Corralling an absent-minded partner

We all have one: a climbing partner so lovable that we put up with with his intractable spaciness. Take my friend Dave, who’s always losing his keys and often has at least two or three Grigris (only one his own, of course) floating in his climbing pack. Sometimes, he even loses his dog… in my car, for instance, at the end of a long day at Rifle. However, more than being just an annoyance, absent-mindedness can present genuine safety hazards. No, you’re not responsible for your partner, per se, but you are aware of his habits and can help him along in a way that’s not too mutually frustrating.

Lay-about When you reach a staging area, let your friend set down his pack, and then place your things at least 10 feet away. Now keep your equipment discretely sorted, perhaps on a rope bag. This way, when your friend yard-sales his gear, you’re out of the impact zone. And as gently as you can, encourage him to unpack away from people already climbing — or give others fair warning: “Hey, my friend’s a total train wreck — watch your stuff!”

InventoryWhen you’re wrapping up a session, inventory your gear, including water bottles, shoes, belay device, quickdraws, kneepads, and even clothing. Unless you micromanage your things, your buddy might absent-mindedly pack up or space any of them. (Those trips up and down — and back and forth — looking for scattered gear waste precious climbing time.) Also, ask, “Did we get everything?” before you leave, prompting your partner to pause and sort through his stuff. You don’t need to pore through his pack with him (this would be overbearing), but it is a fair question.

Extra-ficationI keep a spare (full) water bottle, some energy bars, an extra harness, and a spare set of rock shoes in my car, for those days when I might forget something, but mainly for climbing with Dave. (You can also have your partner give you his old harness or a pair of his shoes, to safeguard in your kit.) Also, insist that your friend keep a hide-a-key on his car, especially if he’s the designated driver. With the spaciest partners, you can even make a spare copy of his car key for yourself. For longer road trips, buy a different color and size of wallet — Dave walked away once with my billfold, mistaking it for his.

Lawn BoysDave likes to bring a camp chair to belay from, OK(ish) on the warm-ups but bad juju on a hard route, where if you say “Take!” such laxity might spell 10 feet of penalty slack. Better to say, “No lazy-chair belays today, please — let’s not even be tempted, and leave it in the car,” before you start climbing.

Check Your SelvesYou should insist on certain “novice-level” safety precautions. Knot the stray end of the rope (a good practice anyway) and rigorously check your buddy’s tie-ins and harness (“Your knot good?” “Harness doubled back?”), as well as his anchor set-ups. I like to toprope my partner’s leads for training, so I’ll verbally confirm that he’s gone into both bolts, preferably with an equalized set-up, before I leave the ground. Regardless, when you near the top of the climb, clip the belayer’s side of the rope to the last quickdraw. And maintain solid verbal communication when climbing — instead of a perfunctory “Watch me!”, which might not register, say something like, “Hey, man, I’m hitting the crux here — watch me real close, OK?”

Although he’s one of the West’s sharpest tax accountants, Lee Sheftel has been known to space out a time or two himself.