Photo of "The Climb" contestants in Mallorca

A Non-Climber’s Guide to “The Climb” on HBO Max

Don’t worry, dirtbags. This gumby’s here to show you the ropes.

Note: This is just a fun post I thoroughly enjoyed writing. If you have any corrections to offer, please let me know in the comments. But please be nice. Thaaaaanks!

I’m not about to claim I know a lot about climbing. With less than two years of climbing experience — 99% of that time spent bouldering in a gym, mind you — I’m still very new to the sport. But I dare say I do know a little bit… or at least enough to help a non-climber understand HBO Max’s “The Climb” a tad better. 

Without any spoilers, I’ll give you some info about rock climbing that can help take your viewing experience from here to here. (Unfortunately, you can’t see my gesticulations, but the first “here” was down by my hip and the second “here” was up by my ear.) 

Why? I honestly really enjoyed “The Climb” and highly encourage everyone to borrow a password and check it out. I want people to watch and support the show. However, it was unclear to me who the show is supposed to be for: 

  • For viewers without any climbing experience, there’s a whole lot of jargon and not enough history to highlight the importance of the grand prize and publicity, nor the context to understand the difficulty of the climbs.
  • For viewers familiar with climbing, the reality-show editing removed the magic of watching someone problem-solve their way up the wall. There was also little, if any, discussion on climbing technique. The way the challenges were setup in some rounds also felt unfair.

If you fall in the former category, this super dooper unofficial guide on “The Climb” is for you! 

As of this post, there’s no word on a second season, but the show hasn’t been canceled either. Given HBO Max’s inclination to cancel scripted series in favor of reality TV, I think there’s a strong chance we’ll get a second season of “The Climb.” 🤞🏼(Please help boost those streaming numbers.) 

The series’ penultimate and finale episodes went live on HBO Max on Thursday, January 26, so you can binge-watch the whole season of “The Climb” starting now

Skip Ahead

💡 If you want an overview of the history of American rock climbing, the documentary “Valley Uprising” is available to stream on Amazon Prime. The “Climbing Gold” podcast is also a great free resource that dives deep into the history of climbing.

Cristy’s Climbing Card
Or, why I’m qualified to speak on the topic…

Credentials: I’ve spent countless hours on YouTube watching international climbing competitions, climbers’ first ascents, and Magnus Midtbø (obvi). I’ve also watched many, many hours of climbing-related documentaries and feature films, pretty much anything climbing-related available to stream on Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix. I’ve listened to several audiobooks from famous climbers. I have a climbing gym membership, and I’ve had the privilege of top-roping and bouldering outdoors in legit climbing destinations like Red Rocks (Las Vegas), Joe’s Valley (Utah), and Stowe (Vermont).

Expertise Level: One notch above Armchair Expert; still a Gumby climbing V0 and 5.8 outdoors

What TF Is “The Climb” on HBO Max?

The Climb” is an eight-episode unscripted series that follows 10 amateur climbers as they compete for a $100,000 cash prize and prAna sponsorship. Jason Mamoa and Chris Sharma host the show, with Meagan Martin providing commentary support during each of the challenges. 

Now, if you don’t know anything about climbing, it’s hard to understand why any of this would be significant. But there’s a lot to unpack in that one paragraph:

The Hosts

Jason Mamoa 

Of “Aquaman” and “Game of Thrones” fame. Who’d have thunk Khal Drogo’s favorite sport would be rock climbing? I figured it’d be whatever Taylor Sheridan does on “Yellowstone.”

Jason Mamoa met Chris Sharma at Hueco Tanks (one of the best places to boulder in the world) 25 years ago. They’ve been climbing bros ever since. 🤙🏼

Chris Sharma

A living legend and one of the best rock climbers in the world, ever. Sharma has climbed, and created, some of the hardest routes in the world (like La Dura Dura). 

You can read more about him here. He’s done way too much, and I don’t feel like regurgitating it.

Meagan Martin

Former competitive climber and 7x American Ninja Warrior contestant. Since 2019, Meagan Martin has been a commentator for USA Climbing events and is a public figure in the climbing community. 

The Contestants

There are 10 amateur climbers competing in “The Climb.” This is a pretty diverse group of people — especially for the climbing community. Here are the competitors:

Sources: IMDb, HBO Max, Instagram

I’m a firm believer that representation matters. It’s important to show the world that climbing is for everyone, not just white dudes. I couldn’t find more recent demographic data, but respondents in an American Alpine Club climbing survey from 2018 were overwhelmingly white (80%) and male (57%). 

Also, it seems like everyone on the show was super kind, supportive, and respectful toward each other. That’s the general vibe of the climbing community, so I’m not surprised the show is pretty drama free. It’s kind of wholesome in a way which I personally enjoyed. 

The only major conflict was between Chris Sharma and Deco, and it was pretty tame. It felt like it was something manufactured in the editing room to add some tension. The climbing community had some words to say about it.

The Grand Prize

$100,000 and a prAna sponsorship

While the grand prize may not sound like much to some, this is huge for climbers who want to spend every day of their lives at a crag. While not all climbers are dirtbags, many choose to live this way to center their lives around climbing. This minimalistic lifestyle can make $100K stretch a good while. 

Plus, the amplification from a beloved brand doesn’t hurt either. (I LOVE my prAna Railey skort and Koen pants.) Yay for companies that strive to make the world a better place through sustainable and ethical practices!

The Climbing Disciplines

There are a variety of climbing styles featured in “The Climb” including:

  • Deep water solo – Climbing without a rope on rock faces in the water
  • Sport (or lead) – Climbing with a rope for safety. The climber clips into pre-drilled bolts as they ascend; the belayer on the ground feeds you enough rope to climb and fall safely. 
  • Bouldering – Climbing without a rope. These are typically shorter but more complex climbs. Crash pads are used for safety, and hopefully you have some buddies to spot you.
  • Trad – Traditional climbing with a rope but no pre-drilled bolts. The climber places a variety of gear for protection as they ascend. This is probably what you picture when you think of rock climbing.
  • Crack – When you place your hands and/or gear in cracks to ascend. 
  • Multi-pitch – One long climb broken up into multiple routes, requiring stopping and starting at each pitch. These climbs can be sport, trad, crack, etc. 

Fun fact: This screenshot has a typo!

Glossary of Climbing Jargon Climbers Use When They Climb and Talk About Climbing: For Non-Climbers

Climbing jargon is ridiculous and not intuitive. I’ve defined some key terms I feel like might help when watching the series and arranged them by categories/tiers that make sense in my own head.

Also, I made up these definitions myself to try to make them as simple as possible, but you can get more thorough explanations in this glossary of climbing terms


  • Gumby – A new/beginner climber. I imagine the term came from observing people flail their limbs as they learn how to control their body.
  • Belayer – The person on the ground with the rope who protects the climber by making sure they don’t fall to their death. 

Locating Climbs

  • Crag – The outdoor destination where the climbing takes place. Crags can be location specific and named (e.g. Civilization Crag) or general. Crag is also an adjective. (“my crag dog.”)
  • Wall – The climbing wall itself and applies to both indoor and outdoor climbing.
  • Project – A climbing project, meaning it’s going to take time to figure out. Some projects are worked on for a few minutes while others can take years. 
  • Problem – In bouldering, this is the route to climb. 

Completing Climbs

  • Grades – The rating that indicates the difficulty of the climbing route. Grades are subjective and vary by discipline and location/region. (It’s confusing and kind of a nightmare. I often look up conversion charts but they’re still just best guesses.) For example, the first main climb in episode one is a deep water solo route called Golden Shower which has a grade of 7A (French) or 5.11d (North American/Yosemite Decimal System). 
  • Beta – The technique/methods used to figure out the climb and complete it. Offering unsolicited advice to a climber is often referred to as “beta spraying.”
  • Send – You don’t complete a climb, you send it. 
  • Flash – When you send a climb on your first attempt.
  • On-sight flash: When you flash a climb without knowing the beta (or seeing anyone else climb it).
  • Topping out – When the route requires you climb over whatever you’re climbing in order to consider it sent, like a boulder.

Describing What You’re Actually Climbing On

Test Your Climbing Knowledge!
Can you follow this paragraph? This is literally how climbers talk about climbing.

A gumby walks into a crag to watch more experienced climbers work on their projects. While the climbers sort out their beta on the wall, the gumby spots a boulder nearby. The guide lists a couple of routes with a grade of V0, a perfect problem for a beginner. The gumby tries their hardest to top out, and not only sends the problem on their first try, they on-sight flash it. 

Anything Else I Should Know About “The Climb” and Climbing In General?

I think most people can see that climbing is very physical. In addition to being fit, you need to work on your finger strength, flexibility, and technique. And you have to do it often or you “lose the feel.” 

But I underestimated just how mental it is too. 

I like that the show talks a lot about mental strength and having the right mindset. Your physical strength can only take you so far. At some point, it’s up to your brain to make a decision. Chances are you CAN make the next move, but can you WILL yourself to fight your very reasonable fears and human instincts to do it? 

As an indoor boulderer in my mid-30s, I nope out of climbs I deem too risky. But overcoming the fear is quite the confidence boost. 

Anyway, go ahead and watch  “The Climb.” Hopefully this additional context will help you appreciate what these climbers can do. 


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