Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Times are Changing

I love getting away from roads, phones, and coffee. Managed to do this a couple of weeks ago, with Maarten Van Haeren and Jay Mills. Came back, put it n Facebook, and within two days it was online at the American Alpine Journal.

Maarten is relatively new to the first asscent game, and wanted to know why the story was getting so much attention for such an easy climb.  Big fish, little pond?  Slow news day?  Who knows.  Sure was fun.

What have we here?

Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature.
-Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada (1968-79, 1980-1984)

Times were changing in Canada. We were celebrating the end of the ten year reign of Canada's Conservative party and their fear based policies. They'd been trounced by Justin Trudeau, the son of one of Canada's most revered leaders. It was October and the mountains were dry. Things were headed in the right direction.

Jay and I spent a day approaching, then a day and a night getting high above Moraine Lake, featured on the old twenty dollar bill. . The road was closed. We road our bikes in ten kilometers and had the valley to ourselves. That's the amazing thing about alpine climbing in Canada; you don't even have to go anywhere obscure to have the first ascents to yourself. There are only three alpine routes on the side of the valley we were interested in, and the last one was established 30 years ago.

We didn't make it up our objective in the Valley of the Ten Peaks. But it couldn't be beaten as a backyard adventure There is nothing more Canadian than a trip into nature, no matter how brief. It seems to have been put aside in climbing circles, this need to commune with the natural world. A friend has challenged her mixed sport climbing friends to try establishing one new non-sport route each this winter.

In 1988, just down the range, Ken Wallator had spent 4 days out on Storm Mountain. He and Tom Thomas were getting chased around by wardens for pirate camping, so they figured they might as well spend the time up on the mountain. It was a route that had grown to mythical proportions, partly due to Ken's widely reputed hardman abilities. I had been talking about going for a look see at the face for at least five or six years, the same period I and all of my friends had been wishing for a change back to a more Canadian attitude in our national politics. We'd managed to get rid of the might-as-well-be-Texan Alberta politicians; maybe we could get up Ken's route?

Jay was chatting with our new team member, Maarten, about whether Alaska or Cham is better. Maarten works in a wilderness centre for addictions recovery, helping troubled young men find solace in nature. He had spent the last 6 nights camping out.

“Come on, look at where we are, we've got it the best”, I interceded, “where else do you have the entire trail to yourself as soon as you step off the highway?”

We'd just managed to climb an easy gully up the center of the Northeast Face of Storm in 13 hours camp to camp. We hadn't revisited Ken's fierce looking effort from the 80s. Instead we'd shocked ourselves with how easy it was to get up this face we'd all looked at so much. It seemed like we had created an insurmountable problem in our minds, rather than just going for a look. Like how Canada had veered into scary xenophobia from the Conservatives as they tried desperately to hold onto power. We'd voted the fear-mongers out of power, just as we'd faced our doubts and found a path of little resistance. Sometimes the way ahead is just staring you in the face if you'll only take it.

“Can I name it 'Canoeing to Cuba' after Pierre Trudeau? You know, he tried to canoe from Florida to Cuba to visit Castro. He worked in the cane fields there when he spent a year traveling the world when he was young”, I recounted.

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