Fall and winter are seasons of migration—birds migrate south, and outdoor climbers migrate into the gym. While they might be forced to pull on plastic when the snow blankets their outdoor project, these wild climbers can’t be tamed. Here’s how to tell who would rather be the crag, but has finally let the threat of screaming barfies push them into the comfortable, temperature-regulated cocoon of the climbing gym.
Check their harness.
If you’re worried about being able to identify these outsiders in your indoor space, don’t worry—they’ll usually draw attention to themselves. You might notice them at the front desk getting a new belay tag printed because they obviously wouldn’t deign to wear one at the crag and lose their trad climber cred.
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If you look closer, you’ll probably see a bunch of quickdraws, a guide belay device, a prussik, and a quad on their harness as well. “It’s good training weight,” they’ll say. If they have a full trad rack and slings for alpine draws over their shoulder, you might need to stage an intervention before they try to place a micronut in a t-nut hole for protection.
Analyze their look.
Sure, there are a few distinctive climber uniforms and styles that cross over from the gym to the crag, but you can still spot an outdoor dirtbag if you pay attention. Are they wearing a giant puffy to belay? Do they have a dinged-up helmet or a beat-up trucker hat on? Are their pants covered patches, or, more likely, holes? You’ve got an outdoor climber on your hands.
In fact, inspect their hands. Is there dirt under the fingernails? And on their face? They probably haven’t showered in a while, since they keep hoping to go outside—and, in that case, why bother bathing when they’ll just get dirty again?
Observe how they approach a route.
Do you see someone wandering around looking confused, and mumbling “I swear this was 4.2 miles from the turnoff…unless that other road was the turnoff,” while flipping through a dog-eared guidebook? Do they come up and ask you what route you’re on and then get confused when they can’t find it on Mountain Project? Do they follow up by asking if your route shares an anchor with the route next to it? Be prepared for them to try to rappel from the top, and maybe even try to clean those fixed quickdraws on the way down, since they’re clearly booty.
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See how they begin a climb.
If you hear someone say, “Hmm, that first bolt looks a little high. Anyone got a stick clip?” That’s a clue that an outdoor climber is in your midst. When, of course, no one has a stick clip, they will probably try to fashion a makeshift one from the long chalk brush they found in the bouldering area.
Speaking of bouldering, was that someone walking by with a stack of crashpads on their back? Perhaps it’s been so long since they’ve been in a gym that they forgot that the floor is padded, or they just prefer their own crashpad couch for lying on while snacking and obsessively chalking up. I mean, it does have a place to wipe your shoes.
Watch what happens on the wall.
Do you notice them pounding on holds as they climb? If they mark a volume with a giant chalk “X” and refer to it as a “death block,” they’d rather be plugging gear on chossy rock. If they use a two-way radio at the top to say “off-belay,” then proceed to belay their partner from above, they definitely can’t be contained in a single-pitch gym and might start looking for the third class walk-off.
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You may also be able to identify an outdoor climber from their technique. Are they cruising up the slabs and cracks but confounded by comp-style coordination dynos? Do they smear on the wall instead of using actual footholds? If they start putting tick marks on the holds after they find them, that’s a dead giveaway. And if they enjoy steep overhangs on big jugs, they either love the gym or love the Red.
What to do when outdoor climbers have taken over?!
If you find that your gym is being overrun with outdoor climbers to the point where you can’t even get on your favorite pink route in the corner, you’ll need to find a way to send them back outside. Try pulling up a weather app and loudly stating that it looks like it will be sunny in an hour or two. Then just wait for the majestic migration of outdoor climbers back to the local southwest facing crag.