One of my old art school chums has become a serious rock climber in the years we've been away. On a recent trip back home, she invited us to join her climbing buddies for a day at Grassi Lakes, above Canmore AB.
The ladies were doing rapid scrambles up 35 feet of vertical rock faces, taking only five or six minutes top to bottom, testing themselves against different routes and difficulties. Sometimes ‘hang dogging’ or ‘taking a whipper’ – but mostly making it look easy.
My friend led her first 5.10d pitch on that day, which was cool to be there to see. Much appropriate high-fiving and who-hooing all around.
I think this group of climbing vets wouldn't normally choose this kind of spot. I get the feeling it’s a lot closer to civilization than they prefer. They’d quite generously picked a place I could hike into without raising my heart rate.
We started early, initially having the spot to ourselves, but by mid-day the walls were crawling with climbers.
There are lanes of bolts set in to the walls, every 20 feet or so around the upper lake, making what I can’t help calling a vertical bowling alley out of the box canyon.
Every pitch was in use. There were old pro’s showing new guys the ropes – (hah! Literally!), hard core mountaineers with ratty dreadlocks and well used gear, next to city people in super hero lycra and matching harnesses. At the foot of the wall patient crag dogs waited, people prepped lunch, (we had smoked sausages, that I bet smell *great* to bears), and significant others swam in the lake while their buff-er partners clung to the rocks. Or mostly, swapped stories and waited their turn.
You have to wonder how long the rock faces will stand up to such popular use. But I guess, this is the way of things. I can see the climbers love the mountains, and people try to be responsible. But at the same time, it seems there’s no stopping the growth of sport climbing in the Rockies. Every year it’s just going to get bigger. I suppose it will push the good climbing further out into the parks – and then there will be heli-climbing. You can’t stop people getting at the thing they love. Which I have respect for in its own way, given what I do.
I’m always excited (and a bit nervous) to sketch something like this. Something I haven't seen before. Doubly so, when it’s something that won't hold still for you. You never lose the concern you’ll flounder, be unable to capture what’s happening.
But I think the very new-ness of the thing, the fact you've never drawn it before, makes you hyper focused. Plus the pressure to live up to the occasion. The drawings might not be as polished as with more familiar, or more standing-still subjects, but they’re always a living record of a new experience.