Monday, October 4, 2010

Beware the Brit

This entry should basically be a warning: beware of old-school Brit trad climbers.

I have been trying to "get on the hill" with Squamish hardman Kevin McLane for years. His son, former hair model and now rock-climbing guide, Tony, and I have had a few days, but I've always wanted to see what McLane pére was all about.

While I like making assumptions and generalisations, I LOVE stereotypes, so I went right ahead and assumed that McLane Sr. would be a bad-assed and fearless gear-minimalist with more black humour than shiny new cams. And, after years of are ya free Sunday?s, we finally met up in Squamish at Napoleon's Favorite, where we began the day as all good climbers do, by getting stupidly overcaffeinated while the once-dry pavement outside became slowly darker with invisible mist, and people of every sporting persuasion dropped by to avoid the...mist? rain? cool?

McLane and I spent three hours avoiding the rain, then finally said "well fuck it!" and headed toward the Squaw, or whatever it is now Natively Correct to call it/her. Loaded with a ridiculously small rack, a few bieners and 5 slings, plus a Barley topo that looked like black spaghetti drooled by a retarded abstract artist onto a crag picture taken by a blind photographer, we ambled up.

At the base of The Sleeping Native Woman, we found a plethora of black bolts heading up into some oddly-bleached-looking fine cracks. We were in the general area of Straight Outta Squampton, White Feather etc, but since Barley's topo looked like a schizophrenic's Cubist rendition of the Squ-- oops, I mean, the Nobly Reclining Native Goddess-- we hopped on the easiest-looking thing there.

A mere five minutes after roping up with McLane Sr., who has nailed the Grand, done early FAs in Yosemite, climbed grit when there were only pins, hammers and balls for gear, and most recently celebrated his 60th birthday by doing both the Grand Wall and the Test of Metal in one day, sucky me was whining like a puppy as I crammed a left leg into a 5" offwidth and pawed with my right at rain-greased granite.

McLane Sr.'s largest cam, one of those Wild Cunt blue things, rattled around inside the off-wdith flake. The cam was like monogamy for a Mormon sex addict (and they are legion...Utah has the highest rate of porn downloads per capita in the U.S.): it impressed Mom wen you told her about it, but it wasn't nearly enough once you got into action. I whimpered and grunted and then mantled to something safer.

McLane Sr., it turned out, was doing a Buddhist thing and reducing his gear-stash. No draws, long slings, or chalk...oddly like back in 1970, when his roadie self discovered the joys of fear, pain and near-death and abandoned the world of Spandex, speed and speed. His climbing partner-- with whom young McLane was to do some hairy shit in the Alps and the Valley, back when hemp ropes, Whillans harnesses, glass wine-jugs and headbands were de rigeur-- had one rule about gear: one brought six pins, six slings and twelve bieners on a route. Period.

Kevin did the 6th ascent of the Becky Chouinard in 1971 or so. This being early in the game, beta came from Fred Beckey, who they found in a bar in Jasper, waiting out the rains and seducing the waitresses, one per night. Beckey's beta-- written on a napkin-- included three sentences. One each on how to get to the Bugaboos, how to find the Howsers, and what the route looked like. It took them 1.5 days and they had 6 pins, 6 slings and 12 bieners. 30 years later to the week, McLane repeated the route with Mark Piche, who at the time of the FA had been a swimmer in Papa Piche's nut-sack, in 9 hours...but with a rack that weighed three times as much.

(The most remarkable part of this story is not the climbing, which was balls-out for its time, nor the micro-rack, nor the fact that Fred had by this time slept with half of the waitresses in Jasper, but rather that all the waitresses were still keen on serving him beer, much of it free, and none appeared to be fighting about their conquest.)

Hardman set off up our second pitch and styled the wet slab, and then the no-gear wide crack, with only the occasional huff and puff. When I followed I noticed an enormous gap between his second piece and his third-- like 10 meters-- and again shuddered. We rapped off this pitch and into the neighbouring route, and I led a fine 10- pitch, and then, darkness approaching, we rapped.

OK the man is a full-on hardman...but the ultimate evidence for this had come to me some years ago, when young Tony told me that his Dad and Mom, even after a divorce, got along splendidly.

"That's cool," I said, happy to hear that young McLane wasn't in the midst of custody battles or arguments over finances.

"Yeah," said Tony, "they get along great! Actually my Mom is getting re-married and my Dad is going to the wedding. Err, no, wait, he's not. He WAS going to go, but he got invited to go to the Bugs." You can take the man away from climbing...

So! McLane Sr is a bad-assed and largely fearless gear minimalist. Be careful if you get the invite to climb with Kevin...he'll want half the gear and twice the runout you age 62.

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