Packing a backpack, night trekking, and compass reading were the easy lessons; what I considered the most important lesson in mountaineering is camaraderie -- the partnership that exists as if your life depended on it.
I wrote an article for a fellow mountaineer's website, entitled "I Love My Climbing Buddy." It was about how a climber needs to establish a relationship with a partner, a "buddy," who, for the duration of the climb, is the one person he will trust with his life. When I finished writing the article, my friend said that the piece sounded more like advice on how to maintain a relationship with a life partner.
I read the article again and he was right. Climbing a mountain was like meeting the challenges of life, and climbing buddies was a metaphor for life partners.
Here's the advice I shared on how to take care of your "climbing buddy," or life partner, as you climb a mountain, or walk through life together:
1. Be there for him.
And with that, I say: Good climbing to you and your buddy! May each new step take you to heights you've never reached!
You actually grow a third eye, a third ear, and an infrared sensor solely for your buddy. 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; you're there when he needs to hide in the bushes.
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. So, don't wander off.
2. Anticipate his needs.
He's depending on you -- how can you assist him? His breathing, pace, and facial expression tell you he needs to take a rest soon, but he doesn't want to admit it because it might ruin his image. Say you need to rest, too.
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 repellant. Show that you care. Your buddy will gladly return the favor.
3. 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? Is he afraid of the dark? Does he shiver from an encounter with bugs and leeches? 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. Have you brushed up on CPR?
4. 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 okay, even when you already know he's not. When he finds the strength to look at your face, SMILE. Yes, I will personally 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.
5. Keep his body warm.
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. Then there's continuous rain and stormy weather that 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 could save your lives.
6. 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.