Finding Trust On Unsure Footing
Lately I've been coming up against a challenge related to the alpine that actually occurs before I ever have the chance to step foot on snow or ice. It does, however, have just as much baring on my safety and experience as any other choice I make during a climb. The challenge is a simple one that I have yet to find a simple answer to: finding a partner.
Over the years, my partners have come rather organically. I've had friends, friends of friends, or family pull through time and again. Now, though, having moved to a new place, I'm struggling to zero in on people I can climb with, and even more importantly, people I can trust when things go south. I had a rather challenging situation come about as a result of trusting someone I shouldn't have, and it cost me a large amount of my confidence in others. Why should people trust me either?
On paper, I don't stack up with the most experienced of them. I can perform vertical rescues, and I can haul out of a crevasse. I can decision make in challenging terrain and I can work through moments that feel dangerous. I haven't taken every last class available, though, and much of my experience has come through mentorship. I've put myself and this background out there before and been shamed as a danger to others. This has always surprised me, and it's shown me that there is a fair degree of toxicity and elitism in the sport of mountaineering. The overall result is that partners can be more sparse. When they do come around, I am wary of setting out on my objectives without introductory climbs, but then there's the question of time. I simply don't have the time to mountaineer enough with new partners to challenge them on low risk terrain enough times to feel comfortable going into high risk terrain with them.
Perhaps I'm totally out of line! Which is why I'm asking this here. How do you guys find partners that you trust? Where do you go, how much time do you put in, and at what point do you set off into climbs that will genuinely challenge you. Please leave pointed criticism at the door and choose to have a conversation with me. I find that many people take questions like these as a chance to tell me or others that we are a hazard or a problem. Until we can chat, let's keep this higher level!
@swbugas Over the years, I too have found that a full-on mind-melded friend–someone I'd never second guess in the worst of times–is far more valuable than any piece of gear, and, more importantly, more valuable than everything I think I know about whatever we've chosen to get ourselves into together. The farther you push yourself, the more you get into uncharted territory with yourself–how you'll react to a new experience or how quickly you'll be able to access the internal knowledge and skills you'll need under duress–no matter how good you think you are. Someone who's "got you" in those instances is a priceless gem, and being the same thing for them helps you grow, too. Never stop searching for these people, and keep 'em close when you find them!0
@swbugas Oh, man - what an excellent question. I've been thinking about a slightly different version of this a lot recently. The more I increase my skills, techniques, and fitness, the more I am able to access remote areas and get the wilderness experiences that I am after. But as I take on these bigger challenges, the fewer people there are who can safely go with me, which becomes kind of isolating. When I do find new people willing to go on more intense trips with me, I sometimes feel like more of a guide and less of a participant, which has its own rewards, but can also be less restorative than what I'm aiming for.
In the end, as possibly frustrating as it can seem, I've had the best luck with giving things time. Over the past few years, I've had the good fortune to go on trips with some of the people I've known the longest - friends from college, high school, and in the case of my brother, since I was three. With the people who are newer friends, we've gone on multiple day trips with limited exposure before trying overnights. Even then, I gradually increase the difficulty, and try not to jump too far outside of anybody's comfort zone so we can safely handle any situations that may arise.
I'll be interested to hear other people's thoughts, tips, and advice on how to find and cultivate more of them, but in the meantime, I'll give another nod to the friends, partners, homies, siblings and buddies who have our backs out on the trail.1
@swbugas - Just as @bugglife mentioned above, I too have found that as my years of experience and skill sets have grown so have my adventure goals and objectives which truly does whittle down the number of viable potential partners that are out there to work as a team to accomplish said goals. This is the crux for which there is no easy answer other than "time." Adventures that are committing and involve high risk to oneself and others demand a strong partnership where the partners share similar fitness and skill levels, compatible personalities, and comparable risk tolerances. My strongest adventure partnerships have gone through a similar process that led me to marrying my wife or entering into a successful business venture. A courtship began that grew overtime with an ever deeper commitment happening (with growth happening for each person). I don't believe this process can be rushed, because through it, the ever elusive "trust" is built. Trust takes time and effort. The little day outings serve to start the process and can be the first steps to forging an adventure partnership that is life changing--creating experiences in the wilds that are transformative way beyond what we can imagine.
Good luck on the new journey. The process is just as important as the end goal.2