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Take It On the Run, Baby

A.M. top-rope training session on "Genesis I"

A.M. top-rope training session on "Genesis I"

If you climb for any reasonable amount of time, you’re bound to build a list of past and present partners with whom you’ve tied in to the rope.  These partners will fall somewhere on a friendship plane, and each one you collect can be placed into one of three major categories.  For the sake of personal intimacy, I’ve named each of these categories after bands that, for reasons I’ll explain, correspond to the type of climbing partner signified.  Feel free to offer your own additional category titles in the comment box.

The REO Speedwagon: This first level of climbing partner is a one-trick pony.  This is a partner in the strictest sense of the term – basically a coworker.  You’re there to do a job that requires two people, and the REO Speedwagon is there to help you do it.  Sure, if pressed, you’d say you like this person just fine, but you wouldn’t consider the REO a friend, really.  You’ll look back fondly on your time with REO – some of your best work may have even come on REO days – but if you hear from a friend who’s heard from a friend who’s heard from another that REO partnered up with somebody else for a one-day ascent of The Nose, are you really going to care?

REO Speedwagon exists to help me rock out 80s theme parties.  We have a long-standing partnership with a history of success, and, like in any good partnership, our roles are clearly defined and mutually understood: REO’s job is to bring the noise, and my job is to bring the pain.  We’re good at what we do.  There’s no desire on my end to deepen the relationship, and I’m not expecting REO to come crashin’ through the door any time soon, either.  When I’m in the mood for neon headbands and power ballads (which, as with climbing, is not infrequently), REO will be on my short list.  Any other time, there are more satisfying places to turn.  For instance…

Blake climbs up to test a questionable tree at my favorite belay station -- "Silken Falls," Hyalite

Blake climbs up to test a questionable tree at my favorite belay station -- "Silken Falls," Hyalite

The Jimmy Buffett: Here, we’ve transitioned into legitimate friend territory.  This level of partner is someone you know well, someone whose company you enjoy, and someone with whom you share things in common other than climbing.  You can manage a four-hour car ride, weekend climbing trip, and two-JBC victory celebration without any trouble, and you’ll have created enough inside jokes on your last trip together to carry you through the first two days of the next.  Even still, climbing has been and will always be the driving force in this relationship; almost all of your time together has been spent climbing, planning to go climbing, or talking about climbing.  Sure, you’ll learn more about each other in the process, and this level of partnership can absolutely produce long-standing friendships; but, if one of you ever decides to stop climbing altogether, the relationship will prove ultimately unsustainable.

Enjoying the lot scene before a Buffett show in 2007.  Good times had by all.

Enjoying the lot scene before a Buffett show in 2007. Good times had by all.

Jimmy and I have a lot in common: we’re both from the South, we were both frat stars in college, we both like to travel, and we both appreciate cheap beer and expensive boat shoes.  More often than not, that’s plenty to keep me happy with the partnership.  When it’s all over, I’ll have a volume of great memories that include Jimmy, and I may even have gotten some good advice along the way (in retrospect, probably some bad advice, as well – my pencil-thin moustache period was regrettable).  With all that said, I can’t ignore some lingering concerns I have about Jimmy: most notably, would we remain close if I ever abandoned margaritas and the beach?  Probably not, but will I ever abandon margaritas and the beach?  Probably not, and that’s the essence of the Jimmy Buffett partner: the relationship depends on one keystone commonality, but that keystone is pretty secure.  I’d say most of my climbing partners over the years have fallen into this category, though there remain a few that transcend the Jimmy Buffett label.  I’ll call them…

Blake makes it happen on his first ice lead -- "Switchback Falls," Hyalite

Blake makes it happen on his first ice lead -- "Switchback Falls," Hyalite

The Allman Brothers: These are lifelong friends, plain and simple.  You’ve seen each other through high times, low times, close calls, lucky streaks, and solo endeavors.  You climb together because climbing just happens to be one of many shared activities, but the relationship wouldn’t suffer at all if one of you gave it up.  Even when you’re actually climbing, the conversation rarely dwells there, and you’ll discover that some of the moments you appreciate the most take place when nobody says a word.  A handful of these partners is the best you can hope for (not that you’ll want any more than that, anyway).

In related news, Blake (Allman Brothers-level partner) came out for a few days in Hyalite last week.  Blake and I have climbed plenty of eventful rock pitches together, but he had never swung into an ice climb prior to last week.  We climbed four days out of the six he was here, and I’m proud to say he enjoyed the last pitch of the week on the sharp end.  We spent the two other days at the “M” and the ski hill, respectively, when my college buddy, Jonathan, stopped in town on the way to Beaver Creek.

There’s plenty of winter action left in Montana, but recent temps in the 50s are heralding spring-time.  Thankfully, I’ve spent enough nights in neon to know there’s only one thing left to do when you’re under the gun…

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