Choosing a climbing partner (and how to be a good one.)
“You choo-choo-choose me?”-Eddie Vedder
Whether you Sport Climb, Boulder, Ice Climb, or Top Rope one thing that virtually all of the climbing disciplines have in common is the need for a partner. The partner fills a wide range of roles in support of the climber; they belay, spot, offer suggestions, keep the climber motivated, help pack gear, and remember stuff that the climber forgot. The social nature of climbing makes the partner an essential part of any climbing experience.
So the question is: How can I choose the best partner? A good choice for a climbing partner is someone who typically exhibits the following qualities:
- Fundamentally skilled: Can belay and/or spot correctly and adheres to safe practices. In roped climbing this means always checking your partner’s knot and harness, every pitch, as well as making sure to belay the climber correctly. In bouldering this means thoughtfully arranging the pads to prevent injuries and then practicing correct spotting technique: arms up and out, elbows bent, thumbs tucked in, aiming at the climber’s shoulders, ready to direct a falling climber onto the pads and protect their head and neck.
- Genuine concern for the safety of their climbing partner; not in “hurry up it’s my turn” mode. An early sign of a bad climbing partner is their eagerness for you to get off the rope so they can do their thing. Conversely, a good partner will want to give you as much time as you need, offering encouragement where appropriate. If the climber is getting tossed on each attempt, the partner can gently suggest to move on to another route or problem, rather than making a decision to leave on their own.
- Focused on the climber, not distracted by trivialities such as bugs, traffic, or yoga pants. On long pitches it can be challenging to maintain your focus, especially if the climber is out of view. Remember that there is a person on the other end of the rope who is counting on you to be paying attention. Make sure to discuss what each person is going to do in the event that you can’t verbally communicate. In bouldering, the sheer volume of attempts on a given problem might make a spotter drop their guard from boredom, however a good partner will always be attentive to the climber while they are on the problem, and not just in the tricky parts. You never know when someone will come off the wall, so be attentive even in the easy parts.
- Reacts quickly to the climber’s commands. Calling for slack or tension is met with immediate response. Likewise when spotting, if the climbers feet cut and they swing away from the wall, you want to be able to discern if you need to be ready to spot them as they come off the wall, or get out of the way so they don’t dab on you by accident.
A climbing partnership is a team unlike most in sport. Each person counts on the other to safeguard their life, so that the weekend trip to the crag ends with beers, not tears. If you can count on your partner to have your back while you try your hardest, make sure you know they can count on you too.