Monday, December 20, 2010

Choosing The Right Partner

I've noticed that a majority of my blog posts have a "reflective" theme to them.  However, being able to evaluate situations after the fact and learn from them, is an important tool to progress in the mountains.  My most recent reflection revolves around the month long road trip I just took and the importance of choosing the right partner for the right climb.

For the month of October, my terribly strict employer (read: sarcasm) told me to take a month off and to go work on my climbing resume.  I took this opportunity gladly, and planned a road trip that would have me hitting many of the areas we have programs in.  Joshua Tree, Lee Vining, parts of the High Sierra, and of course Red Rock.  I started reading route descriptions and making a tick list, and then realized I still needed someone to climb with and a way to get there.  Partner-less and vehicle-less I thought the trip wouldn't happen, but out of nowhere a friend contacts me and lets me know he just bought a car and is looking for something to fill his October.  I guess the stars aligned, because I just solved both of my problems without even trying.

Although the author found a partner and transportation, he was unable to solve the problem of his clashing clothes.  Approaching North Peak in the High Sierras
We discussed a game plan and it sounded like we were on the exact same page when it came to our goals for the trip.  The idea was to climb as much as possible, ideally in the mountains, where we would have to move quickly over big alpine routes.  Pushing our grade level was less important than improving efficiency and building our mental game.

First stop, a multi-pitch route at Smith Rock, OR, to test out the partnership
After the first two weeks of our trip however, I felt as though the way I approached these goals was significantly different from the way my partner did.  I started to get frustrated with nuances in climbing style, and the pressure of being on the road with somebody and sharing each others space 24/7 was getting to me.  The disconnect between us in the mountains was only exacerbated by the disconnect between us in the front-country, and vice-versa.  I definitely take the blame for not communicating my feelings earlier, but the partnership just wasn't working for me.

Climbing was starting to feel like I was carrying a heavy burden (at the top of Fairview Dome in Toulumne Meadows)
I started to feel like the climbing trip was not serving its purpose at all.  Yes, I got up a few routes, but not nearly as many as I had hoped and not nearly in the style and enjoyment I was looking for.  It was funny how I was waking up, less than stoked to go climbing each day, mostly because I didn't really feel connected to the person I was climbing with.  Additionally, I felt less bold on route, and less willing to try something that challenged me because I just didn't trust the partnership.  Again though, it seems as though the universe was looking out for me because I was blessed with meeting another climber who would join our trip.

This new climber joined us for a few days of cragging in Joshua Tree, which was a fantastic way to break the ice and to allow a sense of separation from the original partnership.  Partner #2, as I will refer to him, and I got along much better and I felt a sense of encouragement between us that was mutual.  We traveled together to Red Rock, and that is when I felt my trip really started to be productive.  Day after day, Partner #2 and I climbed big link-ups and moved quickly in the mountains.  The climbing was amazingly fun, and our accomplishments felt less important to share with others because we knew what they meant personally, and that's all that mattered.  Not only did I climb harder and faster than I ever have before, I was enjoying the climbing more than ever, simply because I had a good connection with my partner.

Having tons of fun, two pitches from the top of Dream of Wild Turkeys in Red Rock, NV
At this point you may be thinking that I'm talking about a romantic relationship instead of a climbing partnership, but in some respects they share very similar qualities.  I didn't enjoy climbing with Partner #2 because of the conversations we had, I enjoyed climbing with him because of how comfortable we were to be silent during our 30 second belay transitions.  Sure one of us had just lead the crux pitch, and the other had followed it with a backpack, and perhaps there was an awesome run-out section, but talking about it now meant nothing because there was still more elevation to gain on route.  This shared thought alone gave me the confidence and desire to push on with the same energy pitch after pitch, day after day.
The author climbing one of those slabby crux traverse pitches that you just don't need to talk about
I wish I could list off the 5 things you want to look for in a partner before choosing one, but ultimately I found there is no formula.  The partner that is perfect for me, may be the absolute worst partner for you.  Additionally, the people I hang out with consistently might not be the people I would want in the mountains with me.  You really have to step back and decide if a partnership is healthy, and if it's not, have the courage to say something and move on.  Life is too short to be frustrated while climbing, go out and find a partner that really encourages your climbing and that you can feed off one another.  And when you find that person, never let them go.

Capturing the happy partnership after a link-up of Black Orpheus to Solar Slab,
roughly 3400 vertical feet and 24 pitches of stellar rock climbing.

--Andrew Yasso, Program Coordinator


thementalcoach said...

Great article and I liked your comment about building your mental game. To me, the mental game is built out of confidence, motivation and focus. Sounds like finding partner #2 helped you connect with all three of those parts (as well as the fourth part - fun!).

Anonymous said...

Thanks Buddy. I couldn't agree more. When are we climbing again? - Partner # 2