Mount Willingdon, Crown, and Tower – July 28th 2018

Life was feeling like it was coming together and falling apart at the same time. My family back in Alberta was preparing for my grandmother’s funeral. When the elderly in your family is on their deathbed, it seems inevitable that a funeral will come. You can never be as prepared for the future as you want to be, and that is the whole point of following the path you see. You don’t follow it blindly, it cannot be denied.

I had just returned to British Columbia after my trip up Mount Denny, and it was already time to depart again. I was still attempting to volunteer with my time, and caught up in making my life better. I had rolled into Williams Lake, showered, re-packed, and hit the road for Vancouver Island. I was so scattered across Alberta and BC that I forgot to cancel the first aid course that I was in with TRU. I had been asked to go to a wedding on the island, and an opportunity like this to share smiles with a family that means so much to me was a narrow focus. Lessons… slowing down and being prepared is not about looking ahead. This balance is one I am still striving to achieve.

The island was a great reminder of the reasons why we need to return from our trips. No different than the trip of this life, and our time-locked reality, we also go through cycles and return to a similar place that we once visited on our path. The trip passed by without me saving any memories from it. The photos I took ring a bell, but I have nothing of importance that was worth learning from.

This to me is perfection. These moments where there was no failure, there was no tragic event that caused me to hold onto a fear, there was no cycle of inition where I needed to let go of some wrong I felt. Sure, this does mean that I did not grow from the experience. Albeit, I would have done better for myself ditching the wedding and taking the course that was paid for by a 3rd party. Yet I suppose that lesson was what I took from leaving my puddle in the Fraser Plateau.

As soon as I returned from Vancouver Island, it was time to ready myself to go to my grandmother’s celebration of life in Alberta. Living with zero incoming money, and no work, is a struggle to say the least. Climbing mountains, and affording the travel for trips, is a whole different issue. So naturally, my girlfriend, my family, and my friends, knew that there would be a major trip on my way back to my hometown. I had a traverse of Mount Willingdon in my sights, and Ian Curran – the rad dude from Yamnuska Mountain Adventures whom I did AST1 with, had just ran the summit and provided the community with enough beta to know she was a go. I immediately contacted Catlin.

Catlin had invited me to lead him through the notches on the SW ridge on Cline earlier in the year. We had bonded over the experience. Yet, it had now become so much more than a bond. Over the last 6 months, Catlin had been a huge influence on my life. He had become a positive individual who lived with action, not talk, and it was always positive. After Cline, and the learning that went on there, Willingdon was in the books with him. I do not plan ahead too much with our mountains, it is about picking summits that are in good condition and have solid weather windows. Plan A through Z need to be considered in the Canadian Rockies. You do not get your first pick often.

After trying to plan trip after trip with my partner, I was ready to give the smiling man with the big heart my confidence that we would get Willingdon. The universe provides if you have zero doubt, and Catlin happened to have the week off, but needed to spend the day with his son before his next rotation. Catlin worked in a high risk environment, and had moved up enough to sit at a station during his worktime. His strech of days off were of a focus, his son. If he had any chance of spending time with his son, of which we talked of taking our kids out together in the years to come, that was priority. If he had any free time, it was in the mountains. And after sharing more than just summits together, I knew he was the man I wanted to spend such an important trip with.

It was not the objective that was important to me. Traversing Willingdon, Crown, and Tower, there and back, was easier than my solo trip to do the Fryatt Traverse with no summit. The time spent in the backcountry, in the alpine, and in my head, was the trip. I would have two days maximum to squeeze in the trip, and it just so happened that Catlin has the same two days. The universe speaks to us beyond comprehension. I knew that this trip, to move fast and light, to be safe and watch each other’s backs, and to spend a night on the shores of a huge tairn, would almost be a NAM.TAR moment. Yet, in this case, there was zero choice in the matter. A destiny moment, that felt like it was fate. And the trip provided to be just that.

The trip was intense to say the least. I left Williams Lake in the middle of the night, no sleep, and drove through the night. I met up with the dude whom I owe so much to, and we packed. We set off on our approach, and we shared smiles down the trail. The feelings between us were pure, lighthearted, and held zero worry or doubt. I do not know how well Catlin could see NAM, yet we both saw the true outcome of this trip. We would both return with an understanding of life beyond anything a typical experience could possibly provide.

We had no issues with the trail. The path forward was clear, even if the trail was faint. The ascent to Quartzite Col was full of Talus. Steven Song’s report showed that they were heavily off trail and ascended a pile of rocks that looked tiresome and lengthy. We cruised up the col by sticking to the right, and soaked in the sunny afternoon.

Our descent into the alpine valley below was a moment of awe. The smoke from the fires back home, and the view of Willingdon, stopped us in our tracks. The moment was here. We had arrived to the point of pure meditation, and we both shared this unspoken agreement. There was no more talk except the neccessary until we reached our camp and the sun was setting. Our skills were clearly different, and we saw our strengths and weaknesses reflected in each other. We would move forward as one.

The night beside Upland Lake, which is really just a tairn or giant puddle, next to the Devon Lakes was intense. There was no conversation but just an understanding until the moon began a traverse between a gap, only to be cut off when it disappeared behind Devon Mountain.

I knew at that point that this was Catlin’s last trip with me. Due to our subconscious all being of one energy, he knew as well. We talked about the energy that surrounds us, that is us, and how we need to follow the path not blindly, but embrace that which we see coming for ourselves with zero fear. The time that the moon was visable was too short. We talked about Mount Smuts again, and how I was not going to be able to make it. And how it would be his last trip. Past, present, and future became one for the two of us. The understanding that he gave off was unreal. A truly humbling moment.

I did not sleep, but meditated the 3 hours we had alloted for ourselves to rest our bodies. We arose to a beautiful and clear night. We ascended the mountain. We gained the ridge North of the col. And we were both humbled by the sight of the summit. The sun had risen, and we were into the terrain that we were after. Racing the sun and crossing the alpine ice and snow was serious, and we had dropped the jokes. Yet, the positive vibe was still there. We moved with zero doubt in our actions. It was not about blind faith, but diligence and clear observations.

A summit was gained, and Catlin allowed me to be the first to gain it. Not only that, but he had straight up waited and told me to pass him on the final steps. Catlin was content. He always was. He was willing to go home, Willingdon in the bag. There was no way I would allow that to happen. We were standing on the same block that housed another 11000er and I knew that this was time together that we needed to relish. We could make it home in the dark, and the later we waited to ascend the icy col hidden in shawdow on our way back to our vehicles, the colder it would be, and that would be all the better. The day was warm and we were both glad to be off the snow, and back on a dry rock ascent of another two peaks.

Crown and Tower were bagged with ease and we were back to the col too fast. The walk and climb over Quartzite Col was ahead of us, and there was no more talk. The understanding between us was positive, clear, and unlike anything I have experienced. We walked out on a well maintained trail in Banff National Park in pitch black, and we were both in our cars driving towards Red Deer before I knew it. The trip was done, I made a short post in the 11000ers facebook group to help others get up her, and Mark Klassen made a comment that hurt.

The gist was that we did not take our time. A 34hr push, including a 3hr nap, was not the way to enjoy the area. That was all the time we had, and the time was some of the best I have spent. Other things happened. I went for other objectives. When Catlin told me he was leaving for Mount Smuts the night before his fall, I sat down and wrote a 3600 word obituary about why we do what we do. I used it a few days later when his family asked me to make a post to the community about his passing. The hardest part was knowing. Knowing that he knew. And knowing that we both needed to let it happen, and follow the path. The unspoken view of the reality around us is the source of all anxiety, and there was none. I am still coming to terms with living my life with such a clear path ahead, and not having anxiety knowing that the harder I try to avoid it, the harder my life will be. Embracing that is which to come, living in the zone, and loving every moment of the present is what Catlin and this trip meant to me. I am ever thankful for the 34 hours I spent with him then. They will sit with me forever.

Mount Denny, Kananaskis – July 9th 2018

The balance I am seeking lies somewhere between ego, confidence, and the guilt I feel when speaking my mind. The heart is open when we are weak, and it is a challenge to keep it open during our day to day life. Strength is not found by holding on tight, it is found when you can let it go.

On my way back from my trip to Cline with Catlin, I sat in my car alone and thought. I often have had ample time to be in my head and work on myself. Of late, I have had no time to myself, which is an obserd thought as I have had all the time to do with as I please. My thoughts were on what was to come. When the future is the same as the present, and NAM makes life clear, it often leads to more pain due to the simple fact that you realize that you cannot control what is to come.

I did not know the way to my own heart. Seeking the help I needed was far from myself at the time, and seeking to help others had become a strange and awkward experience. I am no one to help anyone else with meditation or positive thinking and I ended up driving the opposite direction than was home. I drove to my parents house and hit the hot waters to soak.

There was ample time to work on myself, but I was caught up in nothing. I was not focused on mountains, I was not focused on myself. I came home to my mom stressing about the funeral for her mother. I had been trying to help others too much, yet preaching to the community that working on yourself is the way to help others. Everyone constantly sees what they hate in themselves in the people around them. It makes sense, in the sense that we are all one. The reflection of our true self is evendent in the community that surrounds us. The narcissist is all of us, whether we see it or not. Everyone acts on this, and it defines our friends, our family, and our community lives.

My mom was a wreck. She was not spreading hate very much, yet that is something she can dive deep into like the rest of us. She was full of worry for the future. The passing of my grandmother was hard on my family. It was seen from so far away, and the things we cannot change, but see, has the greatest affect on our confidences moving forward. My mom was telling me I needed to pray for others. She was saying I should have been praying for my grandmother. I have not prayed for anyone else in years. It is not like I am praying for personal gain, I have just realized that praying for others comes in a two-fold issue.

First off, one must work on themselves. You cannot go out into the world trying to save it, if you cannot save yourself. It relates to the biblical mesage that you must take the speck out of your own eye before attempting to remove the twig from your neighbor’s. We are almost always blind to the hate that we have buried inside of our heart. This hate affects our descisions, our actions, and our outlook on life. There is no sane way to give anyone advice, in any situation. Period. We all have original sin. We all harbour hate inside. It is about understanding that you cannot look inside anothers head. You cannot know what motivates another. You can only see thier actions, which can give insight to their intent. Intent is all that matters, and no human can ever judge another, for the simple fact that you will never have enough information to know where their heart lies in the situation. If the intent is pure, yet the action is flawed, it is still up to the individual to come to terms with it, and learn.

Secondly, if one is praying for another, it is selfish. And that is a simple fact. If you are praying for another, it is because it leads back to yourself. There is no way that you can pray for another, that does not lead to a benefit for someone other than the person you are focusing on. The one who ‘needs’ the prayer can only be helped by the grid if they are open and accepting. Praying that someone will wake up to thier own reality would be the best way to pray for another, and then they would really only be helping themselves. The grid is ever present, and it is constantly showing it’s power to those with an open eye. It is the individual who chooses to see the signs of the path to move forward, and just like intent, there is nothing another can do for them if they are not already doing it for themselves. If you are praying for another to have good health or luck, it is really the grid that is providing these things, and they are always there if the individual wants to accept it. You are praying for another’s health because of how it will affect your life, or other’s lives that are entangled.

I expressed this thought to my mother in the simplest of ways. She called me selfish in such an angry and hateful way that it still hurts more than I ever thought words could. How dare I not pray for my grandmother? How selfish was I to only be thankful for my provisions, seek understanding with the community, and ask deep forgiveness for seeking my own life, when there is a clear path that I constantly ignore? My mother was triggered. She was pure hate. Hate is such a contagious safety blanket and it is uber painful to watch others go through the motions of having it come to the surface, only to be buried in order to feel better. No one wants to purposely entertain hateful emeotion and thoughts. And I certainly do not want to spread hate to my mother.

The relationship between myself and my family is fucked beyond anything I thought would ever happen. I am not living up to thier expectations and I am not the person that grew up in thier household. I am a man in a body. I am a man that will change everything that is me to grow and learn. I left with my entire extended family behind. I cared not for them anymore. They have their own paths, and mine is the only I should focus on, for it is the only one I can change. I cannot help another, without helping myself first. Is that ego? Standing up for myself is an issue I have. It draws on the Left, and ego can follow, so I would rather bend over and make you feel strong and important.

I met up with a climber that I had met at Will Gadd’s house the year prior. An individual that is beyond a life that I can describe. An idividual that is too easy to describe, yet also one I cannot fully understand for the clear reason that I truly do not care. We ascended Mount Denny together in an event that I am still hesitant thinking about. I was the epitaph of shit. That may be my own opinion, but I have learnt so much since then, and my opinion has only become clearer. Not on him, but myself and my own actions. The aspects of the ascent was mundane. Our conversations bland. I had summited just to do a summit, and that was done for the wrong reasons.

I am not going into the details of this trip. It does not matter. Some random ascent of some rarely ascended peak in Kananaskis. We found the FA tin film cannister and I handed it into the ACC in Canmore, and I shared the stoke. I actually did not care, yet was excited for what it meant to the community. I came home more lost than I ever have been before, even more lost than when a family that was fucking with me drove me 100km away from where I was expecting to go, and dropped me off homeless in the woods with everything that I owned on my back. The solo time I needed in the mountains was never found. I was more lost than ever when I returned to the Fraser Plateau. The urge to get out of the hole in the ground called Williams Lake was so strong upon return that I broke down and became something that was so far from what I was.

I sought validation. There is no reason to ever seek it, yet it is a thing that can help so much once achived. Validation gives confidence without ego. Yet seeking it only brings the ego. The balance I had between Ego and Id was fucked beyond belief. I returned to the place I called home with a stress that was settling in more than I ever thought that a place could give me. I did not move forward. I remained stagnate. And Catlin and I started to plan our trip to Willingdon, a trip that was only going to happen when I was to return to Alberta for the funeral that was so heavy on my family’s heart.

SW Ridge on Mount Cline – July 5th 2018

The trick of making it to arrangements is too much for most, in a sense that most do not comprehend the truth of time. Scheduling and routine are the daily, and they allow the future to be predicted well. The issue with observations of NAM is that cycles give hints to what must occur in the future, there are just never enough pieces to make much sense of the whole picture. Knowing what must come is a stress when you can only see through a tiny portion of your window to reality. You are the one controlling the cleaning, and thus the reality you view. Making plans for a summit bid and doing beta is essential in the simple fact that as many pieces that can be found, must be placed on the board.

I had a plan to get back to Alberta for climbing. I did not know that it would be my grandmother’s funeral that called me back. My partner, a silly notion to even call him that, had completely fucked his season and told me to go for anything I could get my hands on. When you think you have plans to go after so much, and you are willing to sit in your car week after week in the Rockies to get summits, but your partner is all talk… I feel like I lost myself. I am a solo dude, and now I am realizing just how much climbing solo in the alpine is my thing.

Catlin was going after Cline. He wanted it and talked about it constantly. His plans involved an individual that he called a flake without skill. I am the type of idiot who will drop all my own shit to help someone if they ask, so I met up with Cat to lead his team through the notches on the SW ridge of Cline. Don’t get me wrong, I was fucking stoked to get out on an 11, but I had plans to do the North Ridge, and those plans were with an individual that I was banking on to actually climb to the summits he constantly talked about. I really dislike climbing with randoms.

I prefer to be 100% solo in the mountains year round, no matter the sport. Yet, now that I want to actually progress in the alpine, I need partners for belays. On my way to Alberta for the funeral, an event that I thought was so life changing – yet was not – I met up with Catlin and went after Cline despite the shit storm I received. The day has horrid from start to finsh to be honest. A forced day. It was amazing in the sense that I lead the way to the summit of an 11 in the snow, yet I was truly forced.

I arrived at a family campsite in the David Thompson Corridor. Catlin was there and was all smiles of course. He only wanted to talk beta and go over our plans for the next chunk of hours to come. The unknown partner, and his family, was there. I could instantly tell that I wanted nothing to do with the whole crowd. I do not understand the difference between my skill set and that of people who ‘climb’. This was not the first person I had met that ice climbed or sport climbed that was a complete liability in the backcountry. I made sure we got on the road as soon as possible to head to our trail head.

We arrived at the grassy pullout on the side of highway 11, where we would leave our cars, at midnight. I told them that we would be leaving as soon as they were packed. The result was that the random wanted to sleep in the passenger front seat of Catlin’s car for a few hours before departing. As I had driven through the previous night to get to Alberta from Williams Lake, and had a double bed in the back of my car, I figured why not? At least this way we would be rested and should be faster overall. I did not sleep anyways, but packed my backpack from the storage locker under my bed, chain smoked liked a chimney, and meditated. We ended up going a lot sooner than I even thought I’d be able to get them going, and I am really glad for that.

The approach started in the worst way. We headed out into the woods, with our headlamps on, and myself taking the rear. This was not my trip, and I did not know the leader at all, but he was an ice climber, and a regular mountain dude. An individual whom had introduced Catlin to summits. We immediately began to vear off trail and loose our way, and worse yet the pace was a slow casual walk. I started to wonder why I even agreed to go on this trip. I did not take the lead, and Catlin and I left him in front, so we would not leave him behind.

I took over 4 hours to make it to the lake on the approach, and it was clear why when we arrived at basecamp in the light. There was basically a frontcountry camp fest being brought up on the approach. Catlin and his partner were planning on camping at the lake after the summit, and I planned on jogging the fuck out of there as soon as I had met the random – and told Catlin as much. It was simply enough to get the random to give up and stay at camp. He was bagged from the approach and it took over an hour to set up his camp. With so much time wasted on a single day push on Cline, I just started for the summit, and Catlin diligently followed as he left his friend. I felt horrid. Who was I to come into this group in this sort of a situation? I have about 5000 hours alone in the mountains, but only intermediate rope skills at best.

The way I live my life for others, is typically viewed by others who are observant enough to see it, for it’s self destructive nature. Catlin on the other hand had mastered it. I still do not understand, and that is a huge part of my own journey.

As we gained the snow slope at the back of the lake, it was clear that it was going to be a warm day, if not hot. It had recently snowed while I was on Skyladder, and it was a Spring that was dragging out into summer. I was already growing concered about the glacier and snow conditions that we were soon to encounter. I was also ever grateful that Catlin’s friend was staying behind. The approach had a few snowy ascent sections, and this new dude had serious issues getting up them. The way up past the lakes was far steeper and the snow was softening.

We had overpacked. I brought my 60m, as my broke ass did not have a 30m yet, and I do not trust partners. I had everything I needed to summit, and potentially save one of my partners lives. Self sustaining has been the way that I have lived through countless idiotic bids. Even if the snow was complete shit on the way down, I would be fine. I knew Catlin would be solid through it as well, despite the fact that our trip to traverse Grizzly Peak had been his only snowy climbing experience in his life. The trip was on, the sun was out, and we were ripping towards the notches on Cline with smiles that were larger than life.

As we topped out on the glacier we began to scope out all the action that could be seen from our newly found vantage point. Cline was way off in the back, and Catlin was green enough, in the not being solo sense, that he was buying me telling him, “We are almost there.”. The sun was seriously hot, and avalanches started coming down the Western aspects of the unnamed peak we skirted. The only reason I actually continued past this point was that everything that was going to slide, had already slid due to our extremely late arrival to the area.

We pushed on, and smiles were shared. I did not an any point wonder if we were not going to summit. I did not have summit fever, but I did see enough of the reality we live in to see me safely back at camp, so we pushed on.

The ridge that houses the notches, was covered in snow, just like the the entire approach from the lake. It was an 8 hour approach to the notches, and I still had to teach Catlin how to belay me through them. Thankfully I was more than confident to make it through the notches solo, for it was a ‘pychological’ belay at best.

After a quick rundown of the situation, and feeling confident in the anchors I set up, I ventured into the first notch with my tools in hand and my pons still on. The aspects of the notches that were North facing were still covered in ice, while the ones that caught the sun were dry. While we were standing there avalaches were bombing down the Southeastern aspect of the Cline summit block. The slope we were to ascend after making it through the notches looked scantily covered with snow, and stable enough to continue. If we got through the notches and encountered snow that was uber sketch, we would turn around. At least I would take Catlin through the climbing he was so highly seeking, and I would not be to blame for the lack of a summit if it came to that.

We used the centre fin of the first notch to set up a terrain belay, and the situation felt extremely solid. Despite Catlin wanting to carry on as quickly as we could, due to the snow, this was a situation where care was needed more than ever. When I am with confident and somewhat cocky partners, the ones that bitch that I am too cocky – as folk pick out what they hate in themselves, I tend to bend over and not stand my ground. This is a flaw I am working on, as I know I have more experience. This is especially the case when it comes to snow and survival. I was thankful in the sense that Catlin would listen to me if I said we needed to bail. That alone gave me the confidence to make the correct choices to summit safely.

The notches were the only fun on the whole trip. Not to say that approaches and scrambling to the alpine is not fun, it is just that we were finally sharing smiles and working with the skills we were wanting to hone. I do not know why anyone would want to jump the second notch. The rock is a mix of slab and scree, and a busted ankle would be a real risk. What kind of idiot takes a risk like that at that elevation?

I left my rope in the first notch, and we used Cat’s 30m to rap down the second notch. After making it though the second notch, I was actually super stoked for getting the chance to pass through them on the way up, instead of hitting them on the way down from the North Ridge without a top rope left in place. After tying off the safety line home, and retrieving a crampon that fell into the notch, we were on our way. The summit was a walk up to the top, and we were there. Summits truly never matter if you do not return home. The urge to get back to those notches, and through the heavily melting snow, was weighing down on me.

Catlin took a fall on Mount Smuts this summer, and did not return from his bid. The reflection that I am having while reliving this trip is sad to say the least. The summit he achived, only to die in a >300m choss fall, is worthess to him. To me it was the end of my summer. It was also the start of something far greater.

We made our way back down after the ceremonial high five and shared summit beer. The snow was gone. We walked down on scree where there was once snow. Water was flowing over rocks where we ascended snow a few hours earlier. There was no more risk than a typical hike. The joys were filling our hearts to the brim and beyond, to the point where I completely forgot about the dude back at Catlin’s camp.

We arrived at the now two lakes, where there was previously only one, and shared an hour of smiles. I stood up after a long silence, and I jogged home. The leasuirly jog to my car took me 45mins. Counting the time it took to set up the camp at the lake, this was less than 10% of the time it took before we departed the lakes that morning. The idea of going back to climb solo was not just appearing in my mind, it was solidifying. It was truly safer to go back to freesoloing over 5.6, than banking on idiots in the backcountry. The summit was rad, but a line had been drawn on my heart. I started my car, and drove into the heart of Alberta. To seek water. To seek meditation. To seek family. There was something shooken in me that had not been stirred since I was taking fat photographers to Kananaskis for hikes. It was not the thrill to better myself, it was the need to start telling people to fuck off, instead of thinking it was a good idea to venture out into the most sacred of places with them.

The podcast…

Watch for a new podcast, found on all your favorite platforms, apps, and even here – featuring special guests.

It has been a long time putting this together and we are stoked to have worked out all the details to ensure a successful bid.

Thanks to everyone who has helped get this off the ground – and those like David at Canadian Alpine Tools who will be featured in the first series set.

Happy Autumn everyone, and we will hear from you soon.

True beginnings.

Time. The importance of it, and the negation of it. I am lost in a sea of time. One where the current is ever flowing and I relax enough and let it flow, I can tell exactly where the current will bring me. Currently I am sitting indoors, hiding from the smoke here in BC, and I am reflecting on the past month, or years, and how it has brought me here.

I suppose if I am to start writing about my beginnings in the alpine, it requires an alpine start, preparation, and of course – a ton of beta. So I am sitting here, at 3am, many weeks after I completed the Alpine Skills Solstice Long Weekend with Jeff Bullock (Alpine Air Adventures), and I am reflecting and ready to write.

I am going to take this back. I am going to write in my half-hazard, hard-to-follow, and deranged style of writing that typically only makes sense to the dedicated reader who sticks it out. I am writing here for my spirituality. The mountains are my church, and unlike Will Gadd has said, ‘Freedom of the Hills’ is not my bible. Don’t get me wrong, the book is the working word on the facts about what we do, I am just a man who has spent enough time alone in the woods to find his inner light. A light that I often have to strive to listen to, for my window of life tends to get dusty and I can get preoccupied with desires to clean it and continue to see clearly.

Why do I climb mountains? I get asked this question more often than I thought I ever would of late. The funny thing is, is that I do not really consider myself a climber, or at least have not until recently. Yet, that is what I truly am. While I do climb to attain summits, or at least attempt to, the reason I venture off into the woods, and eventually the alpine, is for a chance to listen to myself. Climbing is an activity where one can follows one’s desires, and keep the internal window clean. Finding ‘The Zone’ and the oneness within happens when you are low on food, have tired the body, and have been in your head constantly making decisions with your intuition or instincts, that ‘gut’ feeling. Climbing 5th class terrain only increases the strain on the food intake, bodily wear, and the need to be ‘flowy’. For this reason alone I consider any outdoor ascension, of any hiking/scrambling class, to be climbing.

The avid Alberta Rockies scrambler is a mountain climber. They climb, albeit they may be on Class III or lower, but it is technically a ‘freesolo’ ascent. Just one where the risks are not quite the same as Alex Honnold on El Cap. This should not stoke the ego of all the scramblers out there, but instead instill a sense of reality that what they are doing is truly climbing, and there seriousness of their activities are far more serious than they may think.

As a trekker, one who mostly hangs out in the valleys and camps below the alpine, I knew the wildness of the mountains. I grew up going to the mountains with my family to camp. I returned there as an adult in search of powder. And I kept returning to continue to find myself. The mountains hold a special power for me. The are truly where I call home. They are the only place where I can breath easily and relax. They are the place where I am myself, and my window does not acquire the same amount of dust.

I took the mountains seriously, but my actions and words with the community did not reflect my internal seriousness. Maybe I had relaxed? I suppose I must have become too comfortable. Too much ego. I thought that I could do anything I wanted, and that was because I thought I knew my limits and only wanted to stay within them. The mountains always win. Whether it be in the fact that they will not leave your mind, or they will take your life, there is no activity you can do without leaving some of your safety to the Apus.

As I ran into a series of unfortunate events in my life, I turned to the mountains. The things that derail our plans in life are often the blessings that we don’t want to see. I returned from Peru in 2016 with my marriage already over. My wife and I had stopped talking while on our trip, and I was sleeping on the couch back in Canada. I wanted nothing more than for my marriage to work out, and for us to get into counselling, and spent too much time worrying about a wife (and life) that I could not control. I returned from Peru with a renewed vigor for the mountains. Before I treated them as a escape, now they were truly life itself. I had always been active, but also a drinker. I would often be hungover on day hikes, or backcountry shreds, despite being up and ready to go. Always pushing to go further and faster. Things were changing at that time for me. No longer was I the landlord. No longer was I even a husband. I was just a man, sick in the stomach – from Peru more than likely, and alone in his head for the first time in a long time.

I returned from Peru with a few changes to my psyche. My wife was very keen on doing ayahuasca while we were there, and as much as I was in constant fear of opening my mind to the experience, I had zero idea what that even meant. I wanted to quit drinking, and that was my motivation for wanting to go through the experience. I had no clue of what was to come and just how much my internal frame of thought would change. The doctors that administered the treatment told me that the drink was just the beginning, and that the changes it started would continue. I have found this to be true. 2016 was a hard and trying year for me. I was getting married, and I suffered a concussion at work. I spent the summer in a brain injury clinic, where they geared my recovery back to hiking (At the time I was hiking well over 52 days a year, filmed the trips as my band character ‘persona’ for YouTube, and was starting to put together my trail guiding resume for TRU). The head injury made it easy to drop the one beer a day that I had got myself down to, and I was well on my way to becoming what I thought was ‘fit and healthy’. The time I spent sick and truly alone on the couch when I returned cleared my whole mind.

The two changes that are most evident with my returning from Peru was my drinking, and my fear of heights. As in they were both no longer an issue. The path to reawakening my spirit begun on that trip, and I quickly discovered that I had zero mental addiction to alcohol anymore. My active life and healthy eating had just got a serious boost. The time I had spent at the pub with my wife, was now being spent on the trails. I begun to take training seriously. I begun to care about being the best that I could possibly be, and that meant you could have a beer in front off me, or I could crack one open, and I did not even want the whole thing.

My body is a temple, a machine, and vehicle, and I intended to use it. Once I would drive down Highway 40 and list all the mountains with trails, now with my fear of heights – and all unjustifiable fears – behind me, I planned to climb all the peaks without them. Ever had I dreamed of actually climbing mountains – for I did not consider scrambling climbing at the time. Now I knew I had the ability to actual climb them, just as anyone who has the desire to do so can.

As my relationship with my wife turned into a living hell, and my wife was turning to using her fists to get me out of the house, I gave up. It was the start of a long process, a process I will ever be going though. I packed up my gear, spent Yule outside at my parents, and spent the next stretch of months looking for myself. Not truly lost, but no longer the person I was before. I do not feel that the time was wasted, as the outcome from that time spent alone in the mountains is beyond any experience that I have thought possible. Yet, I did not do much. I climbed a bit. I shredded some powder. At night I mostly sat around fires, far from any other human, disconnected.

I never really solved the GI issue. I went back to work. I got sick again. I wanted more mountains and a career there, so I focused on getting ready to apply at TRU for the 2018 year. I wanted to trail guide, and no longer as a part time thing to work towards. I was trying to move to Calgary or Canmore. I wanted to be closer to doctors. I needed to find work that would help me pay for the schooling I wanted, not to mention the amount of debt that I had racked up since my concussion in early 2016. I eventually landed a job at a fast food joint. I have a BSc, but worked and ran kitchens throughout university, and the promise of managing a fast paced fast food joint in Canmore with a scholarship program was enough for me to give up on the last shred of stability I had left in life to go all in on my dream. Life of course had different plans for me.

I moved into the staff accommodations in Canmore after climbing Mount Edith before my work orientation meeting on Oct 31st 2017. Life was amazing. I lived in Canmore, winter was fast approaching, and I was on a mountain before or after work pretty much every day. I trained daily. I studied Freedom of the Hills and knots. And I worked my butt off. I was finally making money again and wanting to start paying back all the debt I had built up… and then my roommate was drugged. The police and EMT’s in the ambulance said it appeared to be something called ‘Flakka’. I had to look it up, and sadly the video I watched was exactly the behavior that my roommate had been showing. As scary as the situation was, my life was only going to get worse.

After hours of waiting for the ambulance we called, and attempting to restrain a flakka enraged human with my ice axe, the police finally showed up. Then we gave statements. Then the police came back to wake us up for more statements and the news about our roommate being rushed to a Calgary hospital. He was dying. I had to work early in the morning, and did not get to sleep. I picked up overtime, as the roommate was on life support, and the police came again for more verbal statements in the middle of the night. 3 nights in a row the police came after midnight for statements. I picked up the roommates shifts, asked to be sent to a grief therapist daily for the first few days, and ended up crushing 21 days in a row with pneumonia and a smile – because Canmore.

Just a little over a week after the incident I finally had my general manager come say hello to me. He did not ask me what had happened, no one ever did from management at work, but he did hand me a card with a therapists number on it. I was already so sick at that point in time and working so many of my half-dead buddies hours, that I was beginning to loose sight of why I came to Canmore in the first place. The flexible closing and opening shifts I was promised on hire, had turned into a sunup to sundown slog with daily overtime, and zero days off.

I eventually was sent home from work due to my cough, because the managers could not hide how sick I was anymore. My best friend had mono, and the doctor thought I did too. A doctors note saying I had developed pneumonia from having EBV, and going through a round of antibiotics as well, was not enough to not have my job threatened on a regular basis though. I was definitely at work, talking at a whisper at best, coughing non-stop, and being told if I did not put in overtime I would be fired. I was so amped on making money and staying in Canmore, I honestly was glad my supervisor tossed out my doctors note and told me to work instead of sending me home. Such a foolish thing to not look after one’s body. I ended up sick, and unable to move much out of my bed for a few weeks. After I was cleared for work by the doctors and showed up to work, I was sent home and work made me wait 3 more days and had me get another doctors note. I walked Lady MacDonald’s West Ridge at night during that time, my first outing in far too long, and returned to work so stoked to be back. I thought my life was back on track. I was so wrong.

My first day back at work was all smiles, I was so stoked to be back to life in the mountains. It was December 19th, and a good layer of snow had fallen while I was in bed. Ski season was in full swing. There was a note on one of the glass cooler doors saying, “Please do not use”. I saw every other person at work using the door and asked what was with the note, but no one in the kitchen knew why it was put up. I was using the cooler door next to it when a coworker ran up and used the door with the note on it. The door came off it’s hinges, and the next thing I remember clearly is living in Kamloops.


Turn’s out I took a nice bump to the head, was put on the cold and wet tile floor in the backroom for several hours, every winter jacket in the place piled on me, in the hopes that I was going to get up and return to finish my shift. Off-shift coworkers were called to bring me to the hospital, and by the time I was being released from the hospital in Calgary, it was December 28th and I had missed Christmas. I do not actually recall Christmas, and that is probably a good thing as I was in a city with no family around, and my friends I knew that lived there were not even contacted. My family came and picked me up and brought me to Red Deer to enjoy some Christmas family time and I started trying to get a hold of work. My boss finally returned one of my calls, in the morning of January 1st, and right off that bat asked me if I had moved out of the staff accommodations in Canmore yet. Thankfully, since this was not my first major head injury, I had the foresight to get a call recorder and let everyone know I needed to tape my calls to remember what was said in them. Unfortunately, with not much to do while in recovery, I listened to them on repeat.

So that ended my time living in Canmore. Half of it was spent covering my roommates shifts while he chilled on life support, and the other half of it I was in bed with pneumonia. I used the last of my money, and borrowed more, to have my car and my stuff moved out of Canmore. I was unable to drive and waiting to get into a brain injury clinic at the time. And WCB, the Worker’s Compensation Board, delayed the start of my payments by almost 30 days. I ended up homeless, as I had nowhere to move to and no money for rent. Work was claiming I owed them rent money for while I was off work as well. Before Canmore I at least was able to drive and look after myself if this situation had occurred. Now concussed, confused, and everything I owned back in my car – yet being unable to drive or walk much, I was kinda fucked. I don’t think I had ever been so fucked before in my life, and did not think it could possibly get any worse, but it did.

According to my recorded phone calls, my WCB worker was perfectly fine with work kicking me out of my house while concussed from a workplace injury. I tried to stick around Calgary for a bit, but was not getting any money from WCB and could not afford to put down a deposit on a place. Also not thinking clearly, nor having any working memory, really did not help. Thankfully a friend of mine was moving to Kamloops from Canmore, and WCB said that if I went with her, that they would fly me back to Calgary for the brain injury clinic. WCB never set up a single flight for me despite many other phone calls where they clearly say that they will. Fast forward to the last few days of March, and I find myself on the mend, out of the brain injury clinic, and packing up my stuff in Kamloops to move back to Canmore. Work had been dodging my phone calls and emails for a few weeks, I had been cleared for a back to return plan on March 12th, but WCB moved me out of the program anyways and I was ready to get back home. It was the day before the Easter weekend, and my big move home. New renters would be moving into my place, and I had to be out. I had lost almost everything I owned, including my car, at this point. I was so ready to be back to work and in Alberta.

And then my manager finally returned my phone calls. I was being laid off. WCB was still thousands of dollars behind on their payments with me, I was in collections with zero money in my Albertan bank that I couldn’t even access in BC. I had no car. I had no job. And I had no house. The nearest friend or family member I could try to visit was 800km away. Work gave me a pretty sweet Christmas present, but I think their Easter gift was even better. Now I was homeless, with everything I owned on my back. I had to leave the little amount of stuff I still had behind, and set out on foot. In a city I did not know. Knowing not a single soul I could call on in the whole province. Going from a suit wearing, new car driving, landlord in Calgary – owning a fully furnished 6 bedroom house, to walking down the streets of Kamloops alone, with everything I owned on my back and not a single memory of how I go there was a blow to my brain worse than either of the concussions.

I did it for the mountains was all I could think. All that mattered was the mountains. I was happy and could relax in the mountains. Apparently my time between January and March was spend training, studying ‘Freedom of the Hills’, and climbing after the doctors cleared me. I honestly do not recall much of it, but what I do recall is mountains, knots, and beta. All I could focus on now was getting back to the rockies. I had a mountaineering course lined up for around the Solstice in June. The doctors at the brain injury clinic had told me that I would not be insurable as a hiking guide anymore, so I had zero direction with a career. It did not matter much anyways, as I was homeless, yet the things I had in my pack on my back were chosen well. I had my mountaineering gear and nothing else.

I ended up in Williams Lake somehow, I really don’t know. I was taken in by an amazing family that did not know me. They fed me. I trail ran. And I prayed daily. I found the Salvation Army and did the paperwork so I could help make soup for the soup kitchen. I found friends with no money or home. I met people who’s hearts were so big that I was sure that their chests would burst one day. I met a quality of people that I never knew existed, and I continued to grow.

The desire to make it to my course in June was the only thing that ever kept me going during this time. No one would hire me. I was at the point where I was going to walk to the Columbia Icefield for the course if needed. I was wearing the same 3 pairs of clothes that I had with me when I left Kamloops, and that was enough. I trained. I climbed. I mediated. The 3 days with a guide in the Icefields was coming.

I made it to the course with the help of my new friends and my mountaineering partner. Without these people in my life, I would be nothing. That is the point of today’s blog. It is not the pity party – because we all live a story like this. It is not about spreading hate. It is not about the journey this time either. Today I write this for hope. I write this in a nice house with AC, on a laptop, with clean socks on my feet, tea in my mug, and a smile on my face. I am writing this with love in my bed, a Taurus Wagon in the driveway, and a closet full of gear. I have been up and down since running a fundraiser from the backcountry, and getting an EP on iTunes and Spotify last year. I made it to my course. I climbed Mount Athabasca. I climbed Skyladder on Andromeda, and had to climb back down it in an ice storm. I have gone off to climb Mount Cline, Mount Willingdon, and others in the few weeks that have past since the solstice. My road has not gotten any easier. If anything it is getting harder. But I am not backing down. I am not stopping. I am going to continue to train. I am going to continue to climb. I never lost sight of who I am. I never lost sight of what I want in life. If anything, my time alone in the woods, in the cities, and meeting some of the kindest souls while finding my own spirtuality, has let me grow the light inside. And if what has happened to me in the last few years was not able to stop me, but only made me stronger, you better believe I will be working even harder to attain my goals. If I learnt anything over the past few months, it is that Hope is stronger than Fear.

Crag life can train the mind, if done properly.

Life is flying by at the moment. I have decided to branch out into the community in a new way and it is paying off.

My mountain career started with me finding a few friends in my Physics classes during my first years in university. I was invited on a few boot pack missions out to Rae Glacier in 2005, which lead to much more fun and a few glacier crossings on Robertson where I was tied in. I was not one for the social life, so I continued on my own years later, when my old partners had dissipated into the crowds. I was getting out snowboarding almost daily for many years of my life, and have clocked over half of a year on snow more before. Huge thanks to CUC in Lacombe, AB, and the summer hockey camps. Life in Calgary was different when I moved there at 18.

I thought what I had for snowboarding was going well, until I discovered REAL backcountry shreds in my adult years. Snowshoes, crampons, axe, and a board on my back was my deal through most of my University days. Having suffered a femur incident in 2004, I was done with handrails and running from security to get my shred on. I only wanted the powder. The issue was that I had no friends who shredded where I wanted to go. I was familiar with Kananaskis and had ventured to the Knob’s, Black Prince, and Tryst often. So that is where I went. Alone.

I took an in class avalanche course held at the UofC – long before actually taking my AST1, with The Snowboard Club, but missed the field day. The folk I was going with at the beginning of this had done countless drills with me, and we tested snow conditions. Ending up solo, and wanting to be safe, I would eye conditions like a hawk, dig pits, and turn around often. I found shreds that were more in the trees and not in any slide paths. This meant that I often had little baby shreds in places that most boarders, and ski touring folk, would not venture into. I stagnated my growth in the sport, but learnt a ton about mountaineering accidentally.

My solo life ventured into a quest to get my fear of heights removed again, and seeing all the easier trails and backcountry campsites in Kananaskis. I never used ropes again. I never got into bouldering again. I stopped any progression of up by removing community from my mountain life. As a result, I brought my band’s character into the mountains and blogged ridiculousness.

What is the difference now? My life is different as I have a regular community that I interact with as a human. I see the people in my life daily or weekly, in person, and hardly ever over the phone or internet. The people I get to climb with a few times a week here are amazing. I was holding on to such a large fear of not being included, for so long, that I had segregated myself from my peers and the people that I shared beta with. The community that I did not allow myself to be included in, has now become the highlight of my days.

My time at the crag, learning the craft, and practically practicing ropes is just half of the dance that climbing is about. I hated climbing with another’s eyes on me, and only liked climbing with one or two friends I knew. Now I love the banter, the coaching, and all the tips that I can get. Life at the crag is ALL at the moment. My training there has an effect on both the mind and the body. I am looking forward to my journey to the Columbia Icefield’s in the next few weeks. And I know I will be ready. Tomorrow, is another day, with more training. Train daily for the things you want to succeed at. Just find the Balance in it. Train your body as well as your soul. And reach for it with all your heart.

Community, and extension of self, from within.

Waking up to the new light is hard. Comfort is cherished in this life and nothing can change that fact. Type II fun, is still fun in my book. I know it is the Left side in us that feeds off this. As a Cancer, I get off from being wronged naturally. Shedding that ego layer was more than just a tad bit of work.

Community from within? What do I mean by this statement. If you havr ever had the chance to share a trail with me, you will immediately come to realize that my speach is full of contradictions. This is done intentionally. I am not confused. Opposites are really just extremes of the same thing. Hot and cold are both describing temperature. Up and down are both descriptors of your vertical position. Sometimes to describe a feeling, you need both of these opposites.

The same goes with the solo (or small group) aspect of alpinism. This pretty much sits well with any sort of isolated venture. The more of a isolated venture, the more support is needed. Even the off-grid mountain liver, they rely on the community of non-human life around them. A community of human life with only offer more support for trade of goods and labour.

This may be a round about way of getting to my point here. I want you to think today. I want you to relate. Relate what I just said to your experiences. Your experiences are due to the concious energy withing you, giving you life, that you call your soul. All concious life is connected to the grid. I call this energy N. We are all N. We are all sharing the same concious energy here. All concious life. We are all the same. We are one.

The implications of this is that everyone is experiencing the same thoughts, it may not be the same train of thought as we are all individuals with our own ‘soul’ and set of experiences. The issue with thinking individually is that we are all of one energy. The more we work on ourselves individually, the more we share. Inspiration for the uninspired is not what I am talking about. I am talking about shared experiences.

Alpinism is about finding yourself. Some call it masochism. Some call it dangerous. I will not say it is not. The internal struggle that comes when making choices, life balancing ones, is the same in us all. The more we can be open, and in the ‘zone’, the easier we can flow and make these descisions correctly. The unseen result is the concious energy we all use to animated these bodies of dust gets enlightened, and we all benefit.

Go forth in your training. Community or solo. Go forth in your ventures, more than likely in groups, and know we are all at stages of the same growth. I will be doing the same.