Friday, March 7, 2014


Canada? Mentors? Mileage? Talk about writers block, It took me a long while just to settle on a title for this simple blog post and all I could come up with was "Canada...".  The procrastination of choosing a blog title stems from the indecision about how and what exactly I want this post to reflect. A mix of things I guess, exactly as the failed title ideas at the start of the page would suggest. I want to share some of my highlights in Canada, reflect upon a community that accepted me with open arms and say thanks to many climbing partners and mentors who have had the patience to climb with me over the past two years.

When I arrived in Canada on the 12th of January 2012 I knew I had a long way to go before I would prove myself a respectable climber to....myself - sounds funny but its true. I moved to Banff with a very clear goal, to better myself as an all-round ice, rock and alpine climber. Upon moving to the Bow Valley I quickly realised I was surrounded by a world-class community of strong, psyched and extremely talented climbers of every discipline. I had plan of how to fast-track my progress as much as I could - by assuming the role of grasshopper.

Through chance meetings and being introduced to the right people I quickly became friends with some very strong, active and talented recreational climbers and guides living in both Canmore and Banff. It's no secret that climbing with people stronger and more experienced than you will fast-track your progress but I approached it with obsession by taking up every possible opportunity that arose. Often waking up at 5AM to climb multipitch rock routes before having to open the Patagonia Banff store at 10AM, calling upon far too many favors at work from staff members to cover shifts. I never told a word of a lie about my abilities, always being honest about my experience or in many cases lack thereof but I showed I was incredibly psyched, had half a brain and I knew when to listen and when to shut up. I watched my partners closely, asked lots of questions, and still do. Climbing is full of subtleties which can hugely impact efficiency, and in climbing, especially long or committing routes, efficiency is everything.

As time passed I slowly began to my swing my ice axes with more precision, coil ropes with more finesse and unlock mysteries of route finding on big, broken limestone walls. I would speak up and offer more insight on decisions that were being made in a vertical world. My confidence grew as did my appetite for bigger, longer, more committing routes. Before long I felt like I knew most of the community and certainly climbed with a larger network of people than I had ever imagined. A large number of my climbing partners now comprised of very well traveled recreational climbers, guides, and sponsored athletes. I could write pages and pages, listing special climbs and individual mentors and their impact they had on me but you would be asleep long before you were to finish reading, instead I will highlight a number of moments that were of significance to me:

  • Climbing the North face of Mt Athabasca with Rob Owens, Andrew Querner and Mike Stuart. We climbed the North face with the goal of filming a short advert for a new Jacket Patagonia had made, the Troposphere Jacket. You can view it here: 

  • Starred in one of Joe Mckays - Mike Barter Climbing Tools youtube videos - having watched joe's quirky instructional videos for years this was pretty cool thing to get to do with him. 

  • Stanley Headwall  -  Going to Night of Lies and waking up  5 hours later to climb 'Man Yoga' with Ian Welsted. We managed to both onsight the first four pitches before bailing as a result to the sun going down. Beers and a late start were not an ideal setup for success but I realised that day I should believe in my climbing ability more.

  • Mt Temple - Climbing the Greenwood Jones route on the North Face of Mt Temple with Jasmin Fauteux. We managed the route in 14 hours car to car, no speed records by any means but a time we were happy with. 

  • EEOR - Linking Generosity & Reprobate on the East End of Mt Rundle with Samuel Lambert. Combining these two routes offered us a day of 24 pitches of both traditional climbing!

  • Red Rocks  -  In 2012 I spent over a month at Red Rocks, Nevada. Samuel Lambert and I climbed almost every day and we manged to tick our ultimate goal - Resolution Arete, a 2500ft old school beast of a climb. We did it on one of the shortest days of the year. It was a 17 hour day. Below: Mt Wilson, Resolution Arete follows the turreted arete on the right hand side of the face.

  • Alaska - In May of 2013 my friend Brendan Maggs and I flew to into Alaskas Ruth Gorge. We climbed three routes, two of them on the Mooses Tooth - 'Shaken Not Stirred & Ham and Eggs Coulior. A few days later we climb the Japanese Coulior on Mt Barrill but abandoned plans of Peak 11,300 due to short weather windows, single boots and frost nipped toes. 

  • Mt Slesse - Jasmin Fauteux and I attempted the NE Buttress of Mt Slesse. We woke on the very base of the ridge at our exposed bivvy to an intense lighting storm and rain and had to bail. We then drove to Squamish and managed to salvage the afternoon with a the four pitch classic 'Rock On'. We were pretty devastated to get shut down with the weather on that route.

  • The Grand Wall - Due to bad weather all across the ranges we decided we had little chance of success at big alpine objectives and settled for a week at Squamish. While there we managed to climb The Grand Wall. Far from doing so in great style I still managed to lead the Split Pillar, it was a great pitch, complete with whippers. 

  • Attempt of Grand Central Coulior on Mt Kitchener - Me, Kris Irwin and Jasmin Fauteux attempted the Grand Central coulior on Mt Kitchener  - We ended up bailing at the base of the Doyle / Blanchard ice strip that was not formed, we could have climbed the mixed corner but my feet were freezing and the cost would have been too high. Despite bailing I still managed to do damage to my toes.

  • Swiss Cheese - Every winter starts with pumpy days at the playground, I love climbing pure ice but last winter i seemed more drawn to mixed climbing. A definite highlight of my season was sending 'Swiss Cheese' a M9 dry tooling route at The Playground just outside Canmore. When projecting a climb my friend Sarah Huenekin used to tell me to believe, really believe. Now when working hard on a route that word rings in my mind, Believe...

  • Fearful Symmetry - What an incredible way to bring in the New year. I climbed this route on New Years day with Joe Mckay. After watching his youtube videos for years in New Zealand I never thought I would be rope gunning him up elusive famous ice routes in the Ghost River Valley.

  • Curtain Call: Jasmin Fauteux and I climbed Curtain Call the previous two winters. This last time I got to lead the second pitch - a very rewarding pitch of ice to climb!

  • Sea of Vapors - Trophy Wall. Paul Taylor, Jasmin Fauteux and I climbed the ultra classic Sea of Vapors. I could not ask for a better climb to wrap up two years of climbing in the rockies.

These are only a small handful of special climbs and memories that I was lucky enough to share with great friends. While my life almost entirely revolved around climbing I was lucky enough to meet and befriend many other people who inspired me in their own way. One friend and mentor who inspired me greatly was Paul Zizka. During quiet times at Patagonia shop I used to sit and browse his collection of awe-inspiring photographs. One night when I saw him post one of his many impressive Aurora Borealis shots I decided to contact him through facebook. He responded swiftly and after chatting back and forth it was not long before he invited me to go chasing Auroras with him, offering to lend me his back up camera and tripod. Paul's generosity with his well earned  knowledge and precious time was incredible and I was so excited to have found yet another mentor in another discipline I was extremely excited to better myself in. Over the next few months we shared ideas and collaborated on night climbing photography projects - some of these images went on to help Paul gain incredible exposure and well deserved attention by several media outlets. I'm so happy as it was a small way of being able to say thank you to someone who otherwise I would not be able to offer a great deal, aside from enthusiasm and company on cold nights out shooting.

Here are a series of photos Paul Zizka took on some of our nights out together, the formula was pretty simple - I would climb frozen waterfalls by night and he would take photos, the results were pretty magical..

.* A shot of myself climbing at Haffner Creek, Kootenay National Park, British Columbia.

 *Haffner Creek, British Columbia. 

                                                    * Myself climbing at Johnston Canyon.

I feel that no matter what I manage to write on this space it will not even come close to portraying how special the Bow Valley and my friends there are to me. I'm no where near a skilled or patient enough writer to do my experiences, epics, triumphs and friendships justice but one has to try. My time spent in Canada was overwhelmingly positive. Never before have I felt I belonged in one place so much. It felt like everyday I would make new friends to learn from and laugh with. So here's to you friends of the Bow Valley - thanks for having me and helping me grow - I might just be seeing you sooner than expected.

1 comment:

  1. Such inspiring words John. You've gotten more done in the Rockies in a couple of years than many in a lifetime. It's be a real honor. Looking forward to our next meeting, wherever that is. Keep that great spirit of adventure you have! And best of luck in Nepal my friend!