Here's me in 2006, climbing my first 5.10 ever! I remember it like it was yesterday. Because the gym has not changed at all in that time.

I just got back from a short business trip; too short for any sightseeing. I used my one free evening to visit the town’s climbing gym, which is such a good gym that I make sure to pay a visit every time I’m in town.

I arrived during a quiet time, while the owners were routesetting and no one else was climbing, so I had the perfect vantage point throughout the evening for a nice bout of climbing gym culture observations. The usual cast of characters was there and, since all of these people were strangers but not unfamiliar, I was left to wonder – do climbing gyms everywhere attract the same people, similar to how bridges attract trolls, Indian burial grounds house vengeful spirits, mirrors draw Bloody Mary, and so on?

Do these spirits haunt your climbing gym too?

1. The Bad Belayer:
This fearsome ghoul seems harmless enough at first. Belay card hangs from her harness and she clearly knows the layout of the gym. But out of the corner of your eye you see it –her brake hand, floating off the rope at each pull. You might be alerted to the Bad Belayer by an audial cue – a small voice, shaking and helpless, repeating itself over and over to no avail, until you look over to see the Bad Belayer’s partner, desperate for a rest and squeaking for a take. The Bad Belayer is paying no attention; she’s looking over her shoulder at something, anything but her pumped-out partner. You can talk to the Bad Belayer all you want about her bad belaying and won’t see any changes – she knows what he’s doing.

2. The Sharma-be: Almost from the moment he walks in the door he’s grimacing and grunting, studiously acting as if he’s the only one in the gym, or, more likely, that he’s not even in the gym and he’s in fact pulling the last moves on a desperate solo somewhere in a range you’ve never heard of. He’s probably wearing Carhartts and he takes his shirt off as soon as he can get away with it. If he’s channeling enough Sharma, though, that will be a good thing, so we’ll let this spirit be.

3. The Faller: He peels more than you can imagine. You can’t relax when he’s around – just when you’re getting into a groove you’ll hear a whiz and a thud that shakes the gym. Don’t worry – that’s just the Faller. He’s pushed his limits so much that he’s fallen again. He’s fine with falling; he’s so fine with it that he does it on every single route he tries to climb. If he’s a quality Faller, he’ll be at least 230 lbs so you can really feel the fall in your bones, every time.

4. The Perv:
I try and be fair to the Perv. I don’t assume he’s a Perv. Just because he spends twenty minutes doing warming-up exercises on the floor in the bouldering room, coincidentally facing towards a woman no matter what exercise he’s trying to do, and doesn’t so much ever actually climb as he does just wander around and touch a hold or two before taking his shoes back off, sitting down, and staring idly into space – “space” meaning the area surrounding any woman in the gym – doesn’t mean he’s a Perv.

5. The Groupie: Climbing Groupies are a unique species. Where Groupies for other sports typically have no skills of their own, climbing gym Groupies can in fact be reasonably competent so you really have to keep an eye out for them. The Groupie might blend in with regular climbers quite well and only be betrayed by her signature move – asking the hotshot climber of the gym to demonstrate a route for her. The Groupie never asks a woman hotshot climber to demonstrate the move, nor does she revisit the route herself. She just feeds on the pheromones released from the ego-boosted hotshot, and plots her next victim.

6. Stinky:
Why can’t Stinky not stink? There are showers at the climbing gym and there’s even soap in the bathrooms if one is all that desitute. Pay for the day pass, you get access to the showers, too. Stinky doesn’t care. Stinky wields his stink like a riot shield, parting the crowds and emptying out the bouldering cave for his singular use. There’s no use in trying to resist Stinky’s powers. He’ll never take the hint and he’ll never wear a clean shirt. If you encounter this ghoul your only defense is to retreat.

7. Absent Parent: the gym is this person’s babysitter. Her kids run through the bouldering area, shrieking and flinging themselves on mats and then moving them out from under you as you struggle to move up a bouldering grade, while she sits at one of the tables catching up on her correspondence. For her the cacophony of her children’s screams is like a blissful balm to the ears, for at the climbing gym she believes she is under no obligation to attend to said shrieks. The climbing gym is just like a playground, right? And kids are expected to scream and carry on at a playground. Case closed.

8. Skimpy: Just like Stinky can’t afford laundry soap, Skimpy can’t afford clothes. That simply must be it, for the female Skimpy will have available to her only a tiny pair of spandex shorts and a camisole, and the male Skimpy a single pair of running shorts. While some of you may have no problem looking up at the female Skimpy as she climbs, no one wants to be stuck belaying the male.

9. The Talkers: Talkers come to the gym to talk. They sit in a circle on the floor and chat for hours. Climbing gym Talkers are always female. Male Talkers can be found at mountain bike trail intersections and at the tops of chairlifts, but not at the climbing gym; the gym is the exclusive domain of the female Talker. A group of Talkers will monopolize the same floor space, regardless of how many ropes they block or how close they come to being fallen on in the bouldering area. They have important Talking to do. Your mere desire to climb has no hope of suceeding against a group of Talkers; only Stinky can dislodge them.

10. The Helper: He won’t let you walk away from any problem without helping. He’s got a voice that carries so even when you’re two stories up you can hear him yelling “left foot on blue! Left foot on blue!” like you’re in a crowded game of vertical Twister. The Helper clearly thinks you are a fool for not seeing the obvious sequence he’s directing you to do. The Helper has never seen you before and he doesn’t care. He’s Helping. It’s what he does.