Route Finder: Treasure the bonds of friendship forged in the wild (column)
Time in the mountains with a friend or friends is so much more fun than going it alone. Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice solo jaunt into the hills to clear one’s head and focus deep within. Sometimes when I have a really scary day planned I’d rather go alone so my focus is more acute. But those summit moments seem to mean so much more when they are shared. The bonds of friendship created in the wild are some of the strongest I’ve known in my life. Cultivating strong mountain partnerships should be a high priority for those that want to get out and play and push themselves in the hills.
Most of us are here because of the mountains. Take a friend and build on that commonality. You both want the mountains in your life, share that. Success is all about progression. We don’t just decide to do a 14er and pick Capitol as our first, I haven’t even done Capitol; hoping to change that this spring. No we start with some of the easiest first and work our way up to the most difficult. Each adventure is a step upward in the skills department and in the level of trust you share with your partner. That’s what it really comes down to; trust is the essential element that defines the strength of the mountain relationship.
Friendships may start with some sort of commonality but that’s just the beginning. This is the lure of friendship, the opener if you will. As you spend time together you explore each other’s lives, sharing moments past, present and future. The mountains are the lens for this sharing. Distractions are fewer and the nature of the adventure lends itself to exploring through communication. There is nothing like a nice 5 mile approach through the woods to get to know someone. Sure there are other things to focus on, like not twisting an ankle or falling off the skin track at that steep switchback but all that time in between we just talk about our lives. It’s easy to confide in someone you’re going into harm’s way with.
Harm’s way is a scary concept for many. Why would one put oneself in a dangerous situation that they may not return from? Adventure in the mountains can kill you; so can driving a car or crossing the street. Going into danger with a trusted partner can be all the difference in whether or not you return. One time in the Sangre de Cristos we got into a situation that demanded an unplanned night in a snow cave. I know that if I didn’t have a partner that night I probably would have died. We kept each other warm till morning through a -20 degree night. Many lines require rope work and mountaineering skills that demand a partner. Avalanche safety protocols demand a partner. Every partner has a different level of experience and brings their unique perspective to the game. They may see hazards that you dismiss or miss all together. Only through repetition can the trust build between partners. Only then can you truly trust that your partner will do anything to save your life should the situation hit the fan; and vice versa. Practice with your partner is the forge of trust.
Share your skills with your partners. Teach them what they need to know and learn from them. Plan the adventure together and discuss it in detail. Try and get as much beta as you can so you both understand what you’re getting yourselves into and are prepared. Practice rescue scenarios and carry radios. When the snow isn’t great, practice avalanche beacon skills so you know what you are doing should you have to save your partner’s life. Knowing that your partner has your back and has the skills to back it up helps put your mind at ease when the going gets rough. If you’re taking it to the ropes, practice the ropes at the local crag or icefall before going into the bigger lines. Having good communication skills develops from practice. Better to find out what you need to work on in a place of low consequence than 4000’ of vertical up the mountain.
The mountains are the place to share adventures with your friends. The strength of those bonds develops out of working together and building trust. Take to the trail with someone close to you. If your camera doesn’t work because the battery died you still get to share the memory with the ones you’re with. If you went alone who would you share the moment with afterward?
Fritz Sperry is a skier, author, photographer and artist who has skied extensively in the Colorado backcountry. He’s the author of: “Making turns in the Tenmile-Mosquito Range,” and “Making turns in Colorado’s Front Range, Vol. 1,” both available from his company, Giterdun Publishing.
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