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Drinking & Climbing


Original Post
· · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jan 1970 · Points: 0

Everyone, please understand that I am genuinely seeking advice from the climbing community with this post, and am not in any way trying to judge anyone or anything, start a debate, or cause any contention.  Please don't flame me.  I'm hoping to gain some understanding or wisdom here from people that are more experienced in these matters.

Now, most people probably know by now that I'm Mormon (LDS).  (No, I don't have horns.)  As such, I have been quite sheltered from alcohol.  I don't know much about it; I've never had a sip; I don't always know what it smells like.  So I'm a bit naive about what exactly the effects of drinking are.  Obviously, I've never been drunk.  My late paternal grandfather smoked and drank, and I loved my grandpa, and he was a good man; so please understand that though I believe drinking is more of a vice than a virtue, I do not think negatively of anyone who drinks.  If we went to lunch and I was buying, I'd pay for your beer, if that's what you wanted to drink (provided I was driving.)  All that being said...

So I met up with a climber I'd never climbed with before, and we had a great outing!  It was so much fun, and I think the world of this new acquaintance!  He's a great climber, has his whole life ahead of him, has so much potential!  Well, when I got home that evening, I talked to my wife about the outing, and she was upset to learn that this acquaintance had been drinking the whole time we'd been climbing.  Now, before we started climbing, I knew he had been drinking, and that doing so, if enough is drunk, can lead to impairment in terms of eye-hand-coordination and/or judgement.  However, despite my concern, I didn't say anything about it, and made the judgement call that this person probably knew what they were doing, and that if there was such a thing as "responsible drinking," then this person was acting thus responsible.  I should add that in my sober view, he was completely lucid and aware the whole time, and if it weren't for the cans or the smell, I would have had no idea he was under the influence of anything whatsoever.  In fact, he made a very impressive lead of the Green Adjective in LCC.  Anyhow, my wife said she already worries enough about me climbing, and that now the idea that my climbing partner may be drinking while we climb makes her feel even more anxious about me being out climbing.  I didn't count how many cans he'd had.

Finally, I'm going to try to ask a few questions about all this, and I'm hoping that this won't cause any contention.  I hope people will take me seriously and not make jokes or ridicule me.   (And, of course, I'm always worried I'm going to offend people and then they'll never want to climb with me ever.)  I'm just trying to get some advice here about how I, as a climber who doesn't drink, and doesn't really know anything about it, can make better judgments about climbing with people that do drink.  So here goes...

Was it unwise not to say anything or ask any questions before we started climbing?

Is this all just not a big deal and I'm just being ridiculous?

Is drinking and climbing something that so many people do all the time and get away with that it's generally accepted as no big deal, and I should just be cool with it?

I recall a news report of a climbing incident not too long ago that involved alcohol.  The rescue people said they might sue, saying the incident was a waste of resources, because it was preventable.  Should I never agree to climb with someone that has been or is drinking, especially if I don't know them?

There are lots of pictures on MP that glamorize the victory beer at the summit, and I'm sure that if you don't drink too much, you can rappel just fine; so what's the big deal, right?  Maybe it just all comes down to how well you know your acquaintances and how much you know they've drunk and how well you know they can handle it?

Thanks for reading this far.

Kat M · · San Diego, CA · Joined Sep 2016 · Points: 15

Having a single victory beer (or just a regular old lunch beer) is a lot different than being drunk. I have definitely spent many a day out climbing and sipping PBRs, but only with a partner who I trusted wouldn't let herself get impaired and on casual routes (TR and easy/moderate sport). I don't drink at all when I trad climb or do hard sport routes for both physical and psychological reasons. Personally, I wouldn't climb with anyone who had been drinking more that one beer an hour. Maybe hour and a half for a woman.  Also, sipping on a low alcohol content beer (anything like Budweiser, Coors, etc) is differe than an IPA or other high alcohol crafts beer. An IPA can have 2 or 3 times the alcohol of a light beer.

Edit: Also, I just wanted to add that if a climbing partner told me they were uncomfortable with me drinking while we climbed, I would 100% respect that and not judge them at all. If your climbing partner has a problem with not drinking while he climbs with you, he's either a dick or an alcoholic or both.

David A · · Amsterdam, Netherlands · Joined Oct 2008 · Points: 260

It definitely depends on the type of climbing you're doing. I'm not gonna be pounding beers if I'm bouldering or hard sport climbing (that stuff will weigh you down!), but long aid climbs in the desert or Yosemite? You bet I'll be knocking back a cold one pretty much every hour while on route. I think that's a pretty standard thing to do while aid climbing. Just heed the warnings on the commercials: drink responsibly. If you are drinking to get wasted while climbing, that's not being responsible. But climbing with a little buzz (especially while aiding) helps smooth out those aiding jitters I'm prone to. 

To add to that, since you don't have much experience with alcohol, it affects everyone differently, and people have vastly different tolerances and reactions to it. Part of being a responsible drinker (while climbing) is knowing how much is too much. Just don't over do it. Also, when you see a climber drinking while climbing, it's almost always just beer; I've never known people to take shots of hard liquor at the crag, but I think having a beer (or several!) is a lot better than taking shots (does anybody actually do that?). 

20 kN · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2009 · Points: 1,348

If your partner was drinking the entire day, I would not feel comfortable being belayed by him. Regardless of a person's personal perception of how alcohol affects them, it's extremely common for people under the influence of alcohol to have the [incorrect] personal perception that the alcohol content of their blood is not yet high enough to affect them, when in reality it does affect them. One beer all day is probably not the end of the world, but several is a different story. It's up to you, but if it was me I'd say he's not worth the risk, find someone else. If you shouldent drink while driving, you probably shouldent drink while climbing either (or any dangerous activity for that matter).

Ryan M Moore · · Philadelphia, PA · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 35

I guess without knowing what or how much your partner was drinking it's kind of hard for me to give super solid advice. If he showed up at 9AM already smelling like alcohol and drinking a beer I'd probably not climb with him. Especially if it's not someone I know and trust. If it was more of a 4pm meetup and he had a beer while sorting out the rack and was sipping on 3-4 beers over the next 3 hours I'd be fine with it and most likely follow suit. The bigger issue is that you don't have a baseline to compare what normal is for him so you can't tell if he is acting different due to the affects of alcohol. If you notice someone behaving different than normal when they're drinking then they're impaired to some degree even if they walk fine, talk fine and climb fine. If he's drinking liquor from the bottle vodka from a plastic bottle that's a whole different game.

Ryan M Moore · · Philadelphia, PA · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 35

As to the responsible drinking/climbing/driving comment. For most people having one beer and doing anything isn't going to be a significant enough factor to make the activity irresponsible per se.

jdejace · · New England · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 10

I'm kind of surprised by the variety of answers, but perhaps I shouldn't be. Drinking and climbing is silly; I wouldn't go so far as to universally call it reckless - that depends on the kind of climbing you're doing, and certainly one could make the argument that climbing itself is a silly, selfish hobby. If you are however willing to drink in some instances and not others (say sport climbing but not alpine climbing) you're only acknowledging that it affects your judgment but you're willing to take the risk in lower consequence situations. Obviously that is an individual choice so long as all parties are consenting. People get hurt in "low consequence" climbing all the time though. Is a sober alpinist more likely to get hurt than a sport climber pounding beers...maybe, but does it really matter?

So, I agree with your wife. I would 100% not climb with someone who is drinking. Just follow a simple rule, don't start making exceptions because somebody weighs more, drinks more often, has climbed the Salathe piss drunk or whatever else. You don't have to be totally fanatical and I wouldn't begrudge someone a single beer with lunch at a restaurant before climbing, but if they're drinking in the parking lot while racking up IMHO they like alcohol entirely too much and I would be uncomfortable. I don't know anyone here and cannot (nor do I have any desire to) judge strangers on the internet but every alcoholic I've ever known (and that's a few) said the same shit about "knowing your limits" and "handling alcohol differently." I haven't actually seen that much of this in climbing, but alcohol is very prevalent in snow sports as well and I'll never understand it. Would you be OK with your surgeon having a couple of beers in the operating room? Your pilot? I understand this is hyperbolic but let's not underestimate the consequences of climbing accidents. 

And to be clear I like beer. I really like scotch. I've got nothing against alcohol in moderation. 

r m · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2015 · Points: 0

One who does any drinking or smoking weed during or before climbing isn't someone who I'd climb with.

Not going to judge other people harshly if they do it, they're just people I won't be climbing with.

txclimber · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Apr 2013 · Points: 10

No need to complicate it.  Don't let someone belay you that you wouldn't want to drive.  They are equally serious endeavors.  If for you that's one beer, great.  If it's 10, well....good luck.

David Kerkeslager · · Brooklyn, NY · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 55

Yeah, I'm with jdejace: I wouldn't generally let someone who was drinking belay me. Climbing is dangerous enough for me without alcohol.

Some people look and act completely normal when drunk, right up until the moment they fall down, puke, or do something insane. You can't tell by looking at someone how drunk they are.

You can *kind of* tell how drunk someone is by seeing how many drinks they've had, but that's not exact and I'd err heavily on the side of caution here: a beer with lunch is probably okay, but I'd not be okay with more. What particularly worries me about this story is that he showed up smelling like alcohol. That means you don't know how much he had.

As a side note, you mentioned you were concerned but didn't say anything. If you're ever concerned about what your belayer is doing, you should say something--that goes for situations where alcohol isn't involved too. I try not to ever respond from ego if someone questions what I'm doing when climbing, because I always want my climbing partners to feel they can communicate with me. I'd rather have an awkward discussion about what I'm doing and decide what I'm doing is okay than make a mistake my partner noticed and didn't prevent.

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,530

You want a beer after climbing, knock yourself out

You want a beer while we're climbing, then you can climb by yourself.

I don't put my life into other people's hands lightly. 

Lena chita · · Cleveland, OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 250

In pretty much every state, it is illegal to drive with blood alcohol level of 0.08%. Even if you are 100 pounds, 1 drink would not get you there. Even though everybody metabolizes alcohol somewhat differently, and it could depend on other stuff, such as how dehydrated you are, a guy who is about 150 lb can easily drink 3 cans of beer, especially if it is something light like PBR, and especially if it is spread out over the entire day, and never get to that 0.08%.

So in all likelihood the guy was not impaired.

Having said all that, I am personally not comfortable with someone drinking throughout the day at the crag. More than just impairment issues, climbing with a person like that just doesn't appeal to me, and I would be wondering why he needs to drink throughout the day. It is definitely not a widely accepted/common behavior at the crag. I can see maybe some sort of a special occasion that makes it more acceptable, but once again, I don't particularly want to be part of that special occasion, either.

Maynard · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 3

Utah beer is also only 3.2% so it's lighter than a typical weak pbr.   Aka sports beer.

wonderwoman · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2006 · Points: 84

If it makes you uncomfortable, don't climb with this person.  

When I was actively looking for climbing partners, my MP profile read: Willing to climb with new people.  Must not drink or smoke weed during the climbing day.

This is because I hooked up with a stranger once (nice enough guy) who smokes weed ALL DAY LONG.  Like you, I climbed with him during the day, but after I realized that he was going to smoke all day long, I stopped pushing my limits and ended the day much earlier than I would normally have.  

Like I said: Nice enough guy.  Just don't want to share a rope with him.

sevrdhed · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2006 · Points: 155

Huh - today I learned all my climbing partners are alcoholics.     

Marc801 C · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 65
Maynard wrote:

Utah beer is also only 3.2% so it's lighter than a typical weak pbr.   Aka sports beer.

That's 3.2% by weight. Every other state measures by volume. 3.2% ABW = 4% ABV. IOW, essentially the same as PBR and the other lighter beers.

Marc801 C · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 65
Kat M wrote:

Also, sipping on a low alcohol content beer (anything like Budweiser, Coors, etc) is differe than an IPA or other high alcohol crafts beer. An IPA can have 2 or 3 times the alcohol of a light beer.

While IPA's, or really almost any beer, can be that high, most, esp domestics, aren't. In particular, any of the 'session' beers are intentionally lower alcohol since the assumption is that you'll be drinking several. Goose Island IPA is 4.2% ABV, which puts it below Bud for example. What's more, in UT, if you bought it anywhere other than a state liquor store, is 4% ABV by law. In Colorado, if not bought in a liquor store, is no more than 3.2% ABV.

Em Cos · · Boulder, CO · Joined Apr 2010 · Points: 5

How impaired the guy was depends on so many factors we don't know - how many beers, over how much time, and as mentioned there is a wide range of ABV in any given beer. 

You said you would be fine if someone had a beer at lunch as long as they weren't driving. So, if you wouldn't let someone drive you home after a single beer, why on earth would you let them belay you after several to many beers? 

It really doesn't matter what is normal or common, what any of us do in regards to climbing while drinking or accept in our partners. What matters is YOUR comfort level. Whether it's drinking or any other issue, if you're uncomfortable, talk with your partner. If your partner won't listen or take your comfort into account, then you aren't a good match. If you ask your partner to save the drinking for after the belaying is done for the day, and they don't respect that request, then walk away and find a different partner. 

Maynard · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 3
Marc801 C wrote:

That's 3.2% by weight. Every other state measures by volume. 3.2% ABW = 4% ABV. IOW, essentially the same as PBR and the other lighter beers.

Pbr is 4.74 in the rest of the world but weaker in Utah and a few other states.

Marc801 C · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Feb 2014 · Points: 65
Maynard wrote:

Pbr is 4.74 in the rest of the world but weaker in Utah and a few other states.

That's why I said 'essentially' the same. That difference isn't noticeable at all, even if you're drinking a dozen. Besides, if the only reason you're drinking beer is for the alcohol, there are far more efficient means. You also might have a problem with alcohol.

Pop quiz: assuming a US standard 12oz bottle, how much more 4% beer do you need to drink to equal the alcohol in a 12oz 5% beer? 

Nick Sweeney · · Spokane, WA · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 650

I've drank and climbed before, but never leading anything. In retrospect, it was not a good idea and I do not plan on doing that again.  However, top roping WI5 while tipsy was pretty fun.  

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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