“Choss Goggles”

Climbing Vernacular

“Choss Goggles”


May 5, 2020

Informant Data:

GG is a 21-year-old student in his Junior year at Dartmouth College. He was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, United State on March 12th, 1999. He has one younger brother, who is 18. His father is a college professor and his mom is a college lecturer and stock room manager. They both work in the chemistry department at Colgate University. His family origins are german and swedish from his dad’s family and welsh and swedish from his mom’s family. His family are practicing episcopalians.  He is white, upper-middle class. He started climbing his freshman year of college outside with the Dartmouth Mountaineering Club (DMC). His family does not climb. He learned to climb from older students in the DMC. He teaches young people in the club how to climb. He is the current chair of DMC. He climbs indoors and outdoors, but prefers outdoors and does not compete. 

Contextual Data:

Cultural Context:  There are two types of outdoor roped partner climbing: Traditional (Trad) climbing and sport climbing. Trad climbing was developed first. It revolves around placing equipment in cracks on a rock face to enable a sport to clip a rope, so that if you fall you are caught by the gear and rope. On the other hand, in sport climber there are bolts hammered into the rock face that you clip your rope into. Therefore, you can Trad climb any rock with pronounced features, but you can only sport climb pre-set routes that have been determined by experienced climbers or climbing associations. An important part of trad climbing is assessing the quality of the rock to make sure the rock is not loose and is good for gear placement. Loose or bad rock is referred to as choss. If a climber climbs are rock that has loose rock it can be very dangerous or scary.

Social Context: The vernacular term “choss goggles” is used during conversations between climbers to describe someone’s judgement about a route’s viability. The term only refers to climbing outdoors and usually trad climbing because you have more variability in rock types. The comment can be said between partners about a climb or to someone else recounting the events of the day and their partner’s or their own judgement about a climb. An example of the way “choss goggles can be used is: “There’s no way I’m getting on that route! What do you have choss goggles on?” There are also a couple of climbs named “choss goggles” meaning that whoever did the first ascent must have been wearing “choss goggles”. Climbing vernacular folklore is used to create a sense of community among climbers. Knowing vernacular means that climbers are instantly accepted in different climbing locations, regardless of if they are locals. This is particularly important because climbers travel a lot to find the best climbing. The unique vernacular defines a group that is “in the know” and therefore respected more as climbers. Vernacular also promotes verbal efficiency and defines ideas that are important to the climbing community, but do not exist outside of climbing.


I have recorded “choss goggles” as closely as I could to the way GG told it. The following description is from the notes I took during the interview, and are paraphrases of what he shared during it.

The term “choss goggles” is used by climbers to describe someone who is so excited or experienced that their judgement is clouded and can’t see that the rock is not of good quality. An experienced climber who has “choss goggles” on is often valuing excitement over considerations for safety or reality or is so experienced that they feel safe in situations that aren’t. An inexperienced climber who has “choss goggles” on often doesn’t know what to look for in rock quality and assumes the climb is safe even if it isn’t. As stated above, this mostly occurs in trad climbers because you can decide to climb any type of rock, not just routes that have already been determined safe and have been bolted. This term has a similar idea to the term used in modern American culture “beer goggles.” If a person is wearing “beer goggles” they think something is better than it is because their judgement is clouded. This is the same as a climber thinking a route is better than it is because their judgement is clouded by excitement or inexperience, hence “choss goggles.”

Roxanne Holden, 21

Dartmouth College

Russ 13

Spring 2020