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The Dirtbag Adventures: Episode 4 - dating advice disguised as a climbing blog
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The Dirtbag Adventures: Episode 4 - dating advice disguised as a climbing blog

The Dirtbag Adventures: Episode 4 - dating advice disguised as a climbing blog

In this post, Matt reflects on choosing climbing partners, offers some do’s and don’ts, and gives some examples on the subject. Like most things in Matt’s life, this blog is all about climbing, but the lessons here could be applied to many other fields. Or they could be, if there were any lessons to be had. Keep up with all of the Dirtbag Adventures here.

Choosing climbing partners can be tough. When traveling from one crag to the next, it’s essential to attract and assess potential partners effectively. There are lots of tools to meet people: social media, networks of friends, even greeting strangers in the parking lot. But no matter what, it’s important to assess the competence and compatibility of each partner before you trust them with your life.

climbing partners
–Casey tying in after a giant vanilla latte. Look at that beautiful knot!–

There’s always risks associated with climbing and no guarantee that any partner will be a good fit. I don’t have a foolproof formula, but here are a few of the tricks I use when vetting a potential partner. It’s designed with climbing in mind, but most of it can double as dating advice if that’s what you need right now.

Do be honest, and sell yourself! Remember that they’re trying to decide if you’re a good partner too. So be honest about your abilities and desires. Let them know who you are as a climber and a person and you can’t go wrong.

Don’t lie about your abilities. If another climber wants to climb long routes way above your grade and you lie about being ready, you’re sandbagging yourself and ruining their climb! On several occasions, I’ve told climbers I couldn’t hang at the grade they were hoping to climb, and more often than not they’ve worked with me to find a route we can both do. I’ve even had partners offer to rig a tag line and let me jug up after them! And if they don’t want to climb with you, fine! Now you’re one step closer to finding the right partner.

climbing partners
–I met Jeff while camping in the Tetons. He wasn't experienced on rock, so we found a snow field and practiced building snow anchors and z-pulleys for an afternoon. It was a blast!–

Do ask questions about climbs they’ve done! What people say they want to do is nice, but what they say about their climbing past is a better indicator of how things will go if you tie in with them. If they tell you three stories from the last month that all involve unplanned bivvies or helicopter rescues, maybe don’t go out with them. Or pack extra water and a space blanket.

Don’t mistake competence for compatibility. I climbed with a wonderfully skilled climber in the Tetons who lead the crux pitches and hung tough from the long approach to the sketchy rappel. I also had to explain every joke and reference I made, and couldn’t figure out her reasoning on several odd (but always safe) decisions. We had a good climb, but didn’t do it again. Inversely, if you really like someone it doesn’t mean they’re an attentive partner. My fiancé Casey is the greatest person on planet earth, but if she hasn’t had coffee yet she’s a terrible belayer.

climbing partners
–The best partners are both competent climbers and fun people to be around. Luckily I had Next Adventure staffer Gino with me on White Satin (5.9, Smith Rock), we always have a good time climbing together!–

Do check your partner’s knot. I make a point of doing a “safety check” with every new climbing partner out loud. I do this to make sure the rope system is secure, but it’s more than that. What I like about the verbal check is that it gets climbers in the habit of talking about safety. I’m more comfortable pointing out a backcliped draw if we’ve already started the safety conversation. Furthermore, the verbal safety check weeds out defensive assholes. I have no hard rules about who I will and will not climb with, but if your ego is so much bigger than your desire to live that you can’t let me check your knot, then we’re not partners or friends.

Don’t snub the newbies. Someone took you climbing your first time, on your first multi pitch route, and coached you through your first lead on that terrifying 5.6 slap with the bolts 8 feet apart. You never know when you’re belaying next season’s rope gun!

climbing partners
–Grant was a friend of a friend I linked up with in Salt Lake City, and we had an amazing time climbing together in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Thanks for showing me around!–

Do trust your gut. This is probably the most important one. If you’re not confident in someone, bail. It doesn’t matter if you’ve texted a few times or you’re already on pitch 3. If someone makes you uncomfortable, just grab your gear and walk away.

A quick story in that last point: In Salt Lake City, I linked up with a guy on Mountain Project who seemed legit. We met up in the morning at the Little Cottonwood Canyon park’n’ride, then headed out to climb a 5.8, 5 pitch classic I can’t remember the name of. At the start, I noticed he was a little odd, but hey, aren’t well all? After fifteen minutes of overcomplicated route finding my initial bad vibes had grown into a full spidey-sense mental alarm. He hadn’t done anything wrong per se, and for all I know he could be an amazing partner, but before we started up the route I decided to walk away.

It was a quick conversation. “Hey man, I’m not feeling it. I’m gonna bail.” We returned borrowed gear and hustled down to our cars. It felt bad – like walking out on a date right after ordering food - but I’m so glad I did it.

There’s a dozen other little tricks you can use to vet climbers, but these are my favorites. The important thing is that you keep yourself safe out there, and be a good member of the community.

If you have any thoughts on this blog or comments about finding partners, you can reach me at [email protected] also, if you’re going to be in the Squamish area mid-august, I’m looking for partners!

Read all of the Dirtbag Adventures!

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