I snapped this photo yesterday. Shane and I had both just completed a 5.10d route that we had been chipping away at for the last hour before the sun hid itself behind the ridges across Big Cottonwood Canyon in Utah’s Wasatch mountain range. 5.10d is probably not too hard for most climbers but for me it’s a solid challenge. Luckily, my partner Shane is at a similar skill level.

We had already visited this crag the day before, and after noticing how much we both loved the rock quality and the overhangs, we decided to come back for day 2. After passing a few parties on the trail, we made our way up to one wall that was hidden, higher than we were the first day. There, we found this beautiful line on this bulging quartz monzonite rock. I knew it would be challenging for both of us, especially considering we were both a little tired from the previous day.

After giving the route the ol’ up-down, we tied in and got ready to give it a shot. I went first. For the first 4 or 5 tries, I held myself up barely off the ground and reached around frantically for something to grab hold of as my muscles began to fatigue. There were only a couple awkward or small holds, and they weren’t obvious. Shane pointed out this potential undercling, which would only work if I could step my feet up high enough to counter my outward pull. I hoisted myself up, held on, and with shaky forearms, clipped my rope into the first bolt just lowering down to take a break.

It was Shane’s turn. He picked up where I left off, mimicking my first moves to save his fatigue for the part yet uncovered. 3 or 4 tries in, he stuck it. I remember watching his hand clasp over one of the first truly positive holds on the route, giving him some leverage to pull himself over the first lip and clip into the second bolt. After struggling for a few more tries to reach the 3rd bolt, he was ready for a rest.

And so we went. Bolt by bolt, alternating progress, sharing dialogue, offering feedback, we pulled each other up the wall. I got the 3rd bolt and from there I was able to send it up the second, easier half of the route. Shane got it on his next try.

It got me thinking about teamwork, and how much more is possible when you have two (or more) people intently working at the same thing. Something special about the sport of rock climbing is that it forces you into a partnership. Unless you plan on soloing, for any objective the first step is finding a partner who wants to tackle it with you. Ideally you want someone at a similar skill level, someone competent enough at climbing systems to be safe, and if you’re really lucky, someone with whom you can relax, be yourself, and get along with well.

When in doubt, I tend to take things upon myself before asking for help. But when I think back to my past, I know that I’ve found great joy and growth in partnerships and teams.

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