Climbing Partner – Who Can you Trust?

Kitty Calhoun belayed by climbing partner, Cheryl Wallace

Kitty Calhoun and climbing partner, Cheryl Wallace, on The Bone, Colorado. ©Jay Smith.

My climbing partner sniffed out the seldom-formed ice pillar like a hounddog on a scent. It was a 100-foot, WI 5+, slender column of loosely associated icicles, aptly called The Bone

 The trick to climbing sustained ice pillars is to avoid panic. Take the time to find balance, to climb efficiently. I could tell the hardest move would be at the top, pulling over the bulge while pumped.  

Jay, who believes in saving-strength-by-running-it-out-rather-than-placing-screws, racked up with all the screws he had. Then, he methodically worked his way up the pillar. Pulling over the crux bulge he disappeared from view but I heard a shout of joy. 

I followed the pitch, thinking “I would never lead this.”  

At the top Jay said, “You should lead this and I’ll take pictures!” 

Suddenly, my only thought was, “Who would be my partner?”  

I’d walked out of “never” and into “Ok” in an instant. Still, what if I panicked? What if I ran out of strength? What if I backed off the first screw? 

Who could I trust? 

I need a climbing partner who knows what to say and when to be quiet. 

Regular climbing partners synch like clockwork–no need for discussion. Efficiency in small things while approaching and preparing for a climb breeds confidence.

 I called my partner Cheryl who happens to be a Chicks alumna. Cheryl is always game, which is a great trait in a partner, but more importantly, I trust her.

As Cheryl flaked the rope out at the base of The Bone she said, “Kitty, what are you going to focus on?”  

I laughed. I’d asked her that question many times. 

I’d forgotten my own advice:

Focus on movement

  • to help you climb more precisely
  • & create a positive path for emotional stress.  

I said,  “OK. I’m gonna keep a relaxed grip and keep breathing.”

Within minutes I was in the zone with no sense of time or distance. My only sense was breathe, swing, kick, kick

I paused to place a screw at the crux. “Keep breathing,” Cheryl called.  

“Breathe, swing.” I took a deep inhale.

Suddenly, I was at the top. I almost couldn’t believe it. 

Belaying Cheryl up, I thought about all of our shared adventures together and about how grateful I was for her.

As we say farewell to 2019, I want to thank the Chicks community, my friends and climbing partners. Y’all are what I value most!

Here’s to strong and intense partnerships in the new year.

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