Life after Baffin – unfinished business in the Tonquin and the Bugaboos.

It’s real. It does exist. I had made no plans for ‘life after Baffin’, but here it is.

Michelle and I arrived in Calgary to be met by her boyfriend and my mother. Yes, I know. One of us has grown up and the other one still thinks her mom is the bizznizzle.

I turned around after a couple of days at home and drove to Jasper with a new friend, Cian Brinker. Though I knew him very little, Cian came with a reputation of being a pretty mega alpinist. I was intimidated, but it seems that these days, I always am. One day, I’ll have the sense to lapse into normalcy and stop doing scary things with talented people..

We packed our bags and headed in for a reconnaissance / gear drop. Cian has been in this area previously and this is definitely his project. I’m excited to have been invited, since I’m just hoping to hold my own here. The walk in is spectacular, especially as we wander up and over the pass, through alpine meadows and trees. There’s even a caribou! By the time we reach camp, I’m ready for it. The cache from Cian’s previous season is still in good order and we lay claim to camp materials, food and all sorts of goodies. There is rock furniture (two recliners, a patio and a couch) which remains from the last time he was here. We prep everything and then wander over to look at our proposed objectives.

It’s massive.

10,700 feet.

I knew this. I know I knew that it was big. But sometimes, knowing and seeing are two different things. I’m intimidated all over again.

We identify a couple of classy lines (you’ve got to keep it classy, you know?), and sit down to watch the face. Soon, rockfall so intense we’re hiding behind a glacial erratic is all around us. So that way is a no-go. Yikes!! We find another way to access the upper face (call it plan B or plan A1), and move back to camp in the failing light.

Now, Cian appears to have packed his cache in a way very similar to the way in which I would have packed my own. Armed with a bottle of gin, lemonade crystals and a Fairshare mug, we set out to get to know each other a bit better. And since this will actually mark the first time we’ve ever tied in together, it’s probably a great idea to get really drunk first.

We walk out, gear drop and reconnaissance accomplished, with one pack between us, as we’ve left as much in there as we can in preparation for go time. We make many jokes about the ‘girlfriend’ pack, as I follow Cian, unburdened by any weight. Unfortunately for me, he appears to be an equality subscriber and I receive the pack at the halfway mark. Darn it.

We part ways in Lake Louise and I head west to Golden. I’m heading in to the Bugaboos the following morning at 5am, and it’s already 10pm.. Gah.

My partner for the next adventure is a man I’ve known for a few years now, and I’ve got a lot of space and respect for him. I’ve come to realise that he’ll always have my back. He’ll do it in his own weird way, but he’ll always be there if I really need him. Jonny is a high end alpinist, athlete, guide and an immensely talented individual. He’s been around for a lot of growth in my abilities, and I do enjoy each of our outings.

It’s never a boring day out with Jonny.

We’ve been working on a line he’d seen years ago on the East Face of Snowpatch Spire. There are many incredible things about this wall, not least of which is that a late morning start is almost advantageous. We sit at Applebee Dome, drinking coffee with Will Stanhope and Matt Segal, waiting for the morning sun to start to encroach on our line. Pretty civilized, really.

The route, which Jonny has dubbed ‘Ego Death’ starts with a 5.10 pitch, and leads into a 55m 5.12, with no single move under .11+. The third pitch is .12b, and it’s Jonny’s goal to send this today. He’s done it clean on toprope previously, and feels pretty confident of his success. That’s the thing about Jonny – he’s a pretty confident dude. The gear proves to be awkward through the crux, and the send eludes Jonny today. The following pitch is mine and it takes us up to what has been dubbed the ‘Halfway Ledge’. This is our high point for the day, and it’s there that I receive my crash course in hand drilling bolts.

‘It shouldn’t take you more than seven minutes a bolt’, says Jonny.

I’m to learn later that this is a dubious time estimate at best. I think Simms has placed a few more bolts than I have. We rappel in the dark.

I walk out of the Bugaboos the next afternoon, leaving Jonny to his own devices and to his upcoming birthday. I scramble around in Golden, acquiring food and booze for the next Tonquin mission. Not only am I organized when I arrive in Lake Louise to meet Cian, I’m fucking EARLY. This never happens.

We walk in to the Tonquin the next morning, at a really reasonable hour. There are a couple of days of doubtful weather which we’re going to have to wait out, but the company is good, and there’s more than enough food and booze so I’m not stressed about it.

The awaited day eventually arrives, and we leave camp at 3am. Before I know it, we’re most of the way up our little ‘work around’ on the lower portion of the face. Then the climbing really starts to get enjoyable. I’ve been climbing granite since April, so this quartzite business is a bit foreign, but I’m still having a blast. The higher up we go, the better it’s going to get, too. We’re both having fun, swinging block leads. The second pack is a bit much for me, though, as I think it’s the heaviest thing I’ve ever tried to climb with, and I really do struggle to climb at any great pace with it.

We reach what seems to be an amazing spot for the night – away from any form of rockfall and pretty flat. There’s even a patch of snow, from which we obtain much needed water. After dinner and sunset, we crawl in to sleeping bags, only to hear the sound of a single rodent dragging away the bag of our dehydrated meal. He’s gone before I can reach out from the tent to remove our refuse from his grasp. In his defence, it’s probably the tastiest thing he’s ever found up here.

The rain starts in the early night and continues until 9am. The First Light tent is soaking, as are both of our sleeping bags. We debate our options. The face will continue to be wet for hours yet, and we will make zero progress today, as there don’t seem to be many options for another close by sleeping spot. We are also without a reliable forecast (it wasn’t supposed to rain when it did), and maybe things have significantly changed. Our bailiure becomes more difficult from the upper reaches of the face.

Cian begins the process of leading our rappel down the lower face. On the way, we spy a better way up for the next attempt. This new access will add lots of great moderate quartzite pitches to what promises to be one of the longer and bolder new alpine routes in a few years in the Canadian Rockies.

I’m excited about the potential of both of these projects, and feel lucky that I get to have adventures and experiences with partners of this caliber. Jonny and Cian are remarkable athletes and remarkable people. I’m grateful.


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