I zip the lid of my 70-litre backpack closed and hoist it onto the hood of my car with a grunt. In two awkward steps, I spin around and hump it onto my 155-pound frame, lunging forward to catch my balance. My partner Karl Durtler and I are the only people in the parking lot of Bugaboo Provincial Park, having just finished stuffing our worldly possessions into massive packs to keep us safe from the almighty granite spires.
We are headed into the renowned massif in its shoulder season, the first week of June, to experience a popular area without the crowds and line-ups that follow in August. Our climbs are usually predicated on the promise of true adventure. As we’ve learned to climb on granite merely weeks ago in Squamish, it seems to me that 5.10 crack climbing, our physical limit, can provide ample opportunities to experience some of our precious “adventure” in a setting that will not provide any easy handouts.
We pour over our invaluable guidebook that night, searching for a route that will test our judgment, fortitude, and fingers in equal amounts. I am enticed by Crescent Spire’s Paddle Flake Direct (5.10, III) and the book’s photo of a climber stemming up a slight overhanging dihedral, high above a pearly glacier. Although one of the route’s cruxes is a squeeze chimney, and neither Karl or I had led one of any reminiscent difficulty before, we aspired to rise to the challenge.
I opt for an alpine start the next morning, 10 a.m. to be precise, clearly indicating our alpine inexperience. I revel in the loneliness of our situation while crossing over the Crescent glacier. This is exactly what I came to the Bugaboos for; pristine alpine wilderness, inspiring granite walls, and my best friend as the only company for miles around.
Rather than feelings of apprehension, fearing the commitment of an unknown climb, I feel a mutual understanding with these mountains. I didn’t come all the way to the Bugaboos to stroke my ego. I am inspired to try hard in the alpine and hopefully pass through unscathed.
|Starting up the first pitch. Photo by Karl Durtler|
I rack up, intimidated, at the base of Crescent Spire and begin climbing. The first several pitches
pass by in a flurry of nervous energy and before long we are staring up at the infamous Paddle Flake. The
Flake is a lustrous chimney just wide enough to stuff a body into and squirm your way up.
It’s my lead and I’m scared. I have never climbed a real chimney before, much less a difficult one, and I’m worried there won’t be any places for gear. I strap an entire double rack to me just to be sure and, with much clinking, shuffle over to the base of the crack. I take a deep lungful of mountain air and jam myself into the chimney.
It feels foreign to climb inside a claustrophobic slot and I move carefully up the greasy rock. My lack of technique dictates that I flex my entire body to remain suspended in the crack, and before long my arms are pumped and I’m panting. I reach far into the back of the chimney and find a crack small enough to fit my biggest cam, creating a fleeting reprieve. The crack yawns wider above me and my only option for protection is a microwave-sized block, wedged at two-thirds height in the chimney. I grovel up the tight squeeze, cursing myself at each breath for bringing up so much gear. I’m relieved to reach the stuck block and to give myself another piece of safety, when to my horror I bump the block with my head. It groans and rotates in place!
|Inside the Paddle Flake. Photo by Karl Durtler|
I weigh my options, to finish the pitch I now face 25 ft of unprotected climbing in a completely foreign style. I look down at the boulder-strewn ledge below me, shudder, and downclimb to the belay. Back at the ledge, I prepare to start bailing to the glacier below. But Karl stops me and insists we swap ends of the rope. He wants to give it a go.
Karl sucks in his stomach and squeezes himself into the mountain, accepting the runout he must climb through. I watch his rope slowly inch upwards in front of me, my stress building as I study its agonizing pace. I wipe sweating palms one by one on my pant legs to maintain a good grip. Karl’s feet smear against the opposite wall and his hands push himself higher and higher into the belly of the featureless cleft. A fall here would not end well for him. My heart beats faster and thumps in my head, I urge him to stay strong.
Karl reaches the final 10 feet of the chimney, the most insecure moves, and pauses. He must grip the outside of the Paddle Flake, pulling himself out of the chimney and swing over on top. The sequence isn’t terribly hard, but a fall would surely mutilate him. Karl yells down to me that he needs to mentally prepare before he commits and wedges himself in the back of the chimney to rest.
As I anxiously await below, a soft sound begins to drift from within the dark, deadly chimney. My ears immediately recognize the melodic reggae beat. I can’t believe it. “Karl! Are you listening to Bob Marley?” I ask. “Yeah! I think I butt dialed the song in my pocket!” he yells back. The absurdity of our situation sinks in and I almost laugh in disbelief. Two teenagers, over their heads and alone in the alpine, are now accompanied by the soothing tunes of “Don’t Worry About a Thing” wafting from the very mountain they’re climbing.
But I begin to see the effect of Bob Marley on Karl’s psyche. The music appears to soothe his climbing; shuffling up the rock is no longer aggressive and forceful, but calculated and smooth. I can see that Bob has instilled some sort of peace in Karl, encouraging him to go for it. I inhale deeply and hold it while Karl commits to the final exit moves, executing perfectly and hauling himself on top. He howls into the mountains and I joined him with a smile that stretches my cheeks wide. It is moments like these that we had come to the Bugaboos to find.
I climb up to meet Karl at the belay and we share an elated embrace. In a singular rope length, we had justified our desire to climb in the mountains, to feel exposed and daring among a formidable audience. It was my turn to lead once again and I turned my attention to the overhanging corner above me… another adventure awaited.
|Adventure Awaits Photo by Anthony Walsh|
Anthony Walsh is an adventurous Carleton University journalism student. This feature was a winning piece for Project J- a journalism contest held at Carleton University for students to win publication opportunities.