Climbing Partner Musings

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Climbing Partner Musings

Post by Snow_Dog_frassati » Tue Feb 23, 2021 12:13 pm

All of the "looking for a partner" threads always interest me. They seem to pop up at least once a week during the summer. This isn't based on any one particular thread but the recent one got me thinking. What do you guys look for in a partner? I know for me, It has changed especially as I've started BC skiing and taking on the more challenging 13ers or 14ers. I think finding partners is the hardest part of doing sendy stuff in the mountains.

For me I'm pretty focused on decision making and how a person thinks about risk. One of my buddies says It's a fine line between finding someone reckless enough to do it, but scared enough to do it safely. I think about it from that perspective a lot. There are a lot of people who are awesome friends, but I won't ask them to do class 3+ stuff with me.

A lot of my partners I've met out in the field actually. I'm at the point now where I talk to almost everyone I meet on the summit just because you never know who your next adventure buddy is. The friend I took my AIARE with I met on Capitol. I've met partners on almost all the challenging peaks now that I think about it.

I think a lot of new people (VERY much me in the beginning) put too much weight on peak count and forget the importance of chemistry and communication. The partner who I climbed Capitol and Little Bear with has dones less than 20 14ers but would still be my first choice on anything of that nature due to past experiences and how smart she is about risk management. She's great at communicating things and plans her adventures very well.

Not that fitness or past accomplishment doesn't matter, because it for sure does, but as a pretty fast hiker I'd take a smart slowpoke any day over a hard charger that doesn't think before he steps.

I think about these things:
1) Obviously I have to like them. Hiking 20+ miles with someone I hate sounds awful (I've done it sadly). Some of my best friends are climbing partners.

2) Communication. This is so key for me and probably the most important thing. I wanna know what you are thinking, your evaluations of the risk, when you are tired, if you have a blister etc. All that helps good group decision making. The better your communication skills the better. If we are hiking together I see us as a team.

3) Where a person's risk tolerance falls. If you are okay sending 37° slopes during considerable avy danger I'm not here to tell you otherwise, but that affects my safety and I don't wanna be part of it. I want to be on the same page about what we will and won't do. If my risk tolerance is higher than another person’s I always scale down to theirs. I.e. - I never want to make my partners uncomfortable with the risk and don’t want anyone who does that to me.

4)Skill set. If you've never hiked a class 2 It's probably not great to ask you to do a class 5 ridge with me. I think for 14ers It's easier to jump from say 3 to 4 or whatever. This is more important for skiing or technical climbing. If you can't ski steeps, that's a big issue on most peak descents. If you can't perform a rescue, I don't wanna be in avalanche terrain with you. You get the picture

5) Prep. I don’t wanna be a person’s “guide”. Think for yourself. Going out with the goal of teaching you something is different of course but I don’t want to be the only one making plans. My friend said “The goal is to be prepared enough we could each do it solo”. If s**t really hits the fan your ability to be independent might save my life.

6) Humility and awareness of consequences. This stuff can be real dangerous and I like to be aware of that. I like them to remember that this phrase "A good decision yesterday doesn't absolve me from a bad decision today"

7) Fitness/ 14er experience. This is the least important in my opinion because it's the most easily overcome. People can get more fit and I can slow down. If you’ve never done a class 4, but lots of 3s that's not a huge jump. If you are fast that's amazing, but I’ve found many people aren’t as fast as me or don’t like going fast. I don’t mind scaling back at all in those circumstances. Obviously, if you can’t breathe above 12k that's a hold up.

I don’t literally check down the list when I make a new mountain friend, but those are all things I think about. I think all those traits make things go smoother and safer. More often I notice when something isn’t there I think. Like if you always show up unprepared etc. Lots of times I like climbing something easy with someone before I commit to a risky adventure. It's a good way to get a feel for how they hike, if they piss you off or what their risk tolerance is like etc

That was a lot but what are people’s thoughts? I’m still young and dumb but I hope moderately accomplished. It would be interesting to get some opinions from people of all different skill sets on this, especially newbies!
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Re: Climbing Partner Musings

Post by TomPierce » Tue Feb 23, 2021 1:59 pm

Snow Dog: Really, really interesting post.

I think you've done a good job capturing the main issues. For me, the partner selection issue is sort of a sliding scale: Who I'd prefer to climb with depends on the type of climb. If it's not technical or it's pretty-easy-technical I really enjoy getting out with just about anyone who is enthusiastic. But if the objective is pretty technical (5.7>, aid climbing, ice, etc.) I won't even ask someone who I think might get in over his/her head. No fun for anyone. I did a 5.9 tower-ish thingy a couple of years back (Turret Ridge) and it had a kind of easy & super fun traverse near the top but it was also 400' or so off the deck; I didn't ask a frequent partner because I knew if he popped there he wouldn't be able to prussik back up the line. But he's a go-to partner in many other settings, great guy. So technical competence for harder objectives is a threshold issue.

After that, the single biggest thing I look for in a partner? Malleability. That's a fancy pants word for flexibility. A flexible nature. Not so laid back as to be horizontal, no surfer dude types, but I want partners who are both solid enough (duh), but who will bend but not snap. Or at least bend a lot before they snap. Sh*t occasionally happens in the backcountry, gotta roll with it, having a fit or locking up is not good. I once was descending a ridge at night in the Alps and had a partner just sit down and announce he couldn't go on. Not good, it was dark, cold and getting colder, etc. That's when people die. Turns out with some coaxing he could, in fact, keep going.

Physical fitness is nice, always good in a pinch, but this isn't a high school track meet. Just enough to get by. If we end up hiking into the night, so what? That's why they invented headlamps! Oh, and compulsive enough to think when you pack, e.g. don't forget your headlamp and/or batteries for a climb that ends up taking 26+ hours. Ugh...that was my Halloween :lol:

Oh, and a sense of humor? +++

I guess that's it. Just my opinions.

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Re: Climbing Partner Musings

Post by ncxhjhgvbi » Tue Feb 23, 2021 2:03 pm

First, great post! Interested in what others have to say.

I think a lot of your points also hit on general Trust. My main climbing partner and I did ElD-Wilson, Wilson Peak and Sneffels in three days last summer and I had never even done big hikes two days in a row before that. By the time we were going up the SW ridge of sneffels on the 3rd day I was torched and, though we planned on down-climbing it, I really didn't feel comfortable doing a few of those moves with wobbly legs. I felt like I couldn't balance myself sufficiently. I let him know I felt it would be safer to go down the standard route and deal with sliding on scree than a potential fall on the ridge. Even though it wasn't our plan and he wasn't looking forward to it, he trusted that I was making the prudent decision and went along with it without hesitation. We were prepared too, both having downloaded the info for both routes in case. To many of your points, having someone I trust and who trusts me when it comes to decision making/routefinding/risk tolerance is invaluable and I wouldn't trade it for someone faster/more experienced/etc.

I agree with you that pace is not really important unless you are with someone who is much, MUCH slower than they say they are. A few years ago I went with someone who said they were fast and I trusted them - this lead to about a 50% longer day than I had anticipated. Now I also try to do a short hike with a new partner prior to a 14er. I can go slow too, I just want to know ahead of time what the approximate pace will be so I can plan effectively. My wife is a slow hiker so when I go with her I just prepare for it and enjoy time out in the mountains.
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Re: Climbing Partner Musings

Post by cottonmountaineering » Tue Feb 23, 2021 2:04 pm

a positive attitude i found to be most important, everything else can be fixed
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Re: Climbing Partner Musings

Post by Chicago Transplant » Tue Feb 23, 2021 6:46 pm

Communication and flexibility are pretty important to success.

Communicating goals and expectations ahead of time and communicating route decisions (especially if someone is uncomfortable with some aspect of it, avy risk, exposure, loose rock etc). If I think a hike is going to be 6 hours and my partner thinks its going to be 10, that helps me bring more food and water to account for a possibly longer day, its good to know so I won't run out. Maybe someone has a commitment later and has a hard turnaround time, are you okay with not summitting and heading back with them?

On the flexibility side, I have had a few trips where we plan something say weeks in advance, then the date of the peak approaches and the weather is bad or a road isn't open yet (or closed already), peak conditions aren't where want them to be etc and we change plans. One of my recent climbs we changed plans after we had already met up in the morning because the trailhead was too snowed in so we did a different peak up the road that my partner didn't have yet.
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Re: Climbing Partner Musings

Post by Rainier_Wolfcastle » Tue Feb 23, 2021 8:55 pm

Good topic! Feel like I could write pages, but will try to show restraint.

I think being honest with open communication is the biggest thing for me. If you know there is a decent chance you are going to bail,just say “I’m a maybe”. If you know you are going to go at max speed, regardless of group or partner pace, then be’s cool and the other’s won’t gas themselves trying to keep up or be like wtf when they don’t see you for a few hours. If you know the mileage/gain/difficulty is really pushing it for you, make sure people know. If you have a hard time walking on talus, don’t sign up for a 16 mile 5 peak day with lots of class 3 and possible class 4.

The other big thing, which you unfortunately won’t know until it happens, is who can keep a level head and stay positive when things get stressful. Honestly, that is the best part of mountaineering, not the sh!t hitting the fan part...but meeting so many people that are great in those situations...a far higher percentage then the general public. Talk about the folks that have contributed a lot to over the years, or “old timers”...I’ve seen first hand or heard second hand how well so many of them have handled some serious situations.
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Re: Climbing Partner Musings

Post by ltlFish99 » Tue Feb 23, 2021 9:44 pm

Cool thread, got me to thinking and reminiscing.
For myself it has a lot to do with trust.
Some of this does not apply to myself so much anymore as it has been a while since I actually climbed a technical route where ropes and knowledge of thier use was a necessity.
What other people want to do is entirely thier business.

But many years ago, a friend showed up late, feeling terrible and somewhat disoriented from having a little to much of whatever the previous evening. We were doing a rout in Eldorado canyon that was Not very difficult.
Nonetheless, rock climbing is a very unforgiving activity, and this gentlemans condition was a little concerning
It all went well, and at the end when we were pulling the ropes from a rappel, another parties Camara fell from about 150 feet up.
No warning, or anything but quite a loud noise as this thing exploded on impact less than 10 feet from us. It was somewhat shocking as it was such a surprise.
Anyway, sometime later at Lincoln falls, the same gentleman made a mistake that could have been very serious if our other friend had not noticed his error.
We never did climb with that individual again.
I am older, and until last summer had not hiked a 14er in way to long.
I am not a complete turtle, but I am not going to win any race up a mountain.
I enjoy hiking at a moderate pace.
I start early as I am not a fan of lightning.
I have a moderate risk tolerance.
I always have breakfast prior to starting a hike.
I do not drink, so no post summit celebrations including alcohol, or anything other than ice cold Gatorade for me.
I fully own the reasons I do not drink/whatever, and I do not care what others do.
I do not like to hold people up.
Based on the above, I find myself hiking solo most of the time.
I did meet up with other members of this site for 2 hikes last summer and enjoyed both experiences.
I kinda felt like I was holding up companions on the 2nd hike, so I informed them I was slowing down and just held back until it was not an issue.
I'm not completely against hiking with others and will respond to requests on the forum looking for help with whatever, even if it's just a ride up the 4wd part of the road to the trailhead.
I love the site, and all of the wonderful information/ photographs on it.
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Re: Climbing Partner Musings

Post by climbingcue » Wed Feb 24, 2021 6:48 am

Rainier_Wolfcastle wrote:
Tue Feb 23, 2021 8:55 pm
The other big thing, which you unfortunately won’t know until it happens, is who can keep a level head and stay positive when things get stressful. Honestly, that is the best part of mountaineering, not the sh!t hitting the fan part...but meeting so many people that are great in those situations...a far higher percentage then the general public. Talk about the folks that have contributed a lot to over the years, or “old timers”...I’ve seen first hand or heard second hand how well so many of them have handled some serious situations.
If you spend enough time in the mountains something is going to happen to you, or someone in your group or another group you come across. So I rate the person with a level head who can stay positive when things go bad very high on my list. The OP has a great 1st post, I agree with many of their points. Having someone that you like spending time with during a long hike is very important. I count myself very lucky that just about everyone of my climbing partners are from meeting them at a 14er gathering or from this forum. I look forward to hiking many more peaks with those fantastic partners I have found over the last couple of years.

Consecutive months with at least one 14er, 35 months.
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Re: Climbing Partner Musings

Post by desertdog » Wed Feb 24, 2021 7:51 am

Things in a partner I look for...

Good sense of humor and want to have fun.

Most of our mountains are long hikes, so I like a partner can talk about subjects that we have in common. It makes the slog easier.

Hikes at a moderate pace. I think hiking at the same speed is important, so a person is not struggling to keep up or having to wait on the other.

It is a true partnership and we share decision responsibilities. The partner has studied the route, weather, etc. I’ve had people show up and want me to be their unpaid guide.

They are willing to share trail snacks if they have something really good. :-D

I want no partners that get summit fever. The mountain will always be there.

Avy understanding and or training for winter summits.

Positive outlook. Complaining never makes it easier. If things go south, be able to keep calm and figure it out.

I get having goals, but I’m not big fan of listers. Being in the mountains on a great route is much more important to me.

Humble. There is always someone in the mountains that’s more of a bad ass than we are. No big egos.

Come prepared and on time.

Can take a decent picture as I’m a horrible photographer. 😄

I’ve been mostly lucky with my partners and have a bunch of great friends that I’ve met through climbing. Friendships are one of the big pluses of being in the mountains.
Last edited by desertdog on Wed Feb 24, 2021 4:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Climbing Partner Musings

Post by RestlessLegSyndrome » Wed Feb 24, 2021 9:27 am

Great ideas so far. I tend to agree with most of them.

For me, the most important thing is that we see each other as friends first and teammates second. No objective is worth the cost of a friendship.
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Re: Climbing Partner Musings

Post by HikerGuy » Wed Feb 24, 2021 10:12 am

I have some awesome partners, but if I were looking again here are my must haves.

- No carpooling. I like my alone time in the car and most of the time it is configured for car camping (no extra seating) and once it is setup, I don't like to mess with it. It also allows me adjust my itinerary before/after the meetup.

- Close match on pace. I don't want to hold anyone back and slower partners can really mess with food/water planning/cutoff times if they are not upfront about it.

- Willing to share thought process and decisions. I don't want someone to be upset if they feel like I am running the show or vice a versa.

- Appropriate amount of chattiness. It's fun to banter and makes the hike more enjoyable, but if someone never shuts up, that can be tiring. Sometimes you need quiet.
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Re: Climbing Partner Musings

Post by bergsteigen » Wed Feb 24, 2021 1:19 pm

I had written up almost this exact post a few years ago, but figured I would get roasted for it. Especially as so many people think being fast is being the best. I never have a problem hiking slower. I do have a problem with tall fast people leaving me in the dust.

Too bad I never wrote down all my partner thoughts, and was working on it through memory. Maybe I’ll get lucky and remember.
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