My Advice To Climbers

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Words to Live By

As a climbing instructor, I try to keep a ready supply of pithy climbing advice to hand. Not my belay hand of course.

By Matt Conroy
RMF Director 2017 - Present

In general I find that it’s helpful to be honest with your climber.

Climber: What do I do?

Me: Go up.

Climber: I’m stuck!

Me: Stop being stuck.

Climber: I don’t know how to get this move!

Me: Stop falling off. You would be a better climber if you fell off less.


Sometimes, the honest approach is a little too direct and I offer helpful tidbits instead.

Me: Just breathe.

Climber: Shut up!

Me: Engage your core.

Climber: Shut up!

Me: Try the hold next to your left foot.

Climber: I don’t see it!

Me: Your other left foot.

Climber: Shut up!


Climbing is serious and it would be remiss of me to downplay the risks.

Climber: Is this safe?

Me: No, but it’s less dangerous than driving or shark dentistry.

Climber: What if the anchor fails?

Me: Then you’re going to die.

Climber: I don’t want to die!

Me: Everyone dies, might as well die rock climbing.

After years of doing this work I have developed a certain wisdom that I feel I must share with my students.

Me: When in doubt, dyno for the top but never dyno for the bottom.

Climber: …

Me: Climbing is like breathing, it’s easier when you don’t think about it.

Climber: …

Me: Climbing is…

Climber: Are you even belaying me?!?!

Me: …


It’s also important to know what you don’t know.

Climber: Who climbed this first?

Me: A famous climber… Look, a red tailed hawk!

Climber: How hard is this route?

Me: I don’t like to call routes easy or hard, it’s really about the complexity… Look, another red tailed hawk!

Climber: What kind of bird is that?

Me: Well let me tell you all about Fritz Wiessner and how hard he climbed!

With that I leave you. May all your climbs go up, unless they go sideways.