There’s a famous saying that I try to have be one of the principle drivers in my life.
“If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing in a needlessly miserable manner” – Some Guy (probably)
When I lived in Vancouver, I spent my summers skiing. Skiing’s the best sport in the world, so carrying skis 28km across the Black Tusk Traverse just to get seven frantic turns before a panicked stop to keep from launching into an alpine lake seemed like a pretty reasonable way to spend a Saturday. You could pussy out and climb Sunday if you really wanted. I went 32 months in a row skiing on the coast – my streak was only broken by moving to Calgary.
There’s a problem though. At some point in starting a life in Calgary I started getting a little old and a little soft. I skied when there was powder, I climbed ice when there wasn’t, I climbed rock when it was sunny and warm and I ran when it was warm and wet. It was easy, fun.
And then I watched a movie called Boys in Bugs. Matt Segal and Will Stanhope spent four damn years going to war with a route in the Bugs. They spent insane amounts of time living on a portaledge, working a monster unclimbed route in blazing heat, freezing cold, sun, rain, snow and wind.
Watching that movie I had a sudden moment of jarring clarity. I was getting soft. Being soft is for old people.
I had a renewed mission – return to the spirit of tackling objectives in less than ideal conditions. I immediately found a willing partner in my friend Katherine who’s already got a fine track record of dragging me up questionable climbs.
We launched ourselves into a series of climbs that were almost guaranteed to be miserable, but could safely be tackled in adverse conditions – pushing conditions doesn’t mean you start cutting your safety margin. Easy retreats were the name of the game – you can start up anything if you can safely back off.
We climbed a horrendous 4 pitch route in Crow’s Nest Pass who’s name I can’t even remember because I blocked it from memory. Our friends Jenny and Kyle were getting married in Fernie so we got a super early start on the day of their wedding and climbed the route when it was so cold that we were trying to climb with closed fists because our fingers were freezing. Somehow we successfully got to the top of the thing (and to the wedding in time).
Next we launched ourselves at Sharknado outside Canmore – 4 pitches to 5.9 – now so late into the season that there was literally ice on the route. We got to a spot where we were blocked by a smear of ice on the third pitch so we backed off, safe, freezing cold and laughing like idiots while ducking falling ice chunks.
Plutonian Shores is 7 pitches to 5.9 and we started up despite the fact it was drizzling by the time we got to the base of the climb. We were five pitches up when an impressive rain storm we’d been watching all morning came and thumped us. One minute I’m happily climbing a 5.8 pitch, next minute I’m trying to climb limestone slab hidden by torrents of water. Safety wise it was no big deal – being a well protected sport route with clean rap lines meant that we could easily retreat from just about anywhere – at worst abandoning a single biner if we couldn’t make it to the next rap station (which wasn’t a problem and we didn’t leave anything on the route).
Three climbs attempted, one successful, all in awful conditions. We carefully selected our objectives so that we could retreat when needed. We laughed our asses off despite the cold, the ice, the rain and the wind and at the end of the day, we were better mountaineers for it.
New motto: Every once in a while, go do something when conditions are awful.
Anyway, that was a super long intro to last weekend.
Katherine and I hadn’t gotten out climbing together in a while so we decided that the fact that everyone we knew was taking advantage of the early April weather to go ski-mountaineering up the Icefields Parkway meant that clearly we should tackle a multipitch climb in the Bow Valley. I mean, it’d only been puking snow in the Bow Valley a little bit…
Katherine tried to suggest some alpine objectives that I thought were guaranteed failures, but then eventually we settled on Le Soulier (The Shoe) – four pitches of South facing low-elevation sport climbing on Tunnel Mountain. Easy grade, bolted, rap rings, easy retreat if things sucked too badly. We figured it was the best bet for climbing something where we wouldn’t have an avalanche fall on us or something.
Gearing up that morning I put on damn near enough clothing to go ice climbing. Base layers, puffy layers, wind shells – not exactly your usual sport climbing kit. Hell, I had gloves packed so I could re-warm my fingers at belays.
But then we got to the base of the route and for the first time in all of our ‘learn to be hard again’ climbs, everything stopped going according to plan.
It was warm.
It was sunny.
Everyone else was out skiing, the mountains around us were blanketed in fresh snow and it was warm, and sunny, and conditions were great.
Being the resourceful types we are, we used our skills in getting stuff done when things don’t go according to plan and we climbed the route. Four pitches of sport climbing to 5.7 with epic views of the mountains and the Banff Springs Hotel. Incredible conditions the whole way for April climbing, I mean, our hands weren’t even a little bit cold. In fact, Katherine complained of being slightly bored on each pitch she seconded. Never mind a normally busy route, we had all of Tunnel Mountain to ourselves. Not another climber as far as the eye could see.
I guess the moral of the story here, if there is one, is that there’s incredible value in (safely) tackling objectives when conditions suck – it gives you more tools in your bag and means that when lousy conditions sneak up on you, you’re better equipped to handle it. Sometimes the weather goes sideways when you’re in the mountains and having the experience to handle that can get you to the summit and then back home in one piece. The flip side is that when you don’t let a crappy forecast stop you, sometimes the weather will go the other way. You go out expecting cold and blowing snow and you get rewarded with blazing sunshine and warm rock.
Grumpy, cantankerous, wildly opinionated and so much more! Getting really tired on skis is what makes me happy.