Being a Climbing Partner

I’m incredibly fortunate. I met my other half doing what I love – on a university climbing trip in the Peak District. Okay, we actually met in a pub… and he stole my chips. But that weekend I was climbing, camping, enjoying beautiful (cold) weather, and mocking him for being hungover. Mutual passion for the outdoors brought us together, I supported him from my living room while he competed for GB throughout the world, our first few dates were to the South Coast or a climbing gym, and he supported me from home during my attempt on Kilimanjaro. We quickly learnt to trust each other and I found someone new to climb with regularly. Plus, you know, all the gooey romance stuff.

Being a climbing partner means you are a reliable, vital part of someone else’s climbing journey. You take each other’s lives in your hands, become a part of their training, their triumphs, and their failures. You learn how they move and when they need you to shout support or silently keep the rope tight. My first climbing partner was my best friend and we climbed together for 8 years. Our sessions were filled with light-hearted insults, and we knew each other so well on and off the wall that we climbed together naturally. When she stopped climbing I struggled to find someone else who seemed to fit. A couple of years later when I met Simon, it was apparent that knowing someone away from the crag was still just as important, and our ability to understand each other in both worlds helped make us stronger as a climbing team.

But there is a frustration within this. This September, he’s off to Yosemite for three weeks in the hope of climbing The Nose. Therefore he’s doing a hell of a lot of training with his best mate who he’s going with. What this means for me is this – I’ve lost my climbing partner. And some weekends, my romantic partner, as he’s holed up in a tent while I’m at home twiddling thumbs. So this summer, I’m not really climbing.

Dating someone who climbs means sometimes taking a step back from your own climbing goals in order to see them flourish. I love my boyfriend more than anything, and I have no doubt that I am a better climber technically than I’ve ever been before because of his teaching and encouragement. I may have climbed harder grades in the past, but I now climb more efficiently and before too long this will build my confidence and return me to my peak (sorry!). But for this year, my climbing dreams are on hold while I support him through his.

Sweaty & smiling after our first multi-pitch together in Mallorca
Sweaty & smiling after our first multi-pitch together in Mallorca

This sort of scenario is the same for any couple at any stage of life. At times you have to compromise for each other, and the great thing is that if you love each other, it doesn’t even feel like compromise. Stopping my own climbing for a while may be frustrating, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. It’s giving him the chance to do something amazing, and by supporting him through it our relationship is strengthening. It doesn’t feel like a sacrifice because I’m watching him train towards something that he’s passionate about, and something that will make him happy. He’s never more attractive than when he’s got his mind set on a goal and is working towards it, and I’d never dream of getting in his way.

It’s also given me a different focus – swimming. Swimming is increasing my overall fitness and working on my main weakness; my legs and hips. Last weekend I convinced him to take a rest day and only belay me for an indoor session, something we’d never actually done before. For the two hours that I climbed solidly (bliss!), I realised the swimming meant that my legs were now working in ways they’d never done before. What had been a weakness was now a strength, and the technique he’d drilled into me coupled with my instinctive way of climbing (haul ass!) were working together. I’ve no doubt that when his trip is over and we start climbing together again, I’ll improve rapidly. A few months off are benefiting me in a different way than I’d imagined.

Being a climbing partner is better than just being the partner of someone who climbs. It means you get to share your passions. Go to beautiful places, do incredible things, and make awesome joint memories. You share each other’s goals and ambitions, and help to make them happen. You understand the quirks, trials, injuries, and irritations of the sport. You know what each other’s bad days need to make them better. You trust each other intensely, knowing that your hands are what’s going to keep them safe. Most of all, you love each other a bit harder because you are a part of something incredibly important to both of you. That passion of yours isn’t separate to your life as a couple – it is an integral element that brings you closer, and enables you to be more of a team than ever before.

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