Wednesday, June 23, 2010

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."

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