Crash pads. To the untrained eye, the hulking angular mass upon your back is a mystery, an enigma. After ten years of hiking through Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado with a bouldering pad flopping around my hunched shoulders, I’ve received this inquiry many—perhaps thousands—of times:
Passerby: “I have to ask! What is that thing you’re carrying on your back?”
What do you do? What do you say? Stopping to explain, “It’s a crash pad for rock climbing” doesn’t feel convenient, especially when you’re in a hurry to get to your project! More often than not, the requester already has a few guesses in mind . . so occasionally I entertain myself by answering with quick semi-realistic answers. They’re simple. They’re logical. And when I say them with conviction, I start to believe them too!
1. Massage Chair
This one made the list because I've been asked specifically about it in the past. Multiple times. Am I carrying a portable massage station into the sub-alpine zones of Colorado? In all honesty—especially if I’m with my significant other, or a friend I’m unusually close with—yes: this can be, has been, and will again be a massage chair.
2. My bed
Another completely true statement. My Flashed Temple crash pad goes from the back of my car (a Honda Element, aka a Hotelement) directly to the talus fields of the high alpine every single week. And once I reach those high alpine areas, the function of the pad may yet again be reduced to “bed.” Getting a nap in during the afternoon is critical to evening sends.
3. Elk saddle
A popular choice of words among local Colorado boulderers. Knowing what we know about the evasion skills of elk in general, this statement—hopeful, naive, a beautiful image—is somewhat unbelievable. Not wishing to lie to strangers, I always imagine that my crash pad could be an elk saddle, or that, in a certain light, it already is.
4. Marmot trap
Marmots are an invasive species brought here in times of war by unwitting emigrants who kept them as pets. Now they wreak havoc above treeline, chirping incessantly and bothering people with their curiosity and general cuteness. I’ve taken it upon myself to trap, study, and ultimately deport them back to their homes. It’s a hard job.
This is another one that is sometimes suggested before you have a chance to say anything. “You gonna raft across the lake up there?” Well actually, yes sir, I am! And before I get even 20 feet out, the foam will be so saturated with water that I’ll sink.
Bear Shield, TV (yes, this really happened), Parachute, and Wing Suit.
In all seriousness, I would recommend complete honesty (eventually): “It’s a crash pad for bouldering! Bouldering is ropeless climbing on smaller rocks. We lay these at the base of boulders to cushion our fall.” It’s okay to joke around, as long as you let the other person in on the joke.
Think of yourself as an independent marketer for the sport of rock climbing. Genuine curiosity is the greatest introduction anyone can have to climbing, and you get the opportunity to spark someone’s interest in the sport by giving a simple, honest answer.
I know, it can get tedious. And sometimes you’ll want to give ludicrous answers. But think back to before you started climbing—if you had seen someone lugging a bouldering pad around a wilderness area, searching for rocks to climb, wouldn’t you have wanted to know what they were doing? Wouldn’t you have appreciated an honest answer?
About the Author
Connor Griffith has been climbing for 13 years in areas across the world, from California to Colorado to Switzerland. A V11 boulderer with multiple first ascents around the globe, Connor is also a professional route setter, a student of climbing movement, and a coach.
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