Adventures and obsessions with climbing – this is about the summer I started to trad climb in Bugaboo Provincial Park. I was visited at one point by my friend Skyler and his friend Greg. Working nearby in the vicinity of Creston, they popped over for a couple of days of jamming in granite cracks. At the time my climbing experience was limited to mountaineering, bouldering, sport-climbing and some late-night buildering (known locally as ‘croquet’). So for me the Bugs was about expanding my knowledge of rock-craft.
Between the three of us, we had extremely limited trad-experience. I had some borrowed gear and had thrutched my way up some other routes with other patient partners over the month I spent in the park. By the time Skyler and Greg arrived, I was feeling in pretty solid form. We set our sights on Surfs Up (5.9), an uber-classic on Snowpatch Spire, rumoured to have amazing hand-jamming high up. All systems were go – we were practically salivating over the prospect of being justified in taping our hands and doing it. Actually doing it. Climbing trad. Old-school. Retro. Jamming…
We got to the base of the route in good time, only to find several other parties. The first a guided party of two took off at a good clip and soon were up and away. We waited for the second party – a young man and his girlfriend. She was nervous and he was not looking too solid. We waited as they gaffed their way up the first pitch eventually deciding to turn back and rap off. In the meantime we did push-ups to stay warm and watched the sun creep around, soaking the Howsers and Pigeon Spire in morning light.
Finally our turn. I will lead every pitch, as I am the ‘experienced’ one. This dawns on me as we stash our boots and axes. I am sweating already, despite being in the freezing shade up close to the wall. Good God it looks big. I start up. Its mostly face climbing, flakes and things. Classic alpine terrain. I feel good. Strong. A few pitches later and some rather cramped belay stances the three of us have arrived in the pocket – an excellent stance where we all stop to eat lunch. I have placed my first ever hex at this belay. The definition of bomber. I am excited and tell Skyler, he seems non-plussed (Greg seems a bit frightened by my enthusiasm) . Ah-well, on with business. Here our route finding fails us and I continue up a corner, lay backing and doing my first finger locks. Much too hard for 5.9 we think. There is indecision in the air. I struggle about until we decide that in the end the first part of the route has taken too long. We are tired. I am mentally fried. The leading, the air beneath my feet, the shade, the sun. I have swum into the deep end and I have been scared for so long I am exhausted.
We head down.
Now as I sit writing, staring at videos, images and stories of great ski-traverses, descents and epic mountains I can’t help but dream of the warm dry rock on the best days of Squamish or the Bugs. The tenderness of the palm after a day of climbing, the roughness of dry tips, and the sweet embrace of the perfect finger lock. I can’t wait for the summer.