The golden belay every time? Soft catch but not too light. Someone who has similar time commitments to you. A person who likes the same climbing styles. Never lets you down or loses enthusiasm in unfavourable weather conditions. Will seldom choose their romantic partner over your climbing plans. Isn’t trying to get into your pants! The perfect climbing partner – A mythical creature.
People spend energy looking for the perfect climbing partner, and I’m here to tell you you don’t need to. Much like finding friends, which is essentially all searching for a climbing partner is – with a few special requirements – you need to be a good friend to make friends. You need to be a good friend to make good climbing partners. You need to give a good belay and be attentive to other climbers’ needs and insecurities and you need to consider other people’s expectations.
Consider everyone’s expectations
You want to find reliable people to climb with, so be reliable. You want to know that they are safe belayers and that they’re on the same page as you. Most importantly, you need to know what their expectations of you as a climbing partner are. Are they experienced enough to mentor you if you’re just starting out? Or too experienced and performance- or efficiency-driven and might get frustrated with you if you’re not experienced enough or don’t move fast enough at the stances. Do the number of routes you each aim to climb in the day align? These are all things to consider – compatibility.
Let people know your experience levels and be honest about this. An experienced climber may be fine to take you under their wing if they know your level, but, if you’re dishonest you will most certainly be ostracised very quickly or heralded as a terrible belay. When meeting someone in the gym express your desire to go climbing outside (especially if you are new to cragging). Once people know you’re not only interested in pulling down on plastic, they’ll probably tell you to join them on their weekend plans.
Find people not a person
The days of having one climbing partner are almost gone by. Having a pool of people on the same page as you is, in many ways, far more powerful than a single dedicated climbing partner.
A group of people or a few different individuals that allow you to change plans, climb at different places or in different styles. When life gets in the way of people’s climbing plans, you need to have more than one person to rely on, swop between, and meet up with.
Where to find them?
And where to find these people? This group of people you will befriend, rely on and enjoy hanging out with?
Visit a local climbing gym or go to the crag
The simplest answer is at the crag or at a climbing gym. Go to the gym, find people you enjoy messing around on the boulder wall with. Pick up that tall dude on the auto-belay wall – ask him if he needs a belay on something different. Chat to those crushers that are always burning you off your projects. You might find they’d be psyched if you joined their next send fest. Many gyms have workshops and courses which can be great places to meet other climbers. Give these a try!
Occasionally people have been known to arrive at the crag without a belay, and while some circles frown on this, if you’re polite when you arrive this can be effective. This works well if there is a large climbing event or rally scheduled or in season at a specific area.
South Africa’s first port of call is of course ClimbZA. Post something on the climbing partners section of the forum. This is especially helpful if you’re new to a city or visiting a city or country briefly, or if you live far away from a gym. https://www.climbing.co.za/forum/viewforum.php?f=25
Be very specific when posting on a public forum like this. Give dates, sport, trad, or boulder, grades you can climb (lead or top rope), do you have wheels or need a ride? What area of the city are you travelling from? Can you comfortably belay leaders, do you have gear etc. There are Facebook groups that are useful if you’re travelling abroad. There’s a Rocklands Lift Club Facebook group – ideal for if you’re flying in to Cape Town and don’t have your own car or if you have open spaces in your car. Of course, keep your wits about you in terms of safety and consider meeting up at the climbing gym or in a group before meeting in an isolated space… this is 2020 (well tomorrow anyway).
Most importantly, when at a gym or engaging on a forum, ask to be added to any WhatsApp groups for climbing plans. Every city has different climbing specific groups. The major centres in JHB and CT have large (200+ people) in WhatsApp groups where plans are made.
These larger groups are a great way in, but you’ll likely find smaller break-off groups that’ll become your closer friends. Some of the groups are chatty and banter heavy while there are more serious climbing groups devoid of banter. These, while good in any respects, lack the community spirit and therefore are sometimes less successful if you don’t know the participants well.
In Gauteng, “The Real Lazy Asses” is great for people who love good banter and nonsense-talk in-between all the serious climbing plans. It’s also a place where people chat about their sends and what they’re psyched on. What always surprises me about this group, is that despite all the seemingly unrelated chatter, you will almost always find someone interested in climbing if you ask. Chat to climbers at the climbing gym and someone will add you to this group. The MUTE GROUPS function is your friend. This group is not for under 18s and can be a little crude, the welcome image is a good indicator of the tone.
There is an equivalent group for trad climbers called “Nuts and Cracks” that is great for finding punctual and experienced trad climbers with a mild (but manageable) amount of banter.
In Kwa-Zulu Natal you will find the Midlands climbers for those from Pietermaritzburg and surrounds who are always willing to meet up. There is a Durban Climbers group, who are just as likely to welcome you into their weekend or weekday party. These groups are invaluable given the smaller size of the climbing population. Many of the existing members of these groups have mentioned that they rely heavily on these groups to find people to climb with. Southern Rock Gym in New Germany, the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal climbing wall and High Altitude, a smaller climbing wall in Pietermaritzburg, are all great ways to find climbers.
Cape Town, is another beast altogether, and gaining access to groups here requires more of an ‘in’ from the cool kids. Find people climbing similar grades and with similar interests to you and people will make friends and include you. My experience here is that because of the diverse nature of climbing in CT (boulder, trad, and sport) and people’s tendencies to specialise, you may find it easier to belong to the group that is relevant to you. Once you know someone though, you will always find people to climb with because of the shear number of climbers resident in Cape Town.
In Cape Town the WhatsApp groups are best accessed by making friends first and getting to know a few people at the climbing gym, or on the ClimbZA forum. There is “Climbers”, a sport climbing focused group, “Team Trad” – for those who like it el naturel. There is a bouldering group whose name is “Strictly Bouldering…” which has very serious boulderers and is great for finding out what the connies (conditions) are like on any particular side of the mountain at short notice. Don’t dare mention anything other than bouldering and boulder plans or you’ll be booted off. Get crushing, get bouldering and you’ll be added in no time. It’s great to find lifts to Rocklands in season or mid-week boulder sessions at the Classroom and other popular spots near the city.
By no means is this an exhaustive list of WhatsApp groups. I believe Nelspruit has its own group and my guess is other outlying areas do too. The major centres have many more than mentioned here but these are some good starting points. The MCSA in the area you wish to climb might even be able to add you to a specific WhatsApp group.
That brings me to the MCSA (Mountain Club of South Africa). Traditionally this was almost the only way to meet people. It remains a reliable source of climbing partners and we recommend you get in touch with your local section. They have monthly slideshow meets and will likely whet your appetite for climbing. There is also still a small climbing wall at the MCSA Cape Town.
Boards in the gym
The good old post on the board at the gym works well, but usually to find people to climb with in the gym. Be proactive here and be the first person to call. Don’t expect people to find your photograph alluring and don’t under or overstate your experience levels. And be a grateful and considerate partner in return.
So, don’t be a doos, be lekker and you’re halfway there. You don’t need a single climbing partner, you need to get to know people. Explore all the avenues suggested and when you find people to climb with, be proactive, communicate well, express and acknowledge other people’s expectations, be punctual, don’t be flakey. Lastly, it always helps if you make the first move.