6 Tips on Being a Good Climbing Partner

on being a good climbing partner

Want a power-gummy?

I asked as my friend Alex and I traded gear and prepared to swing leads.

Wow, you really ARE a good climbing partner,

he replied, his mouth full of power-gummy.

Alex and I were half way up Central Pillar of Frenzy, a mega-classic 5.9 on Middle Cathedral in Yosemite Valley. Despite having known each other for well over a year, this was the first time we had roped up together. Whether he knew it or not, his comment had made my day. Being a good climbing partner is something I work hard at, so when someone throws a verbal high-five my way I get all warm and fuzzy inside. Fortunately, living in Yosemite allows me a potentially endless supply of other climbers with whom I can continue to sharpen my skills as both climber and climbing partner.

Often I find myself thinking about how to be the right dude at the right time and how I can rise to meet the moment in any situation. I frequently return to thinking about my progression as a climber—the factors that have driven me forward, gotten me psyched and helped me to grow, as well as the pitfalls I’ve faced along the way.

Recently one thought, in particular, stood out amongst all the others: the people who I’ve climbed with, from my first trad lead to my hardest redpoint, have had the greatest influence in shaping and molding me into the climber I am today. It got me thinking about the qualities I look for in my climbing partners and the qualities I strive to embody whenever I climb with someone new.

1. Safety first

If you’ve ever hung out with me chances are good that you’ve heard me use the phrase

Have fun. Look good. Be Safe.

Chances are also good that you’ve heard me say,

No fuck-ups on rappel.

Every time I’m rappelling a route, I take the time to remind my partner that getting down is the most dangerous part of the climb. I tell them my mantra, repeat it to myself as I do a safety check, and cast off. It’s simple, takes almost no time, and helps keep presence of mind.

I’ve been fortunate to climb with people who emphasize safety in every aspect of the sport, and I do my best to carry that torch while still keeping the attitude light and fun. I like to tell my friends that

Safety never takes a day off, but it always has time for ice cream.

2. Always psyched

I love climbing with people who are psyched to just be climbing. Attitudes are infectious and sometimes people might not realize that the attitude that they take with them climbing affects everyone in the area. It’s easy to forget that climbing is a privilege, which isn’t afforded to everyone, and that if you’re out with your friends doing what you love, there’s no reason not to be psyched.

It doesn’t matter if you’re on a 5.6 picnic or trying to redpoint your 5.hard mega project—if you’re psyched, I’m psyched. That’s the way it should be. I’ve been working on this personally, and even if I’m feeling low energy or getting worked on a hard route, I’ve found that there’s very little that a high-five and a

Great job dude!

can’t fix. When it really boils down to it, being psyched is all about maintaining an attitude of gratitude and letting that positive energy flow outwards.

3. Patient

Having a patient partner is essential, especially for those of us who are still learning. Feeling rushed or being under pressure to complete a task quickly is just another way to make a mistake or miss a crucial piece of information. Since I’m always trying to learn and improve my climbing skills, I’m always looking for patience in a partner.

Recently I was cragging along-side a group of new climbers all learning from one experienced climber. The leader lacked patience to a fault, and I watched as he repeatedly got frustrated with his friends for having to explain something over, or when they would make a simple mistake. I couldn’t help but think that this dude could have benefitted from thinking back to when he first learned these skills, and how learning new things takes time.

New climbers need an environment where mistakes are embraced as a part of the process, so they can feel comfortable experimenting and figuring things out for themselves in a safe setting. Getting frustrated is a natural reaction to stressful situations, but it does little to help anyone and it spreads negative energy to those around you (see above).

4. Knowledgeable

Always Learning. Always Teaching.

In many ways, climbing is an oral tradition passed down from one generation to the next. Much of what I’ve learned about rock climbing has come from people who have been climbing for years. I’m always trying to learn something new about anything. Since I started climbing I’ve amassed a decent chunk of knowledge, though there is still much more to learn.

When it comes to learning rockcraft, the best way I’ve found to reinforce a newly learned skill is to teach it to someone else. In college, I had a professor who constantly reminded us that you couldn’t say you really knew something unless you could explain it to your grandma. Think about that the next time you pick up a new tidbit of information. Find someone at the crag or the gym and offer to teach them something in exchange for them teaching you something. Help yourself to progress by helping someone else to do the same.

5. Reliable

Reliability is a pretty simple idea with far reaching implications. I don’t have much to say on the subject. But I do want to pose a question; if your partner can’t bother to show up on time to go climbing (barring legitimate excuses), do you think you can rely on them in a situation where your neck is on the line?

It’s often the simplest of things which speak the loudest about the character of a person, and flaky people make for flaky climbing partners.

6. Competent and confident

Competence gives way to confidence. Knowing that I’m climbing with a strong and capable partner inspires confidence in me. This, in turn, boosts my partner’s confidence, and that is precisely what I look for when I’m trying to pull off a long day or a hard send. However, this dynamic takes time and effort to cultivate.

A large part of becoming a competent climber involves spending time learning, practicing, and rehearsing climbing skills. Having a strong and supportive partner can be essential to building confidence as well, though becoming a confident climber is primarily an individualistic pursuit.

Watching Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson on the Dawn Wall was a great example of this. Each of them brought years of personal development and experience to the project. Both climbers were leading the charge in their own pursuits before teaming up together, having compiled lengthy climbing resumes before beginning their partnership. Had they not had total confidence in one-another, it’s likely that the Dawn Wall would still be a project.

Some final thoughts

Roping up on Central Pillar with Alex was an awesome opportunity to practice each of these qualities. After taking nearly a year off, this was his first real foray back into the vertical. I was confident in a safe and fun route, though he worried he would be slow. After the awkward first pitch, we quickly settled into a rhythm and sent the route in good time and style. No one died, high-fives were shared, and we both walked away from the route knowing that we’d be climbing together again soon.

Fun routes and good friends are only a couple of the many reasons that I tie into the sharp end day after day. I hope that I can continue to learn and improve my skills as both climber and climbing partner with people like Alex, and I genuinely hope to have more opportunities to be the right dude at the right time.

This piece was originally published on April 30, 2015.


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6 Tips on Being a Good Climbing Partner

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