Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The World's Worst Climbing Partner (2)

"Bones," I said as I heaved my weak ass onto the top of the Buttress crux pitch, grateful for the top-rope "there's this guy I climbed with last year who's totally trash-talking you. His name is--"


"Wha? You KNOW this guy?"

"Oh yeah..."

Bones was out from Canmore for work, and we'd squeezed in a precious day between work and rains. I clipped in, sat down, rolled a smoke and asked Bones to explain.

The winter before, Bones-- marginally employed, and on a mixed sending spree of epic duration-- had been living in the Canmore clubhouse of the Alpine Club. In exchange for ten hours a week of scrubbing shitters and shoveling snow, he got a cot and a squat. The Clubhouse was something of a ritual stop for ice and mixed climbers showing up in town. You went there, cooked, and posted a partner-wanted note.



Bones was busy, but passed the email on to a friend. Phone calls ensued and Bones' friend-- let's call him The Psyche-- agreed to meet at the Fireside at 6 AM for brekkie, to be followed by a day of ice-climbing.

The Psyche was there at 6. Two hours and seventy-nine cups of coffee later, no, so The Psyche went home to vibrate uncontrolably in the comfort of his own house, at which point the phone rang. It was, who said "Dude! I'm at the breakfast place! I'm psyched! Let's go!"

Against his better judgment, The Psyche drove back to the greasy spoon to find a shaven-headed, muscular-looking type, Les, who-- after no excuse for lateness was forthcoming-- convinced The Psyche that a three-hours-late start would be no impediment to what was sure to be a lightning-quick ascent of Professor's (WI4).

Our heroes found themselves at the base of Professor's at about 10:30 AM. Now, Professor's is, if I recall correctly from my own ascent with Bones and The Anus, is about 250 meters, so that's about five longish pitches, separated by short snow slopes.

Well, in scene eerily reminiscent of my own adventure with Les on Vector, Les got twenty-five feet up, put in his third screw, and hung, panting. The Psyche gently urged him on, and, an hour later, Les had aided his way to the top of the first WI3 pitch. The Psyche convinced Les to let him lead the rest of the route, but Les stepped in at the final crux pitch-- WI4+ some years-- and launched into it as that lovely alpenglow, ideally enjoyed from the warmth of a chalet with a beer in one hand and a brunette in one's lap, crept across the mountains and The Psyche shivered into his jacket.

Les installed all ten screws within the first twnety meters, climbed up onto a shelf, shook out, and took stock. He had no more gear, twenty meters to go, and the only option for getting out and handing off the sharp end was to downclimb and then lower off his top screw. Les then did the only thing he could think of-- he completely lost his shit. He stood, heels shaking, tools sunk to the shaft, screaming bloody fucking murder, while The Psyche racked his brain for a way to get a weak, freaked-out, in-over-head nutjob who clearly needed another hit of crack (the drug, not the rock feature) to downclimb 5 meters of 4+ before 3 AM in the now fully enveloping gloom.

In the end, somehow, faced with spending a night on his front-points, losing his hands and getting hypothermia, Les managed the brief downclimb, and The Psyche fired up under headlamp power to retrieve his gear. Our heroes returned to Canmore exactly thirteen hours after leaving. With two hours of approach and walk-out time, they averaged two hours and twelve minutes per fifty meter pitch.

The Psyche got a few more calls from Les, and, when the phone calls petered out, his friends started getting them. Les somehow didn't find a whole lot of partners that winter.

"So," I asked Bones, "is he still in Canmore?"

"Doubt it," he said, taking a drag on my smoke. In mid-March, a sign appeared on the Canmore Clubhouse bulletin board.


The World's Worst Climbing Partner (1)

Since our route is closed until July 11, while we dutifully throw ourselves at rigorous ARC sessions in the gym to try to get strong enough to climb the thing (yesI am aware of the irony, thank you very much), I will (try to) entertain the readers with this true story.

Back in the day, when 5.9 was hard and skipping work was easy, I was between regular partners, and was blind-dating a variety of types off the M.E.C. board. I'd had, for example, a climb with Old Slow Joe, who really should have been sitting on a porch in Tenessee, with a jug and a banjo, rather than climbing. I'd been out with The Lawyer, but he was too busy making assloads of money to make it regularly, plus he couldn't crack-climb much, since it trashed his hands, which made his Indian clients suspicious (I shit you not, best pussy-out excuse I've yet heard). I'd been out with a really, really dumb girl. Now, I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer by any means, but this girl made me look like a MENSA member, and when I realsed that I would have to check every knot, cam placement etc that she had, and ever would make, that one ended. I emailed aother guy one Monday afternoon-- So one day I got a call from a guy we'll call Les, who was telemark29 himself.

After some palaver, it seemed like Sunday would be a good time, so I proposed to meet at 9 at the coffeeshop. But Les had to go to church, so 11 sharp it was.

On arriving, I found a shaven-headed, muscular man, with one of those goatees that hip white guys used to have in the '90s and are now found on middle-aged men with pot-bellies, and waring a Cletic-looking crucifix, encamped beside a rusting dirtbag van crammed with ski and climbing gear. And the guy was HARDCORE in more than looks: he led 5.11. which to me was something only Gods, Sponsored Climbers and Climbing Guides did, and he'd been living in his van all winter, working in Whistler, cooking, and touring as much as he could. His van was full of generally old and filthy junk, neatly organised, with an oddly beautifully new set of touring and downhill skis and boots. I offered to grab him a coffee and he refused-- religious reasons. I had clearly hit paydirt: a ripped, clean-living, God-fearing climbing machine.

We headed up to Vector (5.9) and Les loaded up with our rack. I had five cams and a few nuts. Les had a collection that had clearly been entirely pried and yanked out of leaver palcements: a shiny new #2 Camalot hung beside something that had probably been hand-machined by Ray Jardine himself in the back of his van, which was beside a hex apparently slung with a friendship bracelet made of Nepalese hemp, and quickdraws with what felt like steel bieners.

Les got about ten feet into Vector, installed every piece of gear, hung, and began to curse. "This God-damed cock-sucking, mother-fucking, ass-licking piece of mother-fucking faggot-assed fucking gayness is mother-fucking gay-assed fucking shit!" he screamed, pounding the rock, his heels just over my head. After many more hyphentated curses, he lowered off and handed me the RPs to finish the 40 meter off-width pitch.

I passed his anchor, removed all the large stuff, and headed up. I did some weird moves in the unusually wide crack, went over the bulge, found a bolt, threw in a cam, hauled up and put Les on. I wouldn't know for a few years that I had just climbed what I would learn was an "off-width," and that there were in fact cams bigger than 3". Way down below, Les huffed and chuffed, and then I heard a "FUCKING TA-AA-AKE!" The rope went tight.

And stayed tight. After twenty minutes I yelled to see if he was OK. "FUCKING YEAH I'M COMING" came the reply. Fifteen minutes after that, rope still tight, Les appeared at the bulge...jugging. He'd rigged a pair of prusskis and had jugged the low-angle 5.9 pitch. His hands and ankles bled. He was white, and shaking. We clearly should have retreated, but you can't do that off one bolt with a 50 meter rope, so I launched up.

Instead of heading up and left, through the bushes, I went right, and found myself freaking out on what I would later learn was a 10b or 10c flake and crack. I made it...and Les repeated his previous performance, prussiks a-go!

Back in the parking lot, I decided enough, not gonna see this guy again. Aside from the obvious bullshit factor, there was something oddly unbalanced, plus of course the weirdness of a religious guy cussing like a sailor.

Next weekend, on Friday night, at 9 PM, The Lawyer bailed on me, placating a sniffling me with promises of endless patient belays and beers on a perfectly sunny future day yet to be named. Fuck. Argh. Kill. I was still in the full-on addiction phase and had trouble understanding what people who didn't climb actualy did with spare time.

Then Les called. Beginners can't be choosers, so we agreed to go to Cal Cheak.

On arriving at Peanut's Playground, Les handed me his five random cams. I put them on the ground beside my gear as I was packing.

"WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?" screamed Les. "DON'T PUT MY FUCKING CAMS ON THE GROUND! I JUST OILED THEM!" I picked them up, and haded them to the suddenly hyperventilating Les, and wondered how long the day was going to be. Les put the cams into a small grey stuff sack beside his pack.

On the walk in, Les asked me about my climbing background. I told him I'd spent a winter climbing ice around Canmore, and he asked me if I knew Bones. Yes, I told him, Bones was basically my intro to ice climbing and was a longtime friend.

"That guy," said Les, "is a cock-sucking, poser asshole."

"Do tell," I said, wondering if there were two Bones in Canmore, and whether Les had taken his happy pills that week, or if perhaps Les and I lived in alternate Universes.

Les said mixed climbing grades were bullshit, mixed climbing was bullshit, Jews controlled the world, Canmore climbers were assholes, ice grades were generally bullshit, magazines about climbing were generally bullshit, photographs of climbing were bullshit, 9/11 was an inside job, only God could save us, Canmore sport-climbing grades were inflated, and Bones' and my mutual friend The Albino was not only gay, but mentally challenged, a poser, a jerk, a weak climber...the cedars en route to Peanut's make a beautiful short forest trek. Eventually his voice stopped.

"Have you told Bones and The Albino any of this?"


We started with some 5.8s which Les hung from and I went up to rescue his draws. Same thing happened on 5.9 and 5.10a. Les eventually made it up a 10c, whining like a teenager who's just found out he's failed Grade Eleven English and now has to spend six weeks of precious summer sitting in a classroom.

We walked out and on reaching my car les asked me for his cams. I told him I had given them back to him before we'd started


Les had that oddly white face and shook as he threw the floor mats out of my trunk and passenger compartment. "FUCK! THAT'S $300 WORTH OF GEAR!" he howled, and ran back up to the crag. Yelling filtered down through the trees as I debated leaving him there. He had obviously left the cams in the sack on the ground, and some unscrupulous other climbers had taken his mix'n'match rack.

As I turned onto the 99 and headed toward Squamish, Les asked me if I had household insurance. "No, why?"

"Cos you can say, you got robbed, and give me the insurance money."

Have I mentioned he was wearing a crucifix? Anyway, I said no, and found myself explaining the terms "fraud" and "raised rates."

"FUCK!" said Les, banging the dash, "let's go to the cops and tell them your car got broken into!"

I then explained "fraud" again and told Les that, frankly, I thought he was a bit of a jerk, and I really didn't want to climb with hm again.

We pulled into the parking lot of the coffeeshop and Les got out. His pack lay in the backseat and he grabbed a small stuffsack and headed off to the bathroom. He was gone for twenty minutes. I wanted to throw his pack out and bust out of there.

Les returned form the washroom, clutching his tiny stuff sack, grinning ear to ear. His colour had returned. No more shaking. Hs eyes were wide, empty pools. He must have taken some kind of epic crap in there. "Are you SURE you don't want to run this through your insurance company?" he asked. I said no, gave him his pack, and started the engine. In seconds, I thought, I would never have to see ever again.

"Dude," he said, "I'm free tomorrow. Let's meet at nine. No, wait, later. I have church."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

La Gota, freer

The first ascent of La Gota Fria (18 pitches, 5.11b A0 (5.12c) was exactly as we had both imagined. We blasted up the fucker, managing to redpoint both crux pitches, and we fired it in about seven hours. On top, our girlfriends showed up unexpectedly, carrying cold beers and vials of Ibuprofen. The sun hung low in the sky, the breeze was warm, we got a good beer buzz, the ladies carried the gear down...

And then I woke up from my dream.

Actually...we drove through rain to Squamish. We were forced to pull a Napoleon, or a me, and hang out at the coffee shop for an hour and a half while the wind caressed our route like our hands caressed our private parts as we sat staring at our to-be-epic upcoming send, both wind and hands warming things. We managed to pose and spray with some skill in the coffee shop, where we ran into Anders Ourom. Now it was a kind of funny historical accident. Anders is restoring Slab Alley (now 50 years old) while we are trying to put up a new route. You got both ends of Squamish: ancient 5.8, and new-school 5.12+ (the only qualifier here beng that Hamish Mutch could actually climb his route, while Driller and I basically clean and thrash on ours).

We also found some Americans to spray to, and then sprayed the barrista, who-- as if my rippling muscles, awesomely colour-co-ordinated outfit and chiseled visage, along with The Driller's accounting profession weren't enough-- pretty much wet her panties when we announced that we were new routing. That precipitated another woman-mob, from which we barely escaped via the back door...oh wait, sorry, I was back in dream mode there.

Anyway, I promise not to shit-talk any more. The helicopter flew us up to the base of our route, where our gear had been laid out for us and Bhung, our Nepali porter, was brewing tea. OK OK I'll shut up soon.

Driller wanted to free P1 and couldn'tcos the crux was wet. The first 15 feet-- a funky V-slot-- was also wet, but the Driller clambered up the arete to the right of it, at 5.7, and stepped across, so we now have an alternative wet-day start. P1 is 5.10d and easily aided (bolts and #3 Camalot) if the crux is wet.

P2 we decided is 5.9 due to the nice face holds.

P3 AGAIN kicked my ass. Not training is really not paying off.

P4 is 5.10c. Bomber gear, good rests.

P5 is the hardest thing I have ever tried. Massively sequential, miniscule holds, the kind of thing where if you take a hand or foot off to clip, you fall. The top 1/2 of this thing will be 11a or b, the bottom will be 12c or d. Most sane people will pull on bolts for the first bit then free the rest.

We rapped and set a new date: July 11. Till then, we both train like mo-fos-- a bit of endurance is all it will take. "All" and "bit" are like "if"....awfully big small words...stay tuned, folks.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

If at first you don't succeed...

Well sometimes a weekend warrior gets to join the full-timers, so on Tuesday Ginger Slack and I went and had a go at the first four pitches of La Gota Fria, which is what our route (should we ever be men, err, I mean, courageous-- enough to actually climb the entire thing) is called.

Now Ginger Slack is a guy who knows what extreme sports are REALLY all about: meeting women and working as little as possible. When not modeling neural artchitecture, or discussing now neural networks' signal-to-noise ratios correlate with adaptivity to new challenges, you can find him with his slackline, which is basically a kind of fishing net for a certain kind of girl. For this, he is sponsored! Nice work, young man. Anyway, between his horrendously busy schedule of slacklining, sex and neural modeling (oh and selling clothes at M.E.C.), Slack sometimes climbs. So on Tuesday we huffed and puffed our way through the humidity to the base of the route.

I freed P1 which Slack thinks is 5.10d (it has one short bolted crux). I was psyched to free the pitch, and then I realised that Driller and I had fucked the bolts up AGAIN, being gumbies and all. The first is too high, the second too far right. There is a good reason why purists drill on lead...anyway, the thing is doable, but not ideal. Driller would later say "we are using oil to clean up water" which makes about as much sense as BP trying to stop an oil-well explosion with some nice mud, but was actually accurate.

Slack led P2 which is IMHO 5.9 but he says 10a...but then I have them mad face-hold-detection skillz. P3 was another story. I managed to fall off on lead, then on the yo-yo, and then again a whopping two feet higher than my first two tries. This thing is 5.11B for sure. Basically, it is two hard awkward fingery move, then either a solid rest, or a bomber handjam. It is like the Squamish Buttress crux pitch-- very easy to aid.

Slack led P4 which he thinks is 5.10b, then we rapped.

The good news is that while P1 and 2 need some cleaning, the route dries more quickly than we thought for a north-facing route. After one day of no rain, with +15 temps, it is climbable with the odd wet spot. If it has 2 dry days and is +10 (e.g. April, late Sept) it will go. Wind helps hugely. The nice thing is, since the route starts off Caramba Terrace, it escapes the summer humidity trap that affects the valley-floor-starts of routes, and it gets wind.

Anyway, I know this post is really boring. But...stay tuned. We are going for the FA of La Gota Fria (Lite) on Sunday, and we will have pictures and a good story for all ten of you. That's a 25% increase over two weeks ago...and all I had to do to get new followers was, try to kill Perry Beckham and Jia Condon, and then get trash-talked on the comments part of this blog. Maybe I should try to kill Peter Croft or Steph Davis (after Napoleon finishes with her, of course) that way I could up the readership to, say, 15 and Google would come running with offers of not just $$ but also hordes of nude willing women (invisible to Driller and my girlfriends), plus free Timmy Ho coffee forever, man oh man, I can see it now...

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Comment moderation changed; rockfall issues

Hi readers-- we love ocmments, but since we are starting to get the odd nasty one, we would ask you to please become a member of the blog if you want to leave comments. I will publish all comments (unelss they are defamantory) but i need to know who is writing. Becoming a member should take less than one minute.

Thanks to people who are reading and commenting-- your feedback is appreciated, even when you are critical.

Regarding rockfall comments made by Perry Beckham on (thanks to Mr Beckham for his comments):

-- we have worked on the route for 28 days now and have seen people on the trail once. Last Spring we had to chop our way to the base, there were so many bushes etc. We had no idea or physical sign that others were using the trail.

-- After hearing via another pair of route developers (to our left) and via John Howe that rockfall was hitting the trail, we started posting both physical signs and online warnings on cleaning days.

-- We are done (for now, we think; hopefully forever) the cleaning phase. However, one member of the party has a 200m fixed line stashed on our route, and plans to scrub some variations once we climb the thing. He will let the community know what his plans are.