What is the most important characteristic of a great climber? Unfathomable finger strength? Unshakable mental focus? Indomitable core of iron? Indefatigable arms of steel? Fetching tights of lycra? No, it is none of these things. It’s selflessness.
All (roped*) climbers need belayers. We cannot function without them. This symbiotic relationship is an immutable law of our existence. If we want to do what we love we must be conjoined by a cord to another person.
So you must be good to your belayer. Titles are important – refer to them as your partner, which is far less demeaning and will make them feel like an equal. Be kind. Be careful. Be generous with your time and be prepared to compromise on your goals so that together you can achieve the most thorough cooperation.
But then again you’re a climber, which means you’re probably a selfish prick.
If that’s the case, what you really need is a suitable stooge – a patient and attentive boob on the other end of the rope as you climb exactly what it is that you want to climb. Of course, there are methods for maintaining a stooge: keep them healthy, keep them psyched, keep them in your pocket, keep them on target, and keep them single (because of course, relationships will ultimately be emotionally ruinous for them and catastrophic for your projecting).
This approach taken to its natural extreme will lead you to build a cult of personality. Turn the narcissism up to 11, bone up on your Neuro-Linguistic Programming and spin a web of self-help-personal-growth-New-Age-Eastern-Mysticism-mumbo-jumbo. Mix that schtick with the promise of cavorting around with a climbing guru (you!) who bestows wisdom, inspiration and capability like the Dalai Lama on a flying visit to his Australian spiritual home, Brunswick.
Look amongst the vulnerable, the isolated, the fringe dwellers, the desperate, in other words, undertake the standard cult practice of targeting those stragglers at the back of the herd. Climbing gyms are overflowing with these poor souls desperate for a mentor.
Memorise speeches about the spiritual connection between the permanent rock and impermanent human flesh, now practice reciting them without laughing. Make your flock believe you are sponsored by global climbing gear manufacturers. Casually tell stories about international climbing superstars referring to them by their first names. Do not start a blog, evasiveness is your stock in trade and you need to closely manage your image by controlling and restricting the information circulating about you.
For the truly talented, add a Uri Geller-esque trick of bending a cam with only the power of your mind. Such displays of power will engender extra devoutness in your flock. Ensnare poor dupes in your carefully manufactured charade, and this way, despite your personality deficiencies and solipsistic selfishness, you will be sure to always have an acolyte prepared to spend hours beatifically looking up from the ground at your arse as you slap away on your project.
Along with current belayer maintenance one should also schedule in ‘grooming’, an arguably more insidious incarnation of the cult of personality involving the sounding out and preparing of replacements in the event of the loss of your currently favoured acolyte, because even the best cult leaders know there will be attrition. You will lose your belayer at some stage, prepare for it lest it wreak havoc.
So, in summary selflessness may be noble but nice guys finish last. And remember, if you can’t be good, be good at it.
* with apologies to the few boulderers who prefer the company of mats to Mats and half-mad misanthrope soloists, there are the few who seek solitude as an end in its own right