By Lee Hansche
We are all aware that in order to be successful climbers and to achieve our goals we need to be strong, flexible, and mentally focused. We know that we need to eat right, sleep well, and wait for the right weather conditions. Everyone is unique when it comes to which of these things is most important to their process and there are many factors that play heavily into your success as a climber. For me, one of the top elements to climbing success is a solid “belaytionship.”
Be-lay-tion-ship: the relationship forged between a set of climbers.
Just as it is with romantic relationships, friendships, and families there are varying levels of functionality within belaytionships. I have been out at the crag more than a few times and heard a pair of people in the distance screaming commands back and forth, their simple request for “slack” or “up-rope” dripping with malice. I can’t help but sit there and wonder why they keep coming back. How can you enjoy the climbing when you detest the person you are climbing with? A solid belaytionship can be like a rock climbing love affair or even a healthy rock-marriage. Seek out a person that completes your climbing puzzle.
I once heard a pro climber saying that he was frustrated with a project, then Dave Graham showed up. With Dave on belay the pro climber felt the positive energy flowing through the rope – making all the difference – and sent the project. We can debate the spiritual and metaphysical ins and outs of athleticism but I think it’s safe to assume that you perform better when you feel better.
The best way to find a good partner is to be a good partner. It’s the golden rule. We all know it (or we should). Consider your partner’s needs equal to your own. (I know this sounds quite like a sexual relationship, so you’re welcome for the tip.) Take time at the beginning of the day to plan a session that visits both climber’s projects and works in a proper warm-up for everyone. If you know you are hyper focused on project days, leaning toward selfish, maybe make a deal like, today is about me and tomorrow is about you.
Be patient, and invest yourself in the success of the other. Understanding that you are more than a body holding a rope will help you feel like a true part of the process. That investment in their process can lead to a true feeling of success and pride for you when the project eventually goes down. Understand your partner’s preferences. Maybe (s)he wants a loose belay, hard takes, and soft catches, and that could make all the difference.
When things are going rough do they need a hug or stern words of motivation? Do they need some space to relax, cry, scream, or meditate? Don’t necessarily give them the treatment you enjoy. Ask them what they need and make adjustments. Was that fall comfortable? Am I giving you enough slack?” Check-in with them often about how it’s going until you have a solid rapport.
Here’s an example: I hate constant encouragement being yelled up to me as I am climbing something hard. I like the quiet in my mind, I like to hear the birds and the wind in the trees. Please don’t yell “c’mon! You’ve got this! Try hard! Breathe!” when I’m right in the middle of the crux section. Most of the time I’m already trying my hardest and running through my breathing exercises. The yelling just distracts me. What I like is a belayer who knows me and through observation says one important thing right when I need it and nothing at all if I don’t. If my breathing falters, then yes please remind me to breathe. If I look like my sequence is off, then yes remind me where my foot goes. I know people who love yells of encouragement and beta spray and for them I will dish it out. After all, it is their climb and I want it to be everything they wished it would be.
In my decades long climbing career I’ve been blessed to have a good number of special belaytionships. I am eternally grateful for every catch they have given and grateful to be a part of their process as well. When you really think about it what could be a better way to forge a close connection with someone than saving each other’s lives day-in and day-out.
(Header photo: the author and a young Lily Hallett psyched to climb rocks on a snowy winter day. We were climbing soulmates and were nearly inseparable partners for years.)