back after a sport climb?
What’s the Texas Rope Trick?
What’s the Trad Texas Rope Trick?

General Safety:
Should I clip my belay ‘biner to my belay loop or to both tie-in points?
What are some of the most common mistakes new climbers make?
What is the responsibility of the belayer?
What’s the safest belay technique?
Why is it a bad idea to trust Internet climbing advice on its own?
How should I screen my potential climbing partners?
I'm pretty heavy for a climber and I'd like to start leading. Are there any special safety considerations?

Gear:
Why did my brand new shoes blow out so quickly?
What shoes should I get?
What harness should I get for: kids, indoor, sport, trad, all-around climbing?
What are different ‘biners used for?
What sport draws should I get?
What rope should I buy?
What are different diameters used for?
How long should my rope be?
How do I inspect a rope?
When should I retire my rope?
My rope is rated to X falls. I only get X falls before I have to retire it?!
What’s a Gri-gri?
What’s an ATC?
Why does my belay device have two slots?
Which is better: a Gri-gri or a tube-style device (commonly mis-referred to as an ATC)?
What’s the difference between chalk and resin?
I want to build my first trad rack. What should I start with?
What cams should I buy?

How can I get started rock climbing?
Opinions on this will vary, but some suggestions seem to appear more than others. First, have you tried a climbing gym? If you Google your area and “indoor climbing,” you’ll probably find something. If not, try to find a climbing guide. The next best thing to a lesson – or is it the best thing, period? – is to find out where people rock climb near you and go there. Strike up a conversation with some climbers. Ask questions, be friendly and, eventually, ask if you can try it out. Many of met our first climbing partners this way. At the very least, they probably have some suggestions for where else you can go to scratch your itch. HERE’S a helpful discussion on the topic:

I’ve been climbing indoors. How do I transition to outdoors?
As any outdoor climber will no doubt brag to you about, climbing outside is very different from climbing inside. Aside from technique-based differences, outdoors tends to include a number of objective, environment-based hazards, such as falling rock, weather and anchor set up. So, you’re right to wonder what the best way is to transition. Opinions will vary, but most people will offer these basic tips: One, read lots of books on anchoring, knots and other safety topics. Two, find an experienced climber who’s willing to take you under his or her wing. Or three, take a course or hire a guide. Your local climbing gym may even have courses that will help get you started. ALSO. ..

What are some good books for getting started?
There are lots to choose from, but over the years some consensus good books have emerged from the pack. HERE’S a good sampling.

I found a rock and I want to do first ascents. What do I need to know first?
Hoo boy, have you ever opened a can of worms. Opinions, procedures and traditions will vary by the person and the area in which you climb, but some points generally hold true. One, If you intend to install fixed hardware, you really do need to learn what the best thing is for the rock. For example, wedge anchors do not hold well in soft rock, but glued anchors do. Also, if there are established ethics for route development in your area, it’s probably a good idea to know them and follow them. Two, and also if you plan on installing fixed hardware, you should make sure you’re competent enough to do so, and do everything in your power to learn if what you intend to develop has already been climbed by somebody previously. (For example, it’s largely considered poor form to bolt something that was climbed as a trad route a few years ago, even if you only did it by mistake.) HERE’S some helpful discussion on the subject.

I have to design a new piece of climbing gear for my school project. What would be cool to see?
You may be surprised at how many times this comes up on Rockclimbing.com. You’re not the first design student in these hallowed halls! HERE and HERE are a couple previous threads. Maybe you can get some ideas there.

What’s a “running belay?”
A running belay (note that this not a proper noun) is any lead belay. However, the term “running belay” is often used to mean the Stone Mountain Running Belay, a technique originated on the slabs of Stone Mountain in North Carolina. Stone Mountain is a giant granite slab, which means its angle is less than vertical. SM’s other feature is its often confounding lack of holds. Luckily, its low angle makes it possible for climbers to almost magically stick to the rock with good technique – keeping the weight over the feet and using balance to ascend. Back in the days when routes at SM were being developed, first ascenionists drilled bolts to protect the featureless rock. They drilled them by hand and on lead, which means they needed a stance good enough to do so. Those stances are few and far between at SM, and likewise the bolts, which means potential fall distances are huge. The angle of the wall, however, makes the actual falling speed relatively slow. So slow, in fact, it gives the belayer time to act. HERE’S more.

What’s a “dynamic belay?”
Put simply, a belay is dynamic when the belayer purposefully adds distance to the climber’s fall by introducing slack into the system at the moment of the catch. This is an advanced, but very useful, thing to know how to do. HERE’S more.

Where can I find a mentor to teach me hands on?
That’s a toughie. We’ve seen everything from people imposing on other climbers by forcing their questions on them to posting classified ads looking for mentors. Unfortunately, neither work well. Double unfortunately, there appear to be fewer people willing to mentor others than that want mentors. Everybody seems to agree that people who show determination, reliability and a good attitude attract mentors more easily. HERE, HERE and HERE are more.

What’s the difference between toproping and leading?
Put simply, toproping is climbing with your anchor above you, and as you climb higher, there is less rope in the system. Leading, on the other hand, involves you placing your own anchors at intervals. Instead of pulling in rope, the belayer pays out rope as the climber ascends. Leading is necessary for longer climbs. If the top of the cliff is accessible by foot and short enough, then it’s possible to just toprope. Toproping, or TR-ing is further split into two main groups: top belay, where the belayer is at the top of the cliff; and social or slingshot belay, where the belayer is at the bottom and the rope is redirected through an anchor up top. Leading is further divided into three main categories: sport climbing, trad climbing and aid climbing.

What’s the difference between sport climbing and trad climbing?
The most noticeable difference between the two is the presence of copious bolts, but it’s actually more complex than that. A trad climb, for example, can be bolt protected. Confused? You’re not the only one. HERE and HERE are a couple discussions that may help.

Do bolts automatically equal sport climbing?
No, they definitely do not! Although, that’s the most commonly used definition of sport climbing – bolt protected – that’s not the only factor. Many trad routes are bolt protected, take for example at Stone Mountain in North Carolina and Tuolomne Meadows in California. For a climb to be a sport climb, it must be entirely bolt protected (you need carry nothing but quickdraws) and the fall potential must be reasonably safe. A well-bolted sport climb frees the climber to focus on the climbing and the difficulty without having to worry so much about protecting him or herself. A trad climb, on the other hand puts more responsibility for safety in the hands of the climber, either by requiring him or her to manage fall distances or place his or her own protection in the rock. Search for “Stone Mountain,” if you’d like to read more on this.

Does “free climbing” mean climbing without a rope?
Nope. Free climbing means using only your body to ascend a climb, while your equipment is only there for safety reasons. Climbing a rope in gym class, for example, is not free climbing. Bouldering is a type of free climbing, as are trad climbing and sport climbing. The opposite of free climbing is aid climbing. Often times, uneducated people use the term “free climbing” to mean climbing without ropes. What they actually mean, however, is “free soloing.”

What’s aid climbing?
In contrast to free climbing, aid climbers place equipment in or on the rock and actually use it to ascend. For example, you might place a small metal hook on an edge on the rock, attach a webbing ladder to it, climb the ladder as high as you can, and then place another metal hook to repeat the process. That’s an overly simplified way of describing it, but you get the point.

What does “5.10 R IV” mean? In other words, how are climbs rated?
This is good example of the Yosemite Decimal System of rating the difficulty of climbs, but it goes a couple steps further. Let’s take a digit at a time. 5 stands for 5th-class terrain. Look at the floor under you right now. That’s first class terrain. Add significant steepness to it and maybe some actual terrain, like a stream bed, and it might bump up to 2nd class. Add more, plus a bit of rock scrambling and it’s 3rd class. Add consequences, like you-fall-you-die, and it’s 4th class. If you start using gear, such as for a running belay, then it automatically becomes technical rock climbing, or 5th class. Now, let’s examine the .10. This is the actual difficulty rating of the 5th-class climbing. It’s currently divided up into 16 sub levels: 0 (or 5.0) through 15 (or 5.15). I say “currently,” because it’s an open-ended scale. Once upon a time it ended at 5.7, because that’s as hard as people had climbed. R brings a whole other dimension to the rating. This denotes how protectable the climb is to lead. If protection is cheap and easy, the climb will either receive a G rating or none at all. If it’s a little sketchy but a competent leader can find just enough to keep safe, it might get a PG rating. If a fall would almost certainly result in a major injury, it gets an R. If a fall would almost certainly result in debilitating injury or death, it gets an X. The Roman numeral IV denotes a time commitment. Grade I is single pitch. Grade II is your standard multi-pitch line. Grade III is a longer multi-pitch climb, but a good party can nail it in less than a full day. Typically, a competent party can climb grad IV in a single, long day. Grades V and VI are longer and longer.

It’s worth noting that all of this is highly subjective, kind of like ski slopes. One climbing area’s 5.10 R IV is another’s 5.11 PG III. Also, different countries use different rating systems. The YDS is mainly North American. If you’re interested in the history of the YDS, try HERE. If you’re interested in how the YDS stacks up against rating systems in other areas, try HERE.

Notably, none of the above includes bouldering grades. If you’re interested in those, try HERE.

How do I get the rope back after I rappel?
Typically, when you rappel, you’ll thread your rope through an anchor, such as steel rings. But rappel anchors come in other forms, too, such as slings around a tree or boulder, or the tree itself, without slings (although this is pretty unhealthy for the tree). When you’re done rappelling, you simply pull one end and the rope comes tumbling down. If the rappel is long enough that you have to tie two together (this is a common occurrence), then it works the same way, but you have to make sure you pull the side with the knot on it.

How do I get my draws back after a sport climb?
Warning, this is typically one of those things that are difficult to learn online. Perhaps that’s because the people who don’t know it, generally don’t understand what led up to it very well, but who knows. Anyway, it’s a complex process by which the climber attaches him or herself directly to the anchor, unclips the quick draws, threads the rope back through the anchor and then lowers or rappels down, cleaning the lower draws along the way. Not terribly complex, you may be thinking. Then how come so many get hurt or killed doing it? HERE’S one method that will work with most any sport anchor, and HERE’S another (scroll down) that works well with wider anchors, such as steel rings. Though the second method won't work with chains, it has the advantage of keeping you on belay the entire time. I want to make it perfectly clear that, if you don't practice this before you actually have to do it -- tired, alone many feet off the deck, pumped to the nines -- I probably think you're the worst kind of gumby moron.

What’s the Texas Rope Trick?
The Texas Rope Trick is a convoluted way to waste time just so you don’t lose a bail ‘biner on a sport climb. Still interested? Try HERE.

What’s the Trad Texas Rope Trick?
THE TRAD TEXAS ROPE TRICK is the even more convoluted, almost definitely easier to screw up, and yet arguably more useful cousin of the Texas Rope Trick.

General Safety:

Should I clip my belay ‘biner to my belay loop or to both tie-in points?
The short answer is that you should do what your harness manufacturer recommends. Check the label on your harness. The long answer is a bit more complicated and involves a few different schools of thought. Big surprise. HERE’S a discussion on it.

What are some of the most common mistakes new climbers make?
The LIST is a long one… seven pages long, to be exact.

What is the responsibility of the belayer?
This is actually a pretty broad subject, but one you, as somebody’s climbing partner really ought to read up on. A user of these forums once wrote: The climbing is exciting but the responsibility of belaying is incredible: if someone's safety is dependent on my actions, they're going to have my full and undivided attention.” Most experienced climbers report seeing certain common belay errors often, and while not every one of them results in an accident every time, they do often increase the potential for it. HERE, HERE and HERE are some good discussions to read up on.

What’s the safest belay technique?
There are a few schools of thought on that one, too. (Noticing a pattern are you?) Check here for a pretty good discussion on this. The short answer is that some techniques give you advantages over others, but familiarity may be the biggest advantage of all, i.e., in stressful situations, you should probably stick with what you know best. But if you’re interested in diving into the various opinions, THIS is a very informative read.

Why is it a bad idea to trust Internet climbing advice on its own?
The short answer is, “Because you can’t possibly know the source, and whether or not he or she really understands the subject.” The long answer includes that and a few more things. Even if the source is unimpeachably knowledgeable about climbing, written communication has inherent flaws. Tone, body language – none of them are possible over the Internet. In most cases, you also don’t get visual aids, and then, there’s the fact that very few learning methods can substitute for hands-on experience. If you already have some experience, then you and the person with whom you’re conversing may share a common context that negates that principle, but then again, maybe not. You won’t go wrong by supplementing your Internet-gained knowledge with questions to experienced people in the real world, books, guided lessons, etc. But you may go wrong by NOT doing so.

How should I screen my potential climbing partners?
Of all the aspects of climbing, one of the most prominent and yet enigmatic is the relationship between partners. There’s no better metaphor for a climbing partnership than the partnership itself – it’s that important. So, how do you know who to trust implicitly, who to trust passingly and who to run away from screaming? Try THIS.

I'm pretty heavy for a climber and I'd like to start leading. Are there any special safety considerations?
Yes! actually, there are several things about which you should be aware. In a nutshell, when your weight surpasses the standard UIAA test weight of 80kg, every part of your system pays a price. Whether or not that price is too high depends on you and your system. We definitely recommend THIS article (pdf) from the American Safe Climbing Association.

Gear:

Why did my brand new shoes blow out so quickly?
Not to be condescending, but chances are, it’s your bad footwork. Most people who never spent time actually training for it have sloppy footwork. As footwork becomes more precise, you’ll notice your feet scraping against the rock less, and your shoes will last a lot longer. Of course, that’s not to say your shoes definitely don’t suck. However, there’s about a 90% chance it’s you. Sorry! HERE’s more on that.

What shoes should I get?
In a nutshell, you should get the shoes that fit you best, both in terms of physical fit and fit to your climbing style (see styles below). Climbing shoes are not like regular street shoes or sneakers. There is a certain precision necessary to get the right pair of shoes. A lot of people agree that it is essential to try on the shoes before you buy them. You’ll hear opinions about shoe fit ranging from “Painfully tight!” to “Comfort rules!” However, those people are arguing a moot point. The way a shoe should fit is often specific to the model of shoe. In general, shoes with liners stretch the least, un-lined leather shoes stretch the most and synthetics fall somewhere in between. But there’s a lot more to it than that! Research your shoes by contacting manufacturers. Attending shoe demos is also a good idea. Climbing gyms are all about those.

Some points to keep in mind:

  • Where will you climb most and what style of climbing is it? Steep? Cracks? Slabs? Indoor?
  • Every shoe maker has shoes for every style of climbing. Contact manufacturers (or visit their websites) and find out what they recommend for what you want to climb.
  • Since fit is paramount, what type of foot do you have? Narrow? Check the Euro brands, like LaSportiva and Scarpa. Wide? Check 5.10, Madrock and EVOLV.
  • if you just can’t pin it down, you should remember that, these days, performance, comfort and all-around utility are not mutually exclusive. And, unlike in roundball, the shoes don’t necessarily make the athlete. Get the fit right in an all-around shoe, and you’ll probably end up psyched.

Lace-ups v. hook-and-loop (Velcro® type) v. slippers:

  • Lace-ups: Allow the most precision fit in a shoe. Lace-ups are the all around closure systems. They are relatively slow to get on and off, leading some to not want to use them for bouldering and difficult sport routes.
  • Hook and loop: Fast to get on and off, making them a good choice for bouldering. They offer slightly less customization in the fit than lace-ups. The closure itself may also be obtrusive to foot jamming in crack climbing. In general, many people feel they’re a good combination between lace-ups and…
  • Slippers: No laces or closure system. Slippers can sometimes be difficult to get into and out of, due to their snug fit. The shoes themselves tend to be very flexible and sensitive. A good choice for those with strong feet.

What harness should I get for: kids, indoor, sport, trad, all-around?
If the shoe question taught you anything, it’s the importance of fit. That’s true of harnesses, too. However, we can make some generalizations. If you’re buying a harness for a child, take into account growth rates. If you’re buying for a very small child, consider getting a full-body harness for safety reasons. Harness for indoor and sport climbing don’t need a lot of bells and whistles, but you’ll still want something comfy, so look for a basic, well-fitting, padded harness. For trad and multi-pitch climbing, you’ll likely need a higher gear-loop count, more padding and maybe a drop seat, so you don’t have to remove it to take a dump. Aid climbing? Then padding, gear loops and a drop seat are even more important.

What are different ‘biners used for?
Without a doubt, carabiners (‘biners for short) are the most widely used piece of climbing gear. Whenever you have a roped system in climbing, the chances are nearly 100% that there’s at least one carabiner involved, usually more. But while they’re so widely used, they’re also very specialized. They’re really only made to pulled along their major axis, and when you do anything else to them, they become substantially weaker. There are a few main types of biners and several – SEVERAL – sub categories. We’re not going to get into the sub categories here. The main categories are:

Locking
Climbers use locking biners mostly for attaching belay devices to harnesses. Typically, but not always, that belay biner will be pear shaped, which has a wider opening for putting stuff in and taking stuff out. Lockers are also often used when building anchor systems. The lock makes it so theat the biner is much less likely to come open accidentally, which why lead climbers sometimes also use them on crucial protection pieces, where an open biner could spell doom. The locks on locking biners come in two main flavors: twist lock and auto lock. Which should you get? INDEED.

Non-locking
Non-lockers are more often used on protection pieces where speed, weight and convenience of use are of the utmost importance. Quickdraws for sport routes are a prime example of this, but trad climbers, ice climbers and aid climbers also use them very regularly. Notably, if you really want a locker, but don’t have one, using two non-lockers – with their gates reversed and opposed – is perfectly acceptable in all but a few cases. Some old-schoolers even say it’s better. But damn, there sure are a lot different types of non-locking biners.

You know, the subject of Carabiners probably needs its own FAQ!

What sport draws should I get?
All quickdraws will serve more or less the same basic purpose. Choosing one among the many is all about preference. Wiregate carabiners are often preferred for the rope end for ease of clipping, weight, and resistance to gate flutter. Dovetailing, or keylock, gates are often preferred for t he bolt end for ease of cleaning and to reduce the chance of the notch catching the hangar. Sport climbers generally agree that a high gate-open and cross-load strength is important. But if you really want to dive into this, try HERE.

What rope should I buy?
As always, it depends. First, you have to figure out what kind of climbing you’re doing. Top-rope, gym sport, outdoor sport, trad, multi-pitch, ice, mountaineering, etc may all be best served by a different rope. Different rope types (single, double/half, or twin) are better for different activities. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some good all-arounders, too. In general, most competent, experienced climbers agree that for your first rope (we’re assuming you’re asking this because you haven’t quite been around long enough to figure it out), you should buy thick, like 10mm and above. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the biggie is that a thin rope is harder to hold when your partner falls. Before you graduate to a thin cord, you should probably know first-hand what you’re getting into.

What are different diameters used for?
In general, the thicker the rope, the more of a beating it can withstand. That’s not always the case, of course, but it’s a good rule of thumb when setting out to buy a rope. When people opt for thin cords, they do so most often because they’re lighter and produce less friction (“rope drag”) over long climbs. When people opt for thicker cords, they do so most often because they intend to toprope a lot or fall a lot when working a climb. THIS isn’t a complete reference, but it’s a good start.

How long should my rope be?
The length of a rope is a tradeoff between the length of routes you intend to do and weight and manageability. These days, typical climbing ropes are 60m. Check with your local guidebook or other local climbers to see if they recommend anything different.

How do I inspect a rope?
Inspecting ropes should be a regular activity for every climber. You are looking for a number of basic factors, including glazing, soft spots, hard spots, and discoloration. Run the rope through your hand in good light while eyeing it and squeezing it slightly. There’s more info HERE.

When should I retire my rope?
When you should retire is dependent on a number of factors. Age, glazing, hard falls, chemical damage, UV damage and core exposure are all possible reasons for retirement. In general, if you find damage to the rope either after an inspection or in the field, consider retiring it. HERE’S more.

My rope is rated to X falls. I only get X falls before I have to retire it?!
No, no, no... That’s not (in the vast majority of situations) the case. When a rope is rated to a certain number of falls, they mean UIAA test falls, which are very specific types of falls. HERE and HERE are more.

What’s a Gri-gri?
A Petzl (manufacturer) Gri-gri (model) is an assisted-locking belay device intended to be used both for top-rope and lead belaying. Notably, a Gri-gri (and it’s cousins, such as the Trango Cinch) are advanced belay devices for advanced belayers. Experienced, competent climbers widely agree that placing a Gri-gri in the hands of a rank beginner and expecting a safe belay is a little like putting a 10-year old child behind the wheel of a car and saying, “Wake me when we get there.” HERE it is in our Gear Guide, and HERE’S its cousin, the Trango Cinch.

What’s an ATC?
An ATC is the brand name for the tube-type belay device sold by Black Diamond. The standard ATC has become so ubiquitous that the term “ATC” is often used to describe any tube-style belay device, similar to how Kleenex is to facial tissues. However, people who use “ATC” to describe any tube-style device are wrong. WRONG, I say!

Why does my belay device have two slots?
If you’re using a tube type belay device, chances are you have two slots. If you’re top-roping or belaying a leader with single ropes, you’ll only be using one of those slots at a given time. However, there are two main situations in which that second slot becomes very, very useful. The first is rappelling two ropes. This is often a necessity to get back to the ground safely after completing a pitch so that you can retrieve your rope. The second situation is when belaying a leader with double/half or twin ropes (not the same thing). Without getting into the how-tos of double and twin belaying, HERE’S a bit on the difference between them.

Which is better: a Gri-gri or a tube-style device (commonly mis-referred to as an ATC)?
Well, there’s another can o’ worms entirely. HERE’S a thread about an accident at the New River Gorge in which several users debate this very issue. It’s long, but it’s also good reading.

What’s the difference between chalk and resin (pof)?
Environmental and ethical, mostly. Notably, most areas of the world that still “allow” resin are moving away from it. HERE’s more on the subject.

I want to build my first trad rack. What should I start with?
Chances are, if you don’t already know what you need to buy, what you really need is instruction. See above for, “Where can I find a mentor to teach me hands on?” The next thing you should do is find a good guide for your intended climbing area. Each area will have different suggested racks. In general, though, you will want an assortment of active (cams) and passive (nuts, stoppers) protection. There are some good suggestions HERE.

What cams should I buy?
Different cams have different features and therefore different uses. The first thing to ask is what is most common or recommended in your particular climbing area. The two most common general use cams in the U.S. are the Black Diamond Camalots and the Metolius Power Cams, the main difference between them being the stem type (single stem and u-stem, respectively). But many more choices are out there, and you’re right to want to research more. Chances are, you should also buy cams with which you have experience. If you don’t have experience with any cams, you probably should hold off buying them anyway, or risk buying something that won’t work out. You might also want to search for “cams” and your climbing area. If you don’t find anything, then consider beginning a new thread, either in the Regional or Gear Head forum.

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