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From reading up on the rappel vs. lower dilemma, I often see references to "local etiquette". For example a related question mentions that:

Some exceptions to the "climber's choice" rule would be if the area's guidebook says otherwise, or if the local climbers all rappel ("do as the locals do" is always a good rule of thumb). In seldom-visited areas, I generally rappel.

But who is the "authority" on what the local standard is? I imagine that if I go up to climb outside of the most popular hours, there will only be 2-3 climbing groups nearby and there's no way to know if the people I'll see are a good representative of local rules or not. So what is the best place to figure this out, ideally before driving out?

E.g. if climbing in Exit 32/38 (Little Si) in Seattle, do you have to rappel or can you lower?

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As you should have seen in the answer there, you can first check the guidebook(s) to see if they mention anything.

Another resource is The Mountain Project where you may get an answer, either by reading the description or the comments and asking a question there if you don't see the answer. That isn't a guaranteed timely answer, but is a potential way to get in touch with local climbers on a particular area.

Lastly, while you're averse to using a small sample size of people at the location to figure out the rule of thumb, you can lead with a question like "So do you all climb here often?". If they're local, you can ask them about the etiquette, and if not, they may still know more about the local etiquette than you, as they may have talked to someone about it.

At the end of the day, if you've done your due diligence and haven't found anything, while I'd personally suggest the advice in the second answer as a rule of thumb as it is generally better for longevity of gear, a single non-local person lowering off of the route isn't the end of the world.

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  • Thanks. I did check Mountain Project but seen references to both types in the comments. I guess I’ll just go with lowering then. – JonathanReez May 29 at 16:14
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UK/Europe answer (I know the question was US-centric, as are the answers, but other countries are available):

For a single pitch sport climb I have never seen or heard of it being etiquette to abseil off a route and lowering off is perfectly acceptable. Abseiling is a choice you can make, however. It is considered bad practice to use in-situ gear to run a top-rope and you should always do that through your own gear.

Multi-pitch sport and (both single and multi-pitch) trad routes usually have a walk off or sometimes there is a dedicated abseil route for all climbs on the crag. Guide books or online resources (such as ukclimbing.com) are your reference here.

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    RE: lowering the previous climbers. You're lowering all the previous climbers off of your gear that you placed at the top, and abseiling/rappelling off of the fixed rings at the very end. I don't think anyone was recommending lowering off of fixed gear for all of the climbers. – fyrepenguin May 29 at 19:15
  • The debate on which technique to use is more suited to this Q/A. It might be different in the UK/Europe and US, and possibly regionally in the US, even. – fyrepenguin May 29 at 19:17
  • @fyrepenguin ah, yes. That’s makes sense (lowering off on own gear). – Darren May 29 at 19:24
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    @fyrepenguin there is no debate. The question was “how do I know” and my answer is “in Europe you can always assume lowering is OK”. – Darren May 29 at 19:25
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The standard practice at the top of a single-pitch sport climb is for everybody to be lowered off except for the last person in the group who climbs the route. That person rappels in order to avoid wearing out the rings.

But who is the "authority" on what the local standard is?

The authority is whoever has to replace the hardware when it wears out. The only valid reason to deviate from the standard practice is if this person has set a differing local standard. The reason they would do this is if they think there are safety benefits that are worth it, and they're committed to replacing the hardware as often as necessary.

So what is the best place to figure this out, ideally before driving out?

From whatever place you got the information telling you that this route existed and was a bolted sport route. The same source of information that told you the bolts were placed by someone competent and were safe to climb on. Whoever supplied that information needs to be in touch with whoever maintains the hardware, and if the maintainer wanted people to lower off of their rings, they would tell you. Otherwise just follow the standard default practices.

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  • Hm. Since asking that question I’ve actually talked about to a few experienced climbers in my indoor climbing gym and they all said they lower on local Seattle routes, though none of them are actively maintaining any. Now I’m even more confused. – JonathanReez May 29 at 15:38
  • @JonathanReez: So this is like the situation where several people tell you that they've heard Chang & Co. are a good general contractor, but none of them have actually hired Chang for a job. It's something to go on, but it's not as reliable as talking to someone who actually got Chang to remodel their bathroom. Why rely on second-hand information? The reliable information would come from a guidebook or from mountainproject. The people who wrote that information are likely to either know the person who maintains the hardware or at least to have a reasonably close connection to them. – Ben Crowell May 30 at 14:24
  • I went on Mountain Project and the people climbing Exit 32 all use both lowering and rappelling for sport routes. – JonathanReez May 30 at 16:53
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Look at the anchors. If there is gear that is easily exchangable, such as carabiners or maillons, it is recommended to lower. If there are only bolts, it is better to rappel

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