By nature, climbing, skiing and the vast majority of our outdoor pursuits are largely individual sports. Indeed, they’re shared with others, but often they’re self-centered pursuits, revolving around how we as individuals can achieve certain goals. But recently, watching the Dawn Wall—a film depicting comradery and sportsmanship in its finest, made me ponder how I could be a better partner to the people I’m in the mountains with. While I won’t shed any light on how to send an El Cap free route, here are a few suggestions for how you can be the best partner you can be.
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Probably the most important thing one can do to increase their value as a partner is to become more educated. This could entail avalanche awareness courses, anchor-building classes, self-rescue clinics, first-aid courses, etc. At some point during your climbing or skiing career, something is bound to go wrong—are you prepared to deal with it? In the backcountry, often the best chance of survival in the event of an accident lies within the team itself. Are you capable of performing an effective avalanche rescue if your partner is buried? Can you get your partner to the ground five pitches below if they’re unconscious? Whether you climb 5.14 or 5.6, understanding some basic rescue skills could make a huge difference in the event of an accident. These skills are not overly complicated to obtain, and there are many books on the subject. Often clinics are offered at climbing meets and events, or you could hire a guide to receive private instruction for a small group.
Practice, Practice, Practice
It’s is not enough to read Freedom of the Hills or sit in on an anchor-building clinic. You need to practice these skills on your own. Even as a professional, I’ll be the first to admit that I get rusty at certain skills that I don’t do regularly. It’s far too easy to put off training with your avalanche transceiver to ski powder instead, but if you were under the snow you would want your partner to be tuned up on their searches! When you’re waiting for your forearms to de-pump at a crag you can play around with passing knots, escaping belays and rigging tandem rappels. And remember: You’re honing your skills to help your partner, so make sure they’re honing theirs to help you!
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Admittedly, this is something I could do better with—just ask my wife! Since I make my living guiding, I’m often moving at someone else’s pace. Therefore, when I have free time, I tend to rush things. But, with age comes some wisdom, and I’m at least becoming more conscious these days that this is not always the best prerogative. Preforming at your best and achieving your goals takes time. If your belayer is impatient or moody, your performance will suffer. So, next time you’re out with your climbing partner, be positive and encourage them to do one more lap or work out the crux sequence one more time. Because next time you’re on the sharp end, you’ll be happy to have that same kind support.
Photos by Forest Woodward and Joey Schusler.