Friday, April 16, 2010


I spotted him across the room. He was wearing a harness, and bouldering, and so was I. We were both climbing single. Our eyes met, and locked, they way they do in Filipino romance novels, or gay bath-houses. Next thing you know, we were roped together.

Let's call him "Pavel," from Czech Republic. No "the." Pavel was in Canada, visiting his brother, and had come to the gym, expecting to find something like the scene at his local ba-- I mean, home crag: fifty people who were all equally psyched to be getting sweaty and sore together. But Pavel met with the usual "do I even know you?" stares, this either because it was Vancouver, or because he was wearing a very tight, bright pink wifebeater and striped Spandex tights. Since this was before the appearance of hipsters, poor Pavel enjoyed neither ironic nor genuine acclaim, and rather dejectedly bouldered away, wondering why none of the groups of three wanted to rope up with him.

After we had a couple of burns on my 5.3 project-- burns which were as scary as they were difficult, since I had to be careful to not fall off the crux and onto the children's birthday party below--Pavel said

"I have for you present" and disappeared into the locker room. He reappeared with two enormous bottles of Urquel and inserted one into his mouth to remove the cap.

"Hey!" I said, brushing aside a couple of eight year-olds, "you can't do that here!"

"Why not? Is problem?"

"Yea, it's Canada, you can't drink beer here. Sorry Pavel."

"Is strange. In Czech Republic, we drink beer in climbing gym, always."

Pavel, smile drooping somewhat, returned the beers to his pack, and I thought I'd console him with an invite to climb in Squamish, which he hadn't yet visited.

Two days later, we stood at the base of The Bottom Line, two pitches of bolted 10a that lead to Deirdre 5.7.

I had a harness, rope, rack and waterbottle. Pavel had a thirty-litre pack, out of which he pulled a rack that had Cyrillic lettering, metal slings and totally random sizes of nuts and what looked vaguely like cams.

"Thees equipment from Russia. I can get for you. Very good price," said Pavel, fondling what looked like an Alien that appeared to work backward. I began to wonder if there was something wrong with my eyes or brain. It seemed like there was something missing from this cam, or perhaps it was designed to work in reverse gravity environments.

"You want to buy?" asked Pavel.

"No, but thanks."

"Why not? Is problem?"

Pavel jumped on the first pitch and hung on the first bolt, gasping. I got worried. Pavel had told me some stories about climbing sandstone in Czech Republic, from which I got three main points:

a) there is almost no gear
b) what gear there is, is either crap, or pieces of tat, wadded into balls, and crammed into shallow cracks.
c) the climbing is so scary you need to be well-lubed to be successful.

I thought, "ok, the guy climbs that, he must be a hardman," a thought process that gumby me used to regularly engage in with anybody who climbed harder than me, which was to say, everybody. But not only was Pavel having trouble with the moves, his pack was enormous. ONE of us was going to have to lead these slab moves, and the other was going to have to haul the monster. Pavel lowered down and pulled out a bottle of Urquel from the pack.


"In Czech Republic, we climb one pitch, we drink one beer, always. Is problem?"

He handed the lead off to me, lit a smoke, and I set off up the route. On the third or so pitch of Deirdre-- oddly deserted-- he tried to lead again, with his rack of alien Aliens and weird Friends, but downclimbed back to the safety of smokes and beer. By the time we reached the top, the pack was six bottles lighter, and there was singing in Czech at the other end of the rope.

As we sat on Broadway and pulled our shoes on, Pavel fired an empty bottle down the Apron. Lovely rink-a-tink-tink turned into a CRASH and a "FUUUUUCK" from far below.

"Hey!" I said, "you can't do that here."

"Why not? I should not leave bottle here to make litter. Is problem?"

We made our way down, and, as was my wont even before Napoleon stepped on the scene, hoochies screaming, we went for a coffee. Pavel swayed in the coffee-shop lineup, and when we got to the barista, he pulled out a cigarette, and said

"Please one beer."

"Uhh, we don't serve beer, and you can't smoke in here, sir" said the girl.

"Why not? Is problem?"

As we drove home, I asked Pavel how he'd liked his stay in Canada.

"Is very nice, Canada," he said, "very clean, pretty. In Czech Republic, we drink one beer, smoke one cigarette for one pitch, always. But here, you must put bottle in pack, and you cannot drink, and you must smoke only in outside, this makes pollute of outside. I do not understand Canada and beer. I think is problem."

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