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Lookin’ Strong, Man

While a rogue storm recently turned the homeland into a snow globe, I’ve been enjoying relatively mild weather up here in Montana.  It’s been hovering right around the freezing point for a week now, and a lot of the ice that had been iron-hard prior to the festival is now soft and forgiving.  We’ve taken advantage of the favorable conditions with several dawn patrol missions into the canyon.  The hikes have been cleansing, the climbing has been classic, and I’m constantly reminded why I had daydreamed about this winter for months.

Just another December day in Bozeman...

Just another December day in Bozeman...

When I say “we” in reference to my climbing outings, I’m almost always referring to my new friend, Jason.  As I mentioned a while back, Jason responded to a post I put up on the Montana Ice website.  He was interested in a weekday partner, and I had no real obligations at the time.  Since then, we’ve tied in together no less than twice a week, and we are gradually turning into a pretty good team.

Jason tests the bottom of "Curtain" -- Hyalite Canyon

Jason tests the bottom of "Curtain" -- Hyalite Canyon

It’s a rare and beautiful thing when you happen upon a good partner in the mountains; there are so many variables in the equation, and each one brings a new chance for incompatibility.

I’ve mentioned “balance” in past posts, and the ideal partner is a lesson in that most valuable of concepts.

The last thing I want in a partner is someone who is unsafe.  I don’t want to worry about unnecessary leader falls and inadequate anchor set-ups when I’m eight miles and at least as many hours away from help.  At the same time, a good partner is driven toward challenges that may require some uncomfortable commitment.  Ideally, each of you will be able to honestly assess the strengths and weaknesses of the team, and you can choose objectives that will represent challenges but remain within the boundaries of acceptable risk.

To that point, an ideal partner will be clear about hopes and fears and respect mine.

If I’m just not feeling it that day, for whatever reason, I don’t want to be pressured into a potentially dangerous situation.  On the other hand, I also don’t want to be let off the hook every time I’m not psyched to send, so I need someone around who will keep me from ignoring the three a.m. alarm and call me unprintable names when I try to give up my turn on lead.

A good partner will be a friend.  This isn’t a business relationship.  If every conversation we have pertains to the task at hand, the relationship will quickly become monotonous and unfulfilling.  I want jokes and concerns and updates and dreams – anything to make the five miles back to the car a little more enjoyable.  But, hey, we climb because we love it, and climbing is often the most important shared experience you’ll have with any partner.  I want to know about epic days and big wall goals, hardest ticks and harrowing falls, favorite pieces of gear and stuff still on the wish list.

I like toys.

I like toys.

Speaking of gear, it’s often what can make or break a climbing relationship.  Ideally, your partner will love all of that shiny goodness as much as you do and take equal pride in the ability to use it.  If there’s a rope laying on the ground, you better believe I want to see how symmetrically I can coil it each and every time, but I don’t want to have to coil it each and every time.

A little generosity with the gear goes a long way on those days when that extra rack of Screamer draws is just enough weight to make the hike home a miserable experience.

“Did you ask if I could carry those for you?  Absolutely, I can, and thanks for stacking both ropes back there when I was using my hot breath to romance the ice out of that frozen screw…”

These are just a few examples of what makes for a good partner, and, truthfully, none of this is that revolutionary.  Most of these examples break down into simple rules that can be applied to pretty much any important relationship you’ll ever have: don’t be reckless, but preserve a sense of adventure; don’t engage in peer pressure, but push each other to be the best that you can be; have interesting and varied things to discuss, but know how to talk shop when the time comes; and be generous with chores (I swear I’ll get to those dishes, Michelle).

Thankful for the belay on "Switchback Falls" -- Hyalite Canyon

Thankful for the belay on "Switchback Falls" -- Hyalite Canyon

In the next few months, I have some friends coming out here with whom I’ve shared many of my most treasured experiences, in the mountains and otherwise.  When I write about their visits, I’ll go deeper into what makes these people my favorite partners and best friends.

In this holiday season, I encourage everyone out there to tell their favorite partners and best friends what makes them so; I’m sure it will help tip the balance back in a favorable direction.

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