On Belay: Climbing Partner Pro-Tips

By: Heidi Wirtz, Professional Climber & Dale Remsberg, Professional Climber & Technical Director of the AMGA

First Descents is all about adventure and community. That’s why we sat down with Dale Remsberg and Heidi Wirtz, a dynamic duo in the professional climbing world, to hear some climbing pro-tips and learn about what makes a great climbing partner.

We couldn’t be more stoked to kick off the 2019 Programs Season with our weeklong Ice Climbing adventures in Ouray, Colorado. Here’s to a new year of Out Living It!

What makes the climbing community unique compared to other outdoor sport communities?

HW: I feel like we are more of a family than other communities. It is amazing to me when I am way out in some other country up on a wall and I run into someone that I know..I am reminded of this once again. Even the climbers that I don’t know I typically feel a strong bond with right away. Our community feels pretty cohesive…it is incredible to be a part of such a compassionate and supportive group of individuals. Perhaps it is because we are typically tied in with a partner. We are reliant on this person for our safety. We all know this and feel a strong connection with these partnerships the ones we see out there. It’s a feeling that we have support and someone has our back.

FD: What’s one piece of advice you have for someone who is trying to break into the climbing community, or make more connections with fellow rock-climbers?

HW: When I first got into climbing I have to say that I was pretty darn outgoing. I would walk up to the base of crags and search out climbers and introduce myself. I wouldn’t necessarily ask to climb with them…but often they would offer. I would say that just getting out and meeting people at the crag and gym is the best way to get into it. Be friendly, talk to people, say hi. I feel like we lose this sometimes in our high speed technological world. Also, climbing festivals are a good way to meet and get into the climbing world. Like the one that we are putting together in Boulder, CO. It is called Together Climbing Festival and it is perhaps the first festival that is aiming to bridge the gender gap. It is a coed festival with an emphasis on female leadership and bringing the climbing community together. Thus it’s called Together Climbing Fest.

FD: What is one experience when your climbing community came together in a really impactful way?

HW: It always amazes and inspires me how awesome our climbing community is! I would say that the most recent and meaningful expression that I have seen was when my friend Quinn fell over 100’ on El Capitan and broke her back in the impact. She had to undergo a multitude of procedures and is now a paraplegic and needs a lot of support. The community rallied behind her and helped to raise quite a lot of money to help her in her transition. Climbers from across the country, that don’t even know her have donated and shown support. I have seen this countless times in our community. We stick together and it’s like one giant family that is continuing to grow.

FD: Tell me a little bit about what makes a great climbing partner. What does it take to form a solid partnership, and why is that important to you?

HW: For me, an ideal climbing partner exhibits these characteristics:

  • Knows proper skills to be in the given terrain that you are in. Is competent and skilled at anchors, rope management, efficiency and also knows their own limits.
  • Can laugh when things get bad
  • Doesn’t freak out when things get bad
  • Knows how to get out and into trouble
  • Has good mountain sense
  • Even keeled
  • Has an opposite schedule than you/can pick up when you are tired and vise versa
  • Is ready for adventure and is flexible, strong, psyched, happy.

A strong partnership comes with time I believe. It takes time to build up trust and it takes consistency to keep this. It’s not necessarily how strong of a climber someone is. It’s more about the bond created. How the two people get along in tough situations. Knowing that someone has your back if things get bad or something goes wrong.

Having a solid partner is incredibly important to me as the mountains are a serious place. Though climbing is super fun and I promote people getting into it, it is super important that people are aware of the dangers in climbing and get the proper training and experience to take on the goals that they choose. When I first was learning to climb I took a fall early on and rattled and scraped myself up pretty good. I then was taken under the wing of a local that helped to mentor me to be a safe and competent climber.

FD: Can you tell us about what creates strong synergy with a climbing partner?

DR: Energy in a climbing partner is elusive and hard to find. It can’t be forced and just happens. An ebb and flow. Two days ago Heidi and I climbed the Grand Capucin [Pictured Above, Right] and the energy was just there. When I was tired and slow she just picked it up inherently and then later I picked it up near the top. It is created by trust and is inspiring.

FD: As the director of the AMGA, what do you think makes a great climbing guide or mentor?

DR: What creates a great guide is many fold. Technical expertise and excellent movement skills are required and non negotiable! With those in place then a guide can focus on the main objective which is putting your client’s comfort and objective above anything personal. A mentor comes from being able to distill what someone needs and only giving them pertinent beta on what’s next. Empathy, understanding and perspective of where you came from as a climber is what makes a good mentor.

FD: How has climbing with Heidi affected your relationship, and the way that you communicate with each other and trust one another? 

DR: Climbing can be incredibly stressful and it’s very easy to snap at your “partner” while climbing. Heidi and I have not had too many stressful times but the other day on the Grand Capucin we did. It was a very big objective with a stressful descent down an unknown face. Heidi yielded to my experience descending at first and humbly stated why don’t you take the lead as you are good at it. About half way down I got us a little off route and Heidi was able to step in an lead the rest of the way. I just looked at her with admiration and respect and that created even a deeper love that goes beyond relationship.

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