gum·by | gu̇mbē
An inexperienced, unknowledgeable and oblivious climber; one who lacks coordination, common sense or know-how
We’ve all been there – flailing on a 5.7 gym route with feet pedalling stupidly against the wall while our partners sat on the other end of the rope. That's gumbyhood, a phase in one’s climbing career that’s about as inevitable as your first flapper. And don’t tell me that was never you. Even if you passed up the clown-like rental shoes and spared everyone the usual spaghetti-arm antics, there would’ve been something else that marked you with the sign of the Gumby. And there is nothing wrong with that... as long as you grow out of it.
And that, of course, is the reason I’ve had to write this. Some people need a little help weaning themselves off their gumby habits – some are just a little slower than others. To save these people from prolonged dorkiness, I’ve compiled this short list of behaviours to look out for and avoid. If you read this and have an ‘ah ha’ moment or two, it might be time to practice a little introspection and change your ways.
1. Showing poor crag etiquette
This is the most serious of all the gumby crimes as it has a direct impact on the safety and experience of other climbers. If a crag is busy, think twice before leaving up a top rope, jumping on a popular route for the umpteenth time, or turning up the music. The latter can be especially unwelcome at busy crags where communication is a challenge even before you add unnecessary noise.
2. Communicating badly
Miscommunication is one of the top causes of climbing accidents, and poor communication is the mark of both the gumby and the poorly prepared climber or team. You want to be concise and clear. Calls should be short, simple, and easily distinguishable from other commands even when there’s some distance between you and your partner. Some standardised calls are used widely, but always check with a new partner to make sure that you use the same commands.
3. Rappelling from lower-off rings
Lower-off rings are designed for just that: lowering off. Unlike bolts which wear in the same place, rings rotate and spread the wear as ropes are run through them. This means that rings can see a lot of use before they show any signs of wear. So, save your rappelling skills for bolt-only anchors and lower off those rings. It’s quicker and probably safer too.
4. Belaying and walking around with your shoes on
If your shoes are so comfortable that you can keep them on for an entire gym or climbing session, they’re probably too big. Get smaller, better fitting shoes, and even then, if you can go two or three routes without taking them off, it’s best not to. Rock shoes wear quickly, and you’ll only shorten your shoe’s lifespan by wearing them when you don’t need to. Also resist the urge to pop your heels out of your shoes. By standing on these, you’ll only deform them.
5. Bouldering while wearing your harness
Let’s forget for a moment that a harness adds weight and restricts your movement. Bouldering in your harness just looks stupid. And while you might not think that errors in style aren’t very serious, other gym users might be a little less non-judgemental. If you are trying to make friends, you should stop doing this now. Put your harness on after you’ve done your warmup traverse.
6. Clipping unnecessary gear to your harness
If you’re only climbing single-pitch sport routes, there’s no need to keep a rope knife, belay device, water bottle and prusiks clipped to your harness. You can leave all this on the ground. It’s only weighing you down. If you suffer from the most severe form of this condition, you might even keep this paraphernalia clipped to their harnesses during gym sessions. For those unfortunate enough to have made this most serious faux pas, my only advice is STOP NOW.
7. Wearing your PAS or leash like a thong
Behold the trad gumby. He stands resplendent in a shiny new harness adorned with enough consumerist crap to weigh down climbers five times stronger than him. And he has created a thong from his PAS (possibly even two) by running it between his legs and clipping it to a rear gear loop. Like the harness-wearing boulderer, this climber is guilty of an error in style, but that doesn't make this offence any less serious.
8. Leaving your personal things at the base of the gym bouldering wall
Besides showing a lack of consideration for others, it’s actually dangerous to leave your possessions lying around. You don’t want to land on anything hard when you fall from a height. Let’s imagine an X-ray which shows a phone where your prostate should be, and you’re trying to explain to the doctor how it got there. Most gyms have a no-phone policy in their climbing areas precisely to avoid such unfortunate incidents.
An opportunity for self-improvement
If you know you regularly make these mistakes, your journey to self-improvement can start right here. By correcting these habits, you’ll become a safer, more efficient, and less dorky climber. The transformation won’t go unnoticed, and without the gumby stigma, you’ll soon find it easier to grow your circle of climbing friends and earn the respect of your peers.