And then someone flipped the “On” switch in my brain. Under a title that read “What’s Next for the Choss Boys?” was a photo of the soaring North East Buttress of Mt. Slesse. The image was taken with impossible exactness, with every contrasting relief of the knife-blade North East Buttress etched in perfect detail. I shuddered in my Rubbermaid chair. The steep ridge led directly into a dark, ominous, black headwall of gneiss that towered above neighboring peaks. A plane had crashed into Mt. Slesse in the 1950s, exploding airplane fuselage and body parts all over the mountain, a history that added a sense of tacit foreboding. Nick said he was hoping to climb the peak next summer… “maybe.”
With that, the presentation was over, and a chapter was closed on the Choss Boys' epic adventures. Although I sensed a whole new chapter was just beginning…
This post is all about mine and Nick’s climbing adventures in British Columbia during August of 2017. It’s our “prequel,” highlighting some of the planning, training, and preparations that went into our two-week-long tear through the alpine that resulted in successful ascents of two "50 classics," and three stunning mountain summits. So “Read More” and jump into another season of Choss Boys adventures - and stay tuned for three follow-up stories featuring each of the mountains we climbed.
After the slideshow at Wallnuts climbing gym, I caught Nick and Daniel at the door. We had planned to have a short meeting about climbing plans for the 2017 season, the first we’d had together since before the big trip 8 months prior. Sitting down in the lobby of our familiar home gym we felt a sense of gravity but also of irony. We knew damn well what could happen when the three of us sat down with our pad and pencils...
Organizing climbing trips is one thing; organizing climbing trips around work, school, relationships, and all that life throws at you - that’s a whole different thing. Right after that first meeting in the lobby one thing was clear: if any of the Choss Boys were going to be climbing in the 2017 season, it’d be me and Nick. For us, a short window of opportunity had opened that coming August, and although time and money were in short supply, stoke was never higher. “Let’s climb Slesse this summer,” I said to Nick. He answered with a jaunty smile. Never mind that our collective alpine climbing experience was next to naught.
What came next was a minor complication: with a freshly minted undergraduate degree in psychology, Nick had decided to launch his academic career in Victoria, British Columbia, the farthest coast in Canada from where I was working as a graduate student in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Our first challenge as summer climbing partners would be to prepare and train for a climbing trip... remotely. I had tried long distance relationships before (key word: “tried”), but long distance belay-tionships?
Through the spring and summer, Nick and I met biweekly on Google Hangouts. We shared a training spreadsheet which gave us structure, motivation, and accountability in our fitness work. Below is a screen capture showing the spreadsheet structure. When building our training plan, we highlighted some skills that would be useful for long days in the alpine. The whole thing was point-based, which fostered healthy competition and gave us an extra little boost to get up and move during the dog days. I didn’t know it then, but later, nearing the end of our 17-and-a-half hour Applebee-to-Applebee ascent of the Beckey-Chouinard route, I would be in wonder of how our bodies were capable of such an outing. My conclusion? The training worked!
Some areas that we highlighted:
The Trip Begins
I landed at YVR airport at 12:30am on a Monday. My cheapo last minute Air Miles booking hadn’t left me with the best flight options. I borrowed a 95-litre Arc’teryx expedition backpack and somehow managed to pack it to the gills. As I ducked to get into the sliding doors of the last SkyTrain, it dawned on me I’d have to carry these 75 pounds of joy for the next two weeks. I cursed under my breath for bringing two loaves of ultra dense homemade rye bread that collectively seemed to weigh 20 pounds. Although I allowed myself a nod of approval for making the last minute decision to ditch my hardcover unabridged copy of Melville’s Moby Dick.
Finding Nick proved easy, despite the fact he didn’t have a cell phone (he lost it, and couldn't replace it after having spent almost his entire savings on a new rack of Black Diamond Ultra-Light Cams). At the time I seriously questioned his faculty of reason, although later on the approach to Beckey-Chouinard - leaping from boulder to boulder with our impossibly light rack - I’d wholeheartedly agree that he made the right decision.
After a short but deep sleep we found ourselves crammed into the back of Lauren's old Toyota Camry, our ride-share, watching the familiar scenery of Highway 99 pass us by on the drive to Squamish.
Squamish - August 15 to 18
Here we were still in training mode. The plan was to climb as much as our bodies could allow, seeking the outer fringes of our collective fitness. I also wanted to practice the simul-climbing set-up that Nick, Dan, and Dave had championed the previous season. It seemed to be the key to unlocking mind-bending speed over rock in the safest way possible.
Day 1: We simul-climbed Rock On (5.10a) and Ultimate Everything (5.10b) to gain the Second Summit of The Chief in a total 6 hours for 15 pitches (Not bad! Especially considering we hadn't been in BC yet for 18 hours.) I did the approach and decent barefoot, based on a hare-brained hunch that by doing so I'd strengthen my feet. Nick was impressed by my ultralight ethic.
Day 2: Borderline (5.10d) and Angel’s Crest (10b) to gain the Second Summit of The Chief once again in a total of 16 pitches. We pitched out Borderline, and then blasted up from pitch 3 of Angel’s crest in full-on simul-climbing glory, soaring through the Acrophobes and Whaleback pitches with unabashed glee before pitching out the final 5.10 and chimney pitches.
Day 3: Rest day. We had reached our limit. We were happy with our level of fitness, and were practically giddy thinking about Mt Slesse, which we’d be climbing in just a couple days.
North East Buttress of Mt. Slesse - August 19
We met our friend Toba (aka Andrew Osnatch) at the Greyhound terminal in Chilliwack, BC. From there we shopped for food and hit the approach road in his 1985 VW Vanagon with remarkable efficiency. What followed the next day was the best day of climbing I’d ever had up to that point in my life. Nick will tell the full story in a follow-up post / trip report of our August 19th 17-and-a-half-hour tent-to-tent ascent of the North East Buttress route of Mt. Slesse.
Beckey-Chouinard Route of South Howser Tower - August 22
Nick and I hiked the steep approach trail to Applebee Dome Campground in Bugaboo Provincial Park during the much-anticipated solar eclipse, which at our location on the globe promised to be about 80%. It set the tone for our short-but-sweet stay the Bugs, with the planets aligning for an unforgettable ascent of South Howser Tower via the Beckey-Chouinard route (5.10+, A0). Nick and I will share the full story in a follow-up post / trip report of the August 22nd 17-and-a-half-hour tent-to-tent ascent: a climb that would end up being the possibly the best climbing day of our lives.
South Ridge ('Lichen It' Variation) of Mt. Gimli - August 26
At this point we were on a roll. We had lost Toba and his van to a whirlwind domestic visit from his parents (who also showed up in a 1980s VW Vanagon), and so we set off to destroy our newly acquired rental SUV on the forest service road to Mt. Gimli in Valhalla Provincial Park. What followed was a show of hail-mary amateur alpinism: a blisteringly fast ascent of Gimli with a spicy off-route chimney and choss climbing thrown in for good measure. A surprise visit by a BC climbing legend at the summit was the cherry on top. I (Erik ) will share the full story in a follow-up post / trip report about our 7 hour car-to-car ascent.
We’ll follow up this prequel post with three posts dedicated to each of the three alpine peaks we climbed in quick succession: Mt. Slesse, South Howser Tower, and Mt. Gimli. What you’ll discover will be part trip report and part narrative, telling the stories of two guys from sea level who learned about what it takes to climb in the mountains.
We are Daniel, David, Nick & Erik.
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