I just got back from my annual trip to Utah for the Joe’s Valley Bouldering Festival. When I say annual, it’s only the second year, but we had some real good rocks and I met some real cool people.
One of my favorite things about outdoor bouldering is meeting people at the crag. Case in point, I met one of my good friends, Daniel, during the pandemic at Castle Rock. Luckily, he asked to exchange phone numbers at the end of the session or else I may have never seen him again. Okay that’s a lie, I probably would have seen him again.
Daniel and I were climbing at Mortar (in Berkeley) the other weekend and he basically knew everyone at the crag. He was talking to some people he knew from the gym, a group he met in Tahoe, and a handful of other people he’s met from climbing around the Bay and Bishop. The dude says he’s an introvert but I swear I’ve never seen him in his shell, if he even has one. Chances are, I’d have met him again either at the gym or at the crag.
That day I also met Mitch. I wasn’t formally introduced to him but he sure was encouraging to me. I got a lot of helpful “come on”s and beta from him.
Interestingly, I first saw Mitch at the gym in Santa Clara. We were working on problems next to each other (he’s much stronger than me), but we didn’t exchange a single word. For myself, in the gym, I never talk to people. I like to think it’s because I came from lifting culture where you never really talk to other people when lifting unless it’s: “Hey bro, how many sets you have left?“. So what’s so different about climbing at the crag?
What is it about being outside that makes people so much social than being in the gym? I can chalk it up to three things off the top of my head:
When the density of people is lower, we’re more inclined to talk to each other. I’m more inclined to speak in small groups or even one on one conversations because otherwise, we’d be siting in a small circle of awkward silence.
Along with low people density, having less problems outdoors forces everyone to be together. At the gym, there are many more options and I never stick around at a wall for very long. At the crag, all the problems are spaced far apart, so I’m not going to be leaving in a hurry. I project way harder outdoors so I’m gonna be sitting my ass down for awhile. So why not talk to the other people who are also working on the same thing?
Finally, you rest way more outdoors. Outdoors is for the send. I’m going take my 5 - 10 minute rests. And I’m going to get bored because there’s no cell signal. So of course, lets chat: about beta, about other rocks, about whatever it is strangers with climbing in common talk about.