Should We Grade Our Partners?

You’re in a parking lot waiting to meet up with a new partner who you found online. You’re ready for the day of climbing and even bought celebratory post-climb beers; the ones in dark bottles with a label that says “local” on it somewhere. A rattling Subura pulls up next to you and a guy in long johns and a sleeveless sweatshirt hops out kicking a beer can from the foot well. It hits the pavement with a not-quit-empty clink and your new friend grabs it, dribbles it into his crusty mouth, and tosses it into the passenger seat. Relatively par for the course so far.

You exchange pleasantries and a bit of banter and all seems chummy. You chat while he pulls his harness and shoes out of his car and stuffs them into his external frame pack. You had previously agreed to bring the rack and him the rope but as he starts yanking a bight out from under his possessions you begin to have second thoughts. It’s that grey color of all ropes that have never touched a tarp or bag and is highlighted by multiple relatively bright athletic tape patches along its length – just a bit of sheath damage, he assures you.

As you hump up the approach you contemplate which routes at the crag you feel comfortable soloing, whether or not you should fake an emergency phone call, and why the hell you weren’t at least given a bit of warning about this guy!

If you’ve climbed with rando’s before you may have had a similar situation to the one above; maybe your new partner was really lax on safety, or a total downer, or just kind of an asshole. Climbers quantify a lot of aspects of our sport; the difficulty of a route, its length and exposure, the strength of our equipment, the size of a crack etcetera. Everything is rated, measured, reviewed, or based in consensus. Your new friend in the parking lot however comes with none of these details and assurances. So why not grade our partners? And I don’t mean the “Leads: 5.7 Follows: 5.12” BS on Mountain Project, but how safe they are? How stoked? How stinky? And thus I propose the following grading framework for partners:

Dirt/Douche-Bag Rating

(ex: “1/3”= Dirt 1, Douche 3)

Two totally separate ratings presented together only because they both start with ‘D’ and end in ‘Bag’. Dirt precedes douche.

DIRT
DOUCHE
1
Wears fur to the crag, Air BnB’s every stop on the road trip, has a titanium vacuum sealed mug, and racks their chalk bag on a Magnetron.
1
A true heart of gold. Offers you every lead, shares their food and whiskey, doesn’t onsight your project although capable, and has no preference on any decision to be made.
2

⇓ ⇓

2

⇓ ⇓

3
3
4
Changes underwear only when it gets itchy inside their body, they carry gear to the crag in a cardboard box, and eat exclusively from dumpsters and your plate.
4
Some serious inadequacy issues here. Their constant spray rivals that of an autobody paint gun or a food poisoned draft oxen. They expect a day long belay on their project on your first outing and critique your gear, car, clothing, and climbing. Despite expert delivery they often do not receive shit talk well.

Safety

(ex: “PG”)

We already have ways to rate the protectability of routes so we’ll continue to use that system for partner safety. Here in the US we skillfully utilize movie ratings, in the UK it’s a smattering of adverbs, adjectives and numbers, and in Australia they use something called a route description. I’ll stick to what I know.

SAFETY
G
Wants you to take their own personal belay test, measures the tail of your tie in before each pitch, uses exclusively steel carabiners and 11.5mm ropes, owns five crash pads, and has a fire extinguisher in their Volvo.
PG

⇓ ⇓

PG-13
R
X
Uses “Off Belay” and “In Direct” as synonyms, has endless stories of epics, often suggests attempting sketchy retrievable rappels, is actively looking for used base jumping rigs on Ebay, and learned to climb from YouTube helmet cam videos.

Psych

(ex: PSY3)

An underappreciated factor of a good partnership is the balance of stoke. As social beings we feed heavily on the energies of those around us and psych is often the difference between the chains or the drain.

PSYCH
1
It is unclear why this person climbs. They get frustrated even when they send, are unmotivated to pack their bag, tie their shoes, or even wake up in the morning, and can ruin a good time faster than an unexpected thunderstorm or near miss rockfall.
2

⇓ ⇓

3
4
Everything is 110%. They scratch on your tent at 6am on the rest day, use at least 3 languages to encourage you on the approach, assure you that there is plenty of time for another 4 pitch route before dark, and may sandbag you into your hardest onsight or your biggest whip. You hide their shoes in a bush so you have time to take a sip of water.

With this new vocabulary we can take another look at our climbers from the beginning of this post. We probably rank around 1/2, PG, PSY3. Our buddy in the Subaru is more of a 4/2, R, PSY3 and is therefore more destitute and daring than we are ready to handle. On the other hand we are a bit slick and prude for his tastes. However, we go climb and have a great time because neither of us is too douchey not to accommodate the other, and we’re both pretty stoked.

We can probably add some more contrived ratings to further complicate life and remove any cultural texture from the climbing experience. After all, we should only interact with those who view the world as we do; the right way.

3 thoughts on “Should We Grade Our Partners?”

  1. I like the idea of a rating system as proposed – and it is in principle applicable to other sports as well – I am thinking of my coastal or off-shore sailing adventures… Only didn’t like the jab at Volvos with fire-extinguishers…. had one for twenty years (and now the -same- fire-extinguisher is in my new car…

  2. I hear these stories, and I’ve climbed a fair bit with random internet strangers. The worst thing that ever happened to me was one who cancelled at too short notice for me to make other arrangements. That pissed me off – but I guess a Friday night email is still better than just not showing up.

    The ones I’ve actually gotten to climb with have ranged from ok to great, with very few of them merely “ok”. Maybe I’m just lucky.

    1. Thanks for the comment! I agree, most people don’t reach the hyperbolic conditions I outlined but sometimes it would be nice to know if the person you’re meeting up with is low psych or crazy safe!

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