Whether you’re belaying or leading, your climbing partner has got to have your back, and you’ve got to have theirs. That’s a lot of responsibility to put on another person, and you want to make sure you’re putting your faith in the right individual.
Be picky when choosing your climbing partner, and don’t be afraid to back out of a climb if your partner isn’t as safe or talented as they might have made themselves initially out to be. Sometimes climbers you thought would be super-safe mountaineering buddies turn out to be reckless, and they have no business leading a route. Other times, individuals that are capable of climbing 5.12 in the gym get nervous when they’re leading in the outdoors and make for poor partners on real mountains.
There’s no perfect system for choosing a climbing partner. But there are red flags that you should look for when preparing to rope up with someone for the first time.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND:
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
It’s all about the little things. Individuals that are flippant about the little things often make for terrible partners. An individual that’s too casual about details will often make small mistakes that can have catastrophic consequences; such as failing to double-check knots or forgetting to put a knot at the end of your rappel line. You want to seek out a partner that is meticulous, look for someone that has developed good habits.
USE OF SAFETY COMMANDS
People that aren’t willing to use safety commands make for dangerous climbing partners. Sometimes you run into people that think controls are optional but that’s just not the case. There have been many avoidable climbing accidents that were the result of poor communication between partners. So pick a partner that’s not afraid to scream climbing commands at you in their free voice.
It’s a huge red flag if your new partner doesn’t know how to tie basic knots. There are a handful of basic knots that every climber needs to know before going outdoor climbing. If there’s any indication that your new partner doesn’t know how to tie them, you need to consider dumping them. Admittedly, some advanced knots might not be necessary if you’re going crag climbing, but if you see your partner struggling to tie in be wary about putting your life in their hands.
Everyone occasionally makes some mistakes with their rope management, and it can lead to some annoying tangled ropes. If a climber has a little mishap and tangles a rope up, it’s no big deal, and these things happen to everyone. That being said, if your potential partner has no idea how to manage a rope properly, your day out climbing is going to be spent dealing with a rat's nest of jumbled lines. Even worse, tangled ropes can cause you to get stranded in terrible positions while your partner figures out where their rope management went wrong.
Avoid lazy belayers at all costs. In the modern age of auto-locking devices, there seems to be a trend of climbers being lazy at their belay stations. Only climb with people that are attentive and proactive belayer. If your climbing partner gives too much slack, short-ropes you, or doesn’t continually have both their hands on the rope, they’re not a suitable climbing partner.
Climbing can be a scary activity, so ideally your partner is somebody that can help share the stress load with you. If you’re anxious before or during a big lead climb, your partner is supposed to help keep you focused and feeling calm. If your partner is doing the opposite, and causing you un-do stress, consider finding someone that will keep things calm.
MEET YOUR MATCH
In summary, regardless of who they are, you need to be exceptionally confident in your climbing partners. Your climbing partners are responsible for helping to keep you alive, so it’s an important partnership that should be taken seriously. If your partner seems lackadaisical while using basic safety commands, we don’t recommend climbing with that individual.
Similarly, avoid climbing with someone that’s unfamiliar with knots, rope management, or how to properly use a belaying device; that individual might need some more practice, possibly with a certified guide, before they’re ready to be a reliable climbing partner.
Finally, consider the mentality of the individual you’re climbing with, everyone is allowed a little anxiety while they’re on a long climb, but your partner is a bad match if they give you panic attacks on the wall.
What happens when your trusted climbing partner turns into your life partner? Check out this Sportrock love story.