May 23, 2020
DR is a 21-year-old junior at Dartmouth College, where he is an earth science major. He grew up in Bishop, California and started climbing there – Bishop is a popular climbing location. He learned mainly from a climbing mentor he had in high school and often climbed with friends. At Dartmouth, he is a sport and trad leader in the Dartmouth Mountaineering Club, has held a leadership role within that club, and competes on the Dartmouth Climbing Team.
Cultural and social context are in part from my own personal knowledge of the climbing community and in part from context given by the informant during their Zoom interview.
Cultural Context: Climbing has changed significantly over the past several decades, since it started in the 60s and then became more popular and evolved into what we consider modern climbing in the 90s. In old-school climbing, it was expected that climbers would not fall, because the gear was significantly less safe and there were no bolts (permanent, secure gear). Then, people started to bolt climbs. First, the started from the ground and went up, so the routes could not be that difficult. Then, they began to rappel in from the top, allowing very challenging routes to be difficult. This changed climbing significantly. In modern climbing, climbers are expected to fall every time they climb – they are pushing themselves on routes that require a lot of attempts, time, and effort. Gear is much safer, so placing weight on the gear is safer. This includes not just falling, but also stopping in the middle of a climb to rest and think.
Social Context: “Hang dogging” refers to stopping while climbing and weighting the rope, to rest or to think. There is a negative connotation with it. This is in part due to the difference between old-school and modern climbing as described above, and in part because some think of it as a tactic used by beginners or unskilled climbers. After some time it is considered impolite, depending on if anyone is waiting to climb and how impatient the belayer is becoming. The informant described some social context as such: “Boulderers look at you, alpine trad climbers look at you, and the old school sport climbers look at you, like you’re just sitting there being lazy all day, you’re not trying as hard as you can, you’re not really putting your full effort into it up there.” This term, like much of climbing vernacular, was learned by the informant in a group setting and picked up from conversation between more experienced climbers. An example use of the term is: a group in at a climbing area, there are some hard climbs and people are climbing them. Another party climbing to the left has been stopped on a climb for a while, and someone says, “That person has just been hang dogging on that climb for two hours now, I want to hop on that climb and give it a try and they’re just wasting time.”
This text is an almost exact quote from the informant during an interview over Zoom, with some small edits made for clarity.
“A hang-dogging climber is sitting on their rope in the middle of a climb. The belayer is down at the bottom, just hanging out, being patient or maybe getting annoyed, wanting to go home or climb. The climber is up there, sitting on the rope, sitting in their harness, looking up at the holds, making weird hand gestures, trying to figure out the sequence. Usually, a hang dogging sport climber will touch the holds, pull on the holds, make a little move, drop back down into their seat, into the rope. They’ll do this for a long time sometimes. If you’re coming from the original style of climbing, on sight first ascent ground up style, it’s like, what are they doing? They’re just goofing off this isn’t even climbing. So, there is definitely a stigma with the hang dogger from the old school traditional style. But hang dogging is really useful for learning the sequences. When you’re on the ground, you’re looking 70 ft up a climb and you really have no idea what is up there. If you get up there and just hang around for a while you can figure it out. It really allows you to progress in climbing and climb harder stuff. It’s a controversial thing but a lot of people do it and it gets you climbing stuff if you do it right, if you put effort into it. As the person hang dogging, you probably wouldn’t describe yourself as hang dogging, you would say you’re working the climb, working the moves. If you’re a frustrated belayer who is not getting to climb as much as you’d like, you might complain to some of your other friends, like “Aw, my partner was hang dogging all day, I couldn’t climb at all.’ ”
Katherine Adelman, 21