I met Millie, my climbing partner, at Furburbia. We went into a tiny room to have a chat together away from all the other noisy campers. She climbed up my back and sat on my shoulders. It took about four seconds to realize we were now partners and would be going on many journeys together.
Our first climbing adventure together was in Joe’s Valley, bouldering. She was really tiny and had a tendency to jump on people and climb up to their shoulders. She did that to a few pretty girls, which showed me she loves me. That’s the giver in her. It eventually rained that day, and she sat on my shoulders growling as we hiked back to the truck. She wasn’t psyched, and it might not have been the best intro to climbing, but she kept with it.
“Millie has all the qualities a good climbing partner should have. She never complains, no matter how bad it gets. She takes big risks and doesn’t bitch when they don’t pan out.”
Since then, we’ve been to Moe’s Valley, Indian Creek, Ferguson Canyon, Eastern Reef in The Swell, Stansbury Island many times, to Moab towers, slot canyons, and other places I’m forgetting. The most memorable trip is definitely always the one most recently taken. In this case it was the route “1000’ of Fun” in The Swell, a five-pitch climb we summited along with Millie’s friend Kenneth.
(Left to right) Millie exploring Little Wild Horse Canyon near Goblin Valley. Kenneth looking for new routes in the Eastern Reef near the Southern Swell.
It’s a nice bonus that we enjoy the same kinds of climbing and prefer the same areas. I’m weak, and she doesn’t have opposable thumbs, so we tend to like similar routes: slabby tech routes that require more technique and balance than raw power. It makes planning trips pretty simple. She also gets along great with the rest of my friends in the climbing community. Everyone loves Millie—how could you not?
Millie has all the qualities a good climbing partner should have. She never complains, no matter how bad it gets. She always wants to go higher, and she pushes herself hard. But she also knows when to stop. When she’s done, she’s done. She’ll find a cave or climb a tree and won’t move until she’s rested. She takes big risks and doesn’t bitch when they don’t pan out. And she cuddles at night inside your sleeping bag and keeps you warm. She isn’t annoyingly mono-focused on climbing, either. She’s happy to explore slot canyons, caves, deserts, fields, etc.
Downclimbing a boulder problem in Moe’s Valley.
“We camp in my truck; she peed in there one night, but she caught a mouse in there one night, too.”
Based on my experiences with Millie, here’s what I think you should look for in a climbing partner:
You want an omni-positive attitude, someone that always sees the upside and the opportunities, seeks best next steps, is upbeat, and doesn’t get down and bitch and complain when shit doesn’t go their way.
Someone can have insane natural ability and the best training work ethic, be a fearless risk-taker, and go big … but if their attitude sucks, who wants to be stuck in a truck with them on a nine-hour road trip or trapped in a tent with them for four stormy days? Who wants to hear them cry about the route sucking or the weather being wrong? Nah. You want positivity, support, joy.
Slab climbing on Stansbury Island.
It’s important to know when to ask for help. It’s important to know when you can’t lead this pitch and need your partner to, or can’t go forward and must retreat. It’s important to have the wisdom to make these choices even though you might want to reach a summit … true wisdom knows when to go home and try another day.
Further exploration in Little Wild Horse.
Constantly reaching new heights takes hard work. You want a partner with the desire to push beyond preconceived limits in order to grow.
(Left to right) Bad weather on the approach to a Stansbury climb. Millie leading pitch 5 of 1000′ of Fun.
In climbing, shit goes wrong often. Weather turns, you get lost, it gets dark, things turn out to be harder than you thought, ropes get caught—the list is endless. You want a partner who bears these events with patience and a level head, and when things go wrong, has the willingness to just keep moving.
Winter attempt to summit Stansbury Mountain.
Someone’s generally either a giver or a taker. You want partner who’s willing to carry their own gear, share their last drops of water with you, carry you out if you’re injured, wait for you when you’re struggling with a crux or project. A taker is a bad long-term partner.
“Good partners support, encourage, and build.”
Millie celebrating a successful aid climb of Devil’s Golf Ball in Moab.
Over the course of our climbing together, our relationship as climbing partners has evolved. Millie’s become accustomed to the routine. She gets psyched when the bags come out on Thursday night and we get ready for the weekend. She’s become more chill around camp and doesn’t wander off as much; she stays near and chases bees and lizards. When dogs enter camp she’s not as skittish; she still seeks my shoulders as a safe place, but generally doesn’t get as scared. We camp in my truck; she peed in there one night, but she caught a mouse in there one night, too.
(Clockwise from top left) Millie free soloing in Ferguson Canyon. Going for a dyno in Moe’s Valley. Enjoying the summit of 1000′ of Fun.
Final words of advice: When it comes to picking a climbing partner, don’t settle for less than what you know is right for you. Seek those who are stronger than you—those who will help you become not only a better climber, but maybe a better person.