It’s one o’clock in the morning and we’ve been awake for over 24 hours, although it feels like we’ve been hiking back from our multi-day adventure for much longer. Finally, the slight green glimmer of the trailhead sign comes into view. My partner, Felipe, is more or less falling asleep as he walks. As we get to our car, he looks at me and says, “thanks.” I feel like I got hit with a ton of bricks, but his words lift a weight. We both know we couldn’t have gotten through our day without the other.
Felipe and I met a little over a year ago while working at the local climbing gym. We quickly bonded over a mutual love for the desert and crack climbing. It wasn’t long before we were training every morning at the gym, and our casual friendship turned into a partnership. The word partnership can have a bit of a cheesy connotation these days, but the mutual respect, support and encouragement that we developed can’t be described another way.
In the climbing world, we often see examples of partnerships that go beyond anything we could imagine. Spending months together on the wall, sharing a tiny portaledge. Or belaying each other on an impossibly hard pitch for years and years until the perfect “send” moment finally comes to fruition. These examples showcase the power of the person (or people) standing next to us to be the missing piece that makes our deepest dreams come true. But it doesn’t take a world-class achievement to prove that the power of partnership is one of the greatest fuels for our success. Chances are, there’s someone in your life that has already helped you achieve something you didn’t think was possible.
Our day started out as many other summer climbing days do. We woke up at an unbelievable hour of the morning (or was it still night?), stumbled around in the dark to find something to fill our stomachs with, popped our headlamps on, and headed up the trail. The goal for the day was to climb Lone Eagle Peak, a seldom traveled-to summit 9 miles deep in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado. It was a moderate goal for us, with climbing grades that were well within our abilities. But of course, summer in the alpine always gives surprises.
Our first surprise came about three pitches up. “Ok, so, we follow a crack that trends to the left,” I said to Felipe at the top of our belay. “That one?” He pointed to an unlikely-looking, lichen-covered slab with a crack running through it. It wasn’t exactly what I’d anticipated, but then again, this wasn’t a popular climb. We discussed the options and ultimately decided that it had to be the way to go. Felipe started up, and the climb proved to be a much bigger challenge than expected. “Are you sure this is 5.7?” he gasped. At the top, he found a belay spot and I headed up to meet him at the top. “That was definitely not 5.7,” I said. Staring up at the nearly blank face in front of us, we quickly realized we were off route.
The second surprise came with the sound of thunder rumbling on the other side of the mountain range. It was still early morning, but the typical summertime afternoon storm appeared to be rolling in earlier than usual. It wasn’t long before we were surrounded. Dark clouds pelted thick beads of rain at our faces and turned the rock around us into a slip-and-slide.
The following 12 hours turned into a blur. The ending was, quite luckily, a happy one. Many scary pitches and rappels later, we were back on solid ground, albeit with a long hike back to go. Felipe and I had both been in stressful climbing situations before, but this had pushed our limits, both mentally and physically. Physically, it was some of the hardest climbing either of us had done, with minimal protection to fall back on. Mentally, the fear of the worst possibilities made focusing difficult. With lightning striking nearby, making the right decisions were crucial. As I was the one with more experience in lightning protocol, Felipe trusted me to make the calls on where to stop and when to keep moving. And with shaking legs and a pounding heart, hearing the calm in Felipe’s voice as he said, “breathe, you can do this,” was what got me through the final pitches of climbing at a level I’d never done before.
Adventure activities have a way of creating bonds between people. It’s hard to climb when you don’t trust the person on the other end of the rope who’s holding your life in their hands. Beyond the basic trust needed to engage in activities with inherent danger in them, true partnership creates a space where you can push yourself beyond your assumed limits. It creates a space where vulnerability isn’t just allowed, it’s welcomed and supported. Partnership gives you someone who believes in your highest potential and also knows your limits. Blind faith in someone’s ability can have disastrous results, and good partners know the strengths and weaknesses of their team. While the proper training and diet builds our muscles and trains our bodies, our partners fuel us when our mental fortitude might otherwise fail us.