Saturday, 8 August 2015

"For what it's worth: it's never too late...to be whoever you want to be."

"For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again." ~ Unknown

I've been a lot of things in my 35 years; a morning person, a night owl, a dirtbag, a professional, a friend, a foe, a horse rider, a rock climber, a coffee slinger, a project manager, a traveller, an alpinist, a family member, an individual, a girlfriend, a wife. 

While in Patagonia this last season, I knew that I'd be reinventing myself yet again when I returned home. As much as I desperately wished I could just be a rock climber, I needed to be a money maker too. Knowing that I'd be soon be going back to full-time work, it was time for me to squeeze out every last opportunity to climb in cool places, and with cool people. 

Well, if this was my last opportunity I needed to learn how to be an ice climber. What better way to reinvent myself as an ice climber than to commit to a mountain climbing trip to the Central Alaska Range, where ice replaces rock 99-1. Never in my wildest dreams...or nightmares, would I have envisioned myself climbing big snowy mountains in Alaska. It is about as far from my skill set as a climber that one can get. But, when else in my life am I going to find the time to learn how to be an Alaskan alpinist.

Naturally, I wasn't just going to go to Alaska with anyone. I was going to go with a real Alaskan, my shit-talking old friend, Seth. Seth was born in Fairbanks, and lives there today, in a cabin without plumbing he built with his own hands. He likes to go on 100 miles nordic ski tours, and hang out in saunas. I mean, he's a real Alaskan. 

But, before we could go climb all the gnarliest (*read* easiest) mountains in Alaska, I needed to learn how to place an ice screw. Seth agreed to meet me in Canmore, Alberta. 

Motivation was high during our "Fat Camp 2015" and we climbed as many days as we were able to lift our hands above our heads in the morning. I learned how to place ice screws and lead ice in a variety of conditions. This is a little late, but I wanted to share some photos from Fat Camp 2015 because Seth took some really pretty ones.


My first real ice climb! Seth approaches the aptly named, Professor Falls. What a scholarly place to learn to ice climb.
Seth leading the first or second pitch of Professor Falls.
My very first ice lead! How cool! Look at that sport-bolted ice screw line.
Seth on the crux pitch of Professor Falls.
Needless to say, we were feeling mega-gnarl at the top. I should add, this was definitely NOT Seth's first ice climb, but he indulged me in my need to puff my chest up a little.
It was called Fat Camp because Seth needed to lose weight. Ha, he's going to kill me.
Next up, we headed to another uber classic. Louise Falls sits above the most photographed lake in the world, Lake Louise.
Our friend Julie joined us for this one. She works in Jasper as an Avalanche Technician every winter, and lives in Squamish during the summers. Unlike me, she actually is an ice climber.
Looking down from the top of the secon pitch. I'm looking down checking out our tourist audience far below.
Yes, another psyched-at-the-tippy-top shot.
In keeping with the Fat Camp theme our rest days comprised of racing up mountains. Here I am following Seth up high on Mt. Lady MacDonald, with Canmore far below.
Layering up at the base of Guinness Gully.
This would be my first WI4 lead. Was I ready?!
And there you have it. Apparently it was in really easy condition. I mean, there were giant holes all over the thing!
Seth on the next pitch, which was long and awesome.
Again, stoke was high during Fat Camp.
We made friends with a soloist halfway up Guinness Gully, and decided to team up. He graciously offered to lead us up the hardest pitch. How fortuitous.
Oh Sethie, looking so happy on the top.
Then we headed to the Stanley Headwall, where the big kids play. And where we intended to climb the easiest, measliest route on the wall, Sinus Gully.
I don't care if all we managed to do was climb the route with a snot reference. It was an amazing place to be, and I felt honoured to be climbing beside all these famous ice and mixed lines I'd only ever read about. 
Seth at the base of a classic WI 5 route, which I cannot remember the name of right now. Funny that, because at the time, I swore I was going to get good enough to climb it one day. I still will, I'll just hopefully figure out the name before I do it.
Then things got ugly. I'd always heard about how bad the snow was in the Rockies. Seth and I had to crawl on our hands and knees about 150 metres to the base of our route. It was that bad!
More of Seth's "lifestyle" handywork.
For a route named after snot, it's really beautiful. And was super fun! Seth on the first ice pitch.
Me climbing the second mixed pitch.
That was kind of it for the route. It was a long walk, and an even longer crawl to climb 2 pitches, but whatever.
The culmination of Fat Camp was to be Murchison Falls. Here's Seth approaching the route.
The weather kind of deteriorated as the day went on, which made it feel considerably more "mountain" than it otherwise would have. Which was good practise for Alaskan Alpinism!
Seth at our first belay as the wind and snow really start to roar.
Me leading off on the second pitch.
Above me is the third pitch, which I lead, in full-on spin drift. It felt heroic, if I do say so myself.
Me leading off on the third pitch. 
Seth following me.
My version of a hardcore alpinist selfie. Unfortunately, it didn't quite come off as hardcore as I had hoped. Typical.
Me following the final pitch. I really like this photo.
And that was it. A successful Fat Camp. I managed to progress through the grades a little, which was nice. And, like I said, I've now got my sights on a WI5, of which I have no idea the name. Ha!