By Trish McGuire
When I first began climbing, I would climb with anyone I could find – people I met at the gym, a coffee shop, even online. I didn’t care who it was, as long as someone was there to belay me. I was simply looking for someone to make climbing possible, not a partner; someone to help me get through that day’s climb, not someone to help me become a better climber overall.
I wasn’t a team player. I was in it for me and me alone.
The positive thing about climbing with whomever – whenever – is the knowledge I gained from observing and listening to each and every one of them, plus the friendships I made along the way.
As I continued climbing, however, I realized I was doing myself a disservice. I became aware that there is more to climbing than one’s own ability to get up a rock face. It’s finding someone you enjoy being with, someone you trust and someone that makes you a better climber – a partner.
I started climbing and training with McKenzie Long about a year ago. As we continued to climb together, I realized how fortunate I was to find someone with similar goals and aspirations. We climb about the same grade, which makes climbing together fun. Like anything, we both have our strengths and weaknesses, but on the rock we compliment each other and climb well together. Over the year, we have become more intuitive and can read each other’s energy. This allows us to tell when the other needs a simple reminder to breath, not over grip, relax, or maybe just smile and have fun.
This past fall we spent 3 weeks climbing together. We were having a great road trip, but as the end drew near we felt the need to push our abilities and step out of our comfort zone. We decided on a climb for the following day, although I was skeptical, I agreed to go. McKenzie was confident in our ability, and I trusted her.
That evening, we laid out our plan of who would climb each pitch. Climbing, however, isn’t always straightforward, and we got off route. We worked together to figure out where we were and did our best to get back on track. As I worked my way through the crux, I was nervous and tense. I had come to a section of steep rock climbing. I placed multiple pieces of gear due to the uncertainty of what lay ahead and the anticipation that I might fall. While in the difficult section, I struggled to keep positive thoughts running through my head, but negative questions took over, such as: I don’t have a lot of experience placing my gear, what if it doesn’t hold? This seems hard, but what if this isn’t the crux, would I be able to complete the pitch? There were a group of guys below us, was I holding them up?
In the midst of all these thoughts and struggles, I heard McKenzie’s calm voice below me. She knew exactly what was going through my head and knew what I needed to hear at that moment. Her simple reminders that I’m strong, not to over grip and stay focused on my feet helped me to relax and keep moving. These cues along with a confident encouraging voice from below was just what I needed to continue. This is a time when I was thankful to be climbing with someone that I knew, not just a random person that would hold the other end of the rope.
Before we knew it, we were on the summit celebrating our success. I had gone into the climb hesitant and with the intent of McKenzie leading the crux. She is a stronger and more confident trad climber, but due to our lack of route finding, I ended up with the pitch. In the end, it didn’t matter who climbed the crux; what we remember is that we worked together as a team effectively and efficiently. Throughout the day, we had quick changeovers between pitches, we gave great belays that were positive and encouraging, and we moved quickly up the route not holding up the party behind us.
I set out on this trip with McKenzie to fulfill my own personal desire to rock climb, but we returned as two individuals who reached success as a team. We had climbed and accomplished routes that we could not have done with out each other. Climbing with McKenzie is vastly different than climbing with someone I rounded up from the coffee shop or the gym whom I didn’t know anything more about than their name and that they climb. When we climb together, we work together; we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses; when to push the other and when to back off.
I realize now more than ever before, when two people work together as a team unselfishly, both are going to make much larger gains, regardless of who’s climbing the crux, who gets the On-site or achieves the first Red Point. For me, when I’m climbing and working together with someone as a team, it truly doesn’t matter who climbs the crux or goes for the first On-site. Whoever feels the energy and the motivation for the climb goes for it; the other one is psyched to hold the rope and give them the best belay possible.
“There is no such thing as a self-made man. You will reach your goals only with the help of others.” -Unknown