Dartmouth Climbing Customary Folklore
“Thumb On Rope”
May 22, 2019
Sarah Jennewein is a sophomore at Dartmouth College. Sarah grew up in Tampa, Florida, before coming to Dartmouth. Sarah only began climbing when she got to Dartmouth. She was a member of a Hike and Climb freshman trip. While she initially found climbing at Dartmouth to be intimidating, after going on a climbing trip with Dartmouth students during a break freshman year, she fell in love. She now climbs and attends mountaineering events regularly. She is a member of the Dartmouth climbing team and has the designation of a leader in the mountaineering club for sport climbing, ice climbing, and top rope climbing. Climbing has made Dartmouth feel like home for Sarah.
- Social Context: This piece of folklore was collected via a video interview with Sarah Jennewein while at Dartmouth College. Sarah learned about this piece of folklore as a freshman on the Dartmouth Climbing Team. This tradition is not unique to only the Dartmouth Climbing Team, but it is routinely performed by the team each time they climb outdoors. This tradition is performed by members of the team only; non-climbers typically do not participate. The “thumb on the rope” game is played specifically when climbing outdoors with a top rope. At Dartmouth, this usually means that the game is performed at a climbing location called Rumney or on a trip during a school break to other outdoor climbing locations. Typically, only a small group of all climbers are present on these trips, and the game is performed as the group is getting ready to end the climbing for the day. Specifically, this game occurs as the top ropes are being taken down. Sarah noted that the tradition gives a sense of bonding and fosters the feeling of family. She added that the game is both fun and competitive, and it provides a forum for jokes and entertainment. Whoever manages to get their thumb on the top of the rope has bragging rights within the community.
- Cultural Context: The two major types of climbing are bouldering and sport climbing. Unlike bouldering, sport climbing involves being roped in and wearing a harness while being belayed by another climber on the ground due to the dangerous heights that the climbers can reach. Top rope climbing is a type of sport climbing. The rope is attached to the climber, passed up through an anchor at the top of the climb, and then passed down to a belayer at the bottom of the climb. At Dartmouth, top rope climbing is not performed in the climbing gym on campus, as the climbing gym on campus is a bouldering gym. Therefore, no ropes are used in the Dartmouth Climbing Gym, and the “thumb on rope” game cannot be played unless the climbers are not on campus. Dartmouth climbers typically top rope climb at an outdoor area called Rumney or on break trips. This item of folklore is a fun and competitive way for team members to bond after top rope climbing.
(While i have recorded the Dartmouth climbing tradition of the thumb on the rope game as closely as possible to Sarah’s exact words based on notes taken during the interview, this is ultimately my own phrasing of Sarah’s words.)
The “thumb on rope” game does not have an official name, but rather is a game commonly known by the climbing community. This game is played by members outside of the Dartmouth community, but these are the specific rules that the Dartmouth community adheres to. When disassembling the setup of a top rope climb after everyone has finished climbing, the top rope must be allowed to fall from the anchor at the top of the climb. Before the rope hits the ground, if you are able to catch the end of the rope within a thumbs length of the end so that you can put your thumb on the very top, someone who you are climbing with has to buy you a beer or other beverage.
Kelly Peterec, Age 20
Hinman Box 3552, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH