Tita Ruby's Tips for the Aspiring Mountaineer
Tip Set 2: "I *heart* my climbing buddy!"
by Ruby Bayan, 1999
You hear about a call for another climb. You attend the pre-climb meeting. You and a friend sit beside each other as the Expedition Leader (EL) gives a briefing on the climb itinerary, the terrain, the leeches, and the expected weather conditions.
The EL calls the roll to list the members of each team. You and your friend turn to one another, lock on each other's eyes, and simultaneously nod. You have silently agreed to be climbing buddies for this adventure. Your special relationship has begun.
As part of one climbing team of many in this particular trek, you and your buddy are essential members of a group of climbers who will embark on an expedition all together - cramming into a bus, breaking camp at 4 am, taking group pictures at the peak. As members of a team, you have roles to perform, tasks to attend to, and responsibilities to share -- to ensure the safety and comfort of your designated team (like pitching the tents, cooking dinner, and singing everyone to sleep). But as climbing buddies, you and your partner maintain a special bond that could determine your personal success, maybe even your survival, on this trip.
"Why do I need a buddy? I am climbing with friends. They will all take care of me."
Ideally, yes. Your EL may be one of the most experienced mountaineers around - he eats, sleeps and drinks mountains. Your teammates may be veteran climbers who go into withdrawals when they can't climb at least once a month. And all of them may be your dearest, closest friends whom you owe money to. Yes, you can say they will always take care of you.
But the mountains are nurtured by fickle winds, capricious temperatures, and whimsical rain clouds. The forces of Mother Nature can break your climbing group apart; the dense forest can disorient your team leader, and send your team to the headhunters rather than the peak; the treacherous terrain can injure a climber enough that the sweepers reach the campsite when the rest are just about ready to descend. In this case, your wide circle of friends may not be there for you.
Your climbing buddy is someone who is GLUED to your side. You and your buddy are never separated by the mountain or the climate. Whether you're both in the Lead Pack or with the Sweeper Team, out to check the trail or fetch water, you are always, ALWAYS together (yup, you're sleeping in the same tent, too!). You are always there to take care of each other, no matter what.
"So, are we like "married" to each other throughout the trip?"
Whether you like it or not, yes. Before the pre-climb meeting is over, as partners you automatically agree on what you will share. It is always a good idea to decide who will take care of what, and who will bring which gear, while ensuring that each one is basically self-sufficient (just in case only one of you can be rescued - kidding!). One can carry the tent and flysheet, while the other carries the poles. Or one can load the whole tent, while the other, the stove and utensils. But you will both have to keep your own first aid kit, trail food, and change of clothes.
Common sense dictates that you cannot have your buddy carry such vital items as your jacket and flashlight. I know of a teammate who made her friend pack some of her clothes, so when they got separated by a sudden downpour (they weren't even climbing buddies), she had to endure the cold until her dry clothes arrived. A note here, you may be "married" to your climbing buddy, but your pack has to have everything you will personally need at any time on the trip.
"HE should take care of ME, I'm a girl."
No such thing as a "girl" on a climb. If you are being given special attention just because you are female, consider it a gift, not a privilege. As buddies you are equal on all counts. Remember that, guys. You don't owe it to us. In climbing, "weaker sex" has nothing to do with being male or female. We girls climb because we can climb, we can carry our packs, we can stand the heat and cold, we can pitch tents and cook dinner. And we can snore as loud as any guy on the team. So, buddies are buddies. Whether buddies are muscular or demure, the expectations are the same.
Let's look at it from his end (I will be using "he" to refer to both male and female, ok?). What would he expect from you as his climbing buddy? Simply put, your climbing partner expects you to:
BE THERE FOR HIM.
"So it's just him and me, is that it?"
You actually grow a third eye, a third ear, and an infrared sensor, solely for him. On the trek, he should never be more than three meters away from you. You hear his every sound, you see his every move. You're there when he trips (and quick to help him back to his feet). You're there when he needs to fix his pack (and quick to lend a hand). You're there when he needs to hide in the bushes (not necessarily next to him... close by is good).
Remember, he expects you to be there, especially when he has to deal with a compromising situation (like being face-to-face with a wild boar! or slipping down the cliff!). Your presence may be the only reason he will survive this adventure. Here's where I inject: Be sure you've brushed up on your CPR skills!
ANTICIPATE HIS NEEDS.
It's like caring for a loved one. His breathing, his pace, and his facial expression will tell you he will need to Take-Five soon (but doesn't want to admit it because it might ruin his image). Ask the Team Leader for a short break (tell the TL that YOU are about to have a cardiac arrest).
How long has it been since he last ate? Offer some trail food (with water, please). Is he overheating? Suggest a cooling solution like a wet scarf or a cold shower (well, maybe a splash at the water source). Are you coming into the forest line? Remind him to use the insect and leech repellent. Show that you care. Your buddy will gladly return the favor.
UNDERSTAND HIS WEAKNESSES.
Admittedly, many of us are just wacky enough to believe we can climb mountains. Most of us discover we can, indeed - but not without much suffering! What are your buddy's weaknesses?
Is he afraid of heights? (Now don't laugh. I actually know someone who climbs mainly because he needed to conquer his fear of heights!) Is he afraid of the dark? (You're still laughing?) Does he shiver from an encounter with bugs and leeches? (I've climbed with someone who wanted to be put inside a backpack when we approached the leech-ful area of the forest!) Does he consider grabbing onto sticky branches, muddy roots, and moldy rocks as "icky"? Does he believe in ghosts?
We all have our personal idiosyncrasies. It will help you both as buddies to understand these well ahead of time - so that you will not be caught off-guard with a potentially fatal, embarrassing, or hilarious situation.
KEEP HIS SPIRITS HIGH.
About three-fourths of the way up, when your body starts to ache from the burden, and that majestic peak is still a long day's trek away, that's when you experience "the pain".
You find yourself thinking, "I knew I shouldn't have joined this climb." You even get to the point where you know you just have to stop and go home. You desperately wish to be "beamed down" into your favorite couch, in front of the TV, beside a tall glass of cold beer. You begin to feel crabby. You say to yourself, "Don't anyone try to convince me this is fun, cuz it's not!"
Now check out your buddy. His eyes will tell you he feels just as miserable. This is where you, as his best friend and buddy, are most valuable. You call out to him and ask if he's OK, even when you already know he's not. When he finds the strength to look at your face, SMILE. Yes, I personally will vouch for the encouraging and healing powers of a smile.
Engage him in some light banter to distract him from feeling weary. Compliment him on his gear. Ask him about his other hobbies. Reminisce on previous climbs, old adventures, and funny experiences. Remind him about how he once saved the day. Make him feel good about himself. You'll notice that in the process, you'll be helping yourself feel better, too.
KEEP HIS BODY WARM.
Are you snickering again? You may think climbing in a tropical setting spares you from paralyzing cold. Unfortunately, the best tropical peaks chill down close to zero degrees by nightfall. Mt. Pulog in Northern Luzon is the second highest peak in the Philippines and boasts temperature drops to near freezing during the cold months of December and January. Then there's continuous rain and stormy weather, which can leave you soaked and cold for extended periods. All these spell bad news. You and your buddy will have to understand that hypothermia is a real and serious threat. Your warm bodies against one another may save your lives.
MOST IMPORTANT: TRUST HIM.
Nothing is more unnerving and terribly demoralizing during a trek than to have you and your partner squabble over a particular course of action. It's fine to disagree, but the sooner an argument is resolved, the better -- especially when safety is at stake.
As partners, you both know and understand each other's strengths and capabilities -- and you respect your differences. So when your buddy says that going out to explore a dense forest in the middle of the night is not his idea of adventure, you may want to consider his concerns.
Just as you want your buddy to trust you to look after his safety and well-being, so should you trust him. As buddies you have only each other to rely on when a critical situation sets in. If it is clear to both of you that you trust each other with your lives, you will subconsciously try to steer yourselves away from any life or death dilemma.
Not quite. It's him and you... and you as partners and the rest of the team. This partnership thing rubs off on everybody, you know. When people make sincere efforts to care for and watch over a friend, the rest of the team feels the mutual sense of responsibility. Each one will then want to have someone to feel responsible for. I guess we can call it the "Knight In Shining Armor" tendency.
I have climbed with a good number of trekkers and I still have to meet someone who "doesn't care". I don't know if I'm just lucky with mountaineer friends but I'm sure glad I climbed with the Meralco Mountaineers (shameless plug!).
These guys (and girls) know the value of camaraderie, friendship, and fellowship in a risky adventure like mountain climbing. And some of them, I am proud to say, go beyond caring for their individual buddies - they are there for ALL the members of the team. It's a tall order, yes, but true-to-heart mountaineers that they are, they look after as many members of the team as they can. And as able buddies to one another, they work together to fill the gaps when someone's personal buddy falls short of expectations.
In other words, while you are strongly responsible for your own climbing buddy, it will not hurt to watch over others, too. It will definitely benefit the whole group if you all trust, respect, and protect each other as much as humanly possible.
With that, I say: Good climbing to you and your buddy! May your next climb take you to heights you've never reached!
My personal compliments to:
Jun M: for patiently walking with me during the last leg of my first climb, when my brain had lost all contact with my feet.
Ar-ar R: for your unfading smile that kept me going during my Induction Climb.
Mon A: for your visions of the best "halo-halo" in Pampanga. You know how that helped me breeze through the torturous heat of the Arayat trek.
Ariel G: for keeping a third eye on me and being there when I needed something; you're my first example of a buddy who can anticipate his partner's needs.
Rommel D: for being an able climbing buddy during most of my climbs; for staying with me when I couldn't make it to the peak; for trusting me when I believed that you could keep going when you were ready to give up.
My sincerest thanks to you all... and to the Meralco Mountaineers.
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Tip Set Intro Tip Set 1 Tip Set 2 Tip Set 3 Tip Set 4 Tip Set 5