Mid January 2014 — The two blue bunkbeds with yellow linens and comforters provided excellent berths from which Anne, Rainbow and I watched as Jason Bourne tore his small SUV through the streets and markets of Goa, India. Marie had yet to be shot and they were chasing/fighting off their assailants. Our intrigue and rapt attention is broken by a knock on the door. “Come in Claudia” Anne yells, and quickly repeats herself in Spanish “entrar, Claudia” The door opens and a young Chilean girl in pink pants pokes her head in. “Jared, tienes un vistante.” Jared you have a visitor. “Huh. Shall we all go down and visit Jared’s friend?” Anne asks. We pile out of the room and troop down the stairs to find the solarium filled with new incoming guests. Claudia walks out to the exit way and points toward the door. “Esta aya“.
“Hi, I am Jared,” I say reaching out to shake the hand of the one individual who is obviously there to see me.
“I’m Phil” he says and we shake.
I knew it was the beginning of an even bigger adventure when Jim’s email came back so quickly. “Can we Skype or video chat?” he asked. In the relationship that we have, it wouldn’t have been necessary/reasonable. We were heading south to do some climbing. Why did we need to talk or video chat? It was early and the Hari Hari Motor Lodge’s lobby was deserted, though somewhere off in the kitchen a short order cook was singing a Sister Hazel song.
I was just back from ten days out in New Zealand’s Southern Alps with my girlfriend and a double backpacker’s room at the motor lodge was a treat to ourselves. I found myself unable to sleep in the early AM so I wandered over to the lobby to take advantage of the wifi to check my email. We had been out over Christmas so I found quite a few pleasant emails from friends and family. Jim’s was typical Jim, but it seemed that he was anxious to speak before he got on the plane. Of course there was a big time and date difference, which always served to confuse me.
For the past several weeks, since I had gotten out of the field Jim and I had been trading emails as we organized and planned our trip to El Chalten. I knew that he had been trying to rehabilitate his shoulder, which had a nagging injury. We had discussed this and another long term injury of his a bit back in August before I flew to New Zealand and he had kept me updated on his progress as we email tagged between our respective stints of work.
So, it was not entirely a big surprise when he told me he was not going to go to Patagonia. Similarly it was no surprise when I found myself in Chalten afraid of making small talk with strangers and then committing to throwing ourselves at some alpine objective together. Jim had given me a few leads on folks whom he knew would be making the journey south and I had tentatively exchanged emails with a couple of them. And now, much as the scene had played out many times in the past, I fidget, try to make small talk while attempting to size up the competence and experience of those in front of me. It is kind of like a first date and I know that the person opposite me is doing the same. Will I be asked on a second date? Do I want to be asked on a second date? A lot of the uneasiness is rooted in my own self-perception. I often feel that the range’s suitors are better, more experienced, and tougher climbers than I am. Will I perform up to expectations? What if my risk tolerance is lower? What if I hold this person back? I don’t want to be the reason an individual fails. Phil’s gregarious, community building nature however seems to allow him to be at home in the role. He is honest and straightforward, but I feel curved, crooked, intricate and nuanced. Maybe I could have just printed my resume and handed out copies
I think back to some days I have spent at Indian Creek. These were partnerless days spent waiting for someone to respond to a note left on the board or for someone I know to drive by. I spent them sitting around because I did not have the self-confidence or courage to approach random people. Somedays I would get lucky. Somedays I would not. Now here, in the crucible, nothing had really changed that much, merely the consequences and venue. I can hold my own at the Creek; it is merely cragging and the consequences of a poor or ill fitting partner are not as dire. Summit fever is not a problem there. I find the search just as challenging though.
I have always found climbing with strangers to be weird for me. Even if I have never climbed with someone before, a preexisting relationship makes tying in for the first time all that much easier and the longer or more intense that preexisting relationship, the easier it is to go climbing.
I am just finishing up a stint in Joshua Tree where I spent a week climbing with a new partner. Genevieve and I had never tied in together before but it was natural to climb. Yep, we have differing levels of comfort with risk, exposure and types of climbing. I did my thing and she did hers. For me, there was little question regarding each other’s habits; our pre-existing relationship let us trust each other. I knew of her competence and her of mine. It was easy. I would have a hard time putting that level of trust in someone I had just met, though it is substantially easier in an area such as Joshua Tree. In Patagonia, in the alpine, there is no time to build trust. To me, getting on a big route in the mountains without so much as even having sport climbed together would be a huge step, which I re-affirmed, I was not ready to make. Besides, I find it much more fun to climb with someone whom I know I like. In J-Tree Genevieve fit that role well and we had a relationship built outside of climbing.
That is a big difference for me. Having a shared vision, a known history and work ethic allows me to focus on climbing instead of wondering whether the individual on the other end of the rope has my best interests in mind. It is easy to bail at the crag, but the mountains of Chalten are no crag.
In the end, my 2013 season in Patagonia taught me a few lessons, one of which was I am no good at finding partners. Another significant lesson was the value of a party of three. A few days after meeting Phil, Rainbow and Anne invited me to join them on an ascent of the Amy Couloir. I had climbed the Guillaumet the year prior, but was in no position to turn down the offer. We were’t the only team on that route that day, but even as a threesome we moved efficiently and skillfully to the summit then back down. I led my blocks and held my own, and got invited onto the team. Three wasn’t that bad, in fact, on the ascent, it was almost just as quick. It was more people to do the work and more brains to solve problems. No longer did I have to fret awkwardly, try to not be a control freak or worry about my abilities. Weeks later, while pulling our gear cache from Piedra Negra we would encounter the range’s ambassador, Rolando Garobottii. During the ensuing 2 hour chat in the lee side of a rain and wind laced boulder he would touch on his desire to make three person teams the status quo in the range. After a few seasons climbing with Matt and then several attempts with Anne and Rainbow, along with knowledge of rescues, injuries, and fatalities, I would whole heartedly help advance his quest.
After Anne and Rainbow left I moved into the house that Phil was renting. Despite the mountains that shadow El Chalten, our relationship was built around the valle virgen and euchre. If, someday in the future we tie in together, I know that it will be, at least on my part, without hesitation.