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Climbing Dads

Climbing Dads

PC: What’s one of your earliest climbing memories?

Craigh: Well… it may not be my earliest but it was certainly the most influential. When I was maybe 12 years old my dad, our friend Peter, and myself climbed a seven pitch route called Grey Goose on Mount Yamnuska. The route wasn’t that hard at 5.7, but at the time it didn’t have bolted belays. I remember seconding pitches with either my Dad or Peter leading. I got up to the belay on pitch four and was sitting in the sun enjoying the day belaying Peter. When he reached the belay my Dad looked at me, handed me the rack and surprised me when he said “it’s all yours”.

I had only done a bit of trad on single pitches up to this point and never had I lead anything several pitches up. I was excited, scared, but most of all in awe that my dad and our friend Peter had enough trust in me to get the job done - it was probably the most pivotal moment in my climbing life, gaining the trust of my mentors, and more importantly my dad. As I nervously left the belay he jokingly called out “have fun and don’t kill yourself… and try not to kill us!”. I ended up leading the rest of the route to the summit and only managed to sacrifice one Wildcountry Friend to the mountain (I got a little overzealous with my placement) and gained a whole new sense of confidence and adventure because of that day. I’ll never forget how it felt to be trusted to take the reigns and have my partners depend on me.

Years later my dad was climbing Red Shirt, another route on Yamnuska. There is a particularly tricky traverse partway up the route that requires some downclimbing, and doesn’t protect all that well. I guess Dad got off route and ended up taking a huge whipper. The result was a couple of broken ribs and a broken leg. Him and his partner managed to get themselves back down to the base and Dad got airlifted to the hospital. After he healed he called me and asked if I would climb Red Shirt with him. He needed to get back on the horse. We did it and the sense of relief Dad had when we topped out was palpable (I would have never guessed when we were climbing). He is a stoic individual and one tough dude.

PC: Tell us about one of the epics climbing adventures with your dad (we know there’s lots).

Craigh: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Mount Louis incident here. I love that mountain. It’s one of the most striking peaks in the Canadian Rockies and is only visible for a short period of time from the Trans Canada Highway. The cool thing about Mount Louis is that no matter how you do it, it has to be climbed. There are no hiking routes to gain the summit. My dad had gone up the Kain route years before, but I had never actually climbed it and wanted to do a route called Homage to the Spider. I really wanted to get up there with Dad, but he hadn’t been climbing for a while and, although not hard, it’s not a gimme either. The books say 5.8, but if you’ve spent any time climbing classic trad routes in the Canadian Rockies, you know 5.8 is usually synonymous with “sandbag”. Knowing this I did a bit of research and found out that indeed people felt it was more around 5.10a. As I relayed this to Dad to make sure he was okay with that, he responded “ahh, it says 5.8 in the book, it’ll be fine”.

The one thing you have to know about my Dad is that no matter what happens he always gets up the pitch, even if he has to resort to unique aid tactics, swinging on the rope, whatever, he’s going up (except for the time he went down, but we’ve already covered that). Armed with this knowledge I knew this would be a fun day out, and it was! The climb was spectacular, the exposure was exposed, and the sun was sunny. Unfortunately we had underestimated the summit ridge and the amount of time it would take to navigate it (and we might have gotten a slightly later start than we intended). We topped out close to 9pm. I had cell reception and I managed to get a call in to Leila (my partner) to let her know that we would be late (with a new baby at home, I don’t think that was particularly welcome news but I digress). My dad managed a quick call to my mom to relay the same message and then bloop, battery dead.

We summited and then began to rappel down the descent. Here’s the tricky thing, there is an infamous guide book for alpine climbs in the Canadian Rockies that has a habit of sometimes leaving out pertinent pieces of information. I like to think the author is encouraging its users to experience new adventures, maybe have the odd miny epic… and I knew this going in to the day. The rappel is notorious for being a bit cryptic to follow, I didn’t yet know that it was because the guide book leaves out a section of the descent route that is integral to success. To make a long story longer, it became dark, I couldn’t find the next set of bolts with my headlamp, and began climbing a ramp that was significantly longer than the one described and came across an old piton anchor with lots of old tat (sling/ rope) attached to it. Thinking it was odd that this was not a bolted belay, but not listening to my gut, I rigged the rappel and headed off. I got to a small ledge in the middle of a wall and realized I’d made a mistake. My Dad was equally perplexed and was determined that we had gone the right way.

We both ended up on the small ledge, it was midnight, and with a new baby at home making sleep difficult, I was tired and starting to make silly mistakes. Dad became the voice of reason as I was ready to prusik back up the rope and keep going. Unfortunately at this point it didn’t matter where we ended up, it was going to be uncomfortable and squishy, this ledge was as good as the next. We hunkered down on top of the remaining rope, anchored ourselves to the wall, and began to shiver the night away. We slept, we shivered, we laughed, we hung out (no pun intended). At 6:30 the next morning the sun hit us and with renewed energy we sorted ourselves out. When we got back to our truck later that morning the two of us were standing in the sun, shirts off, drinking in the warmth with big smiles on our faces. Although it was a miny epic, it was one of the best experiences we’ve ever had together. It’s not too many people that can still have full on type 2 fun with their 60+ year old Dads - I consider myself lucky (thanks Dad)!

PC: As an outdoor parent, we’ve all made choices that in hindsight, were, well...questionable. Any come to mind that make you laugh now about your dad?

Craigh: Skiing the headwall on the Columbia Icefields unroped with heavy packs on totally out of control. Shortly after we got down to the toe we turned around and watched the biggest serac I’ve ever seen fall off the edge of Snowdome and proceed to blow an enormous plume of snow across the entire glacier. The icing on the cake was watching all of the Ice Bus tourists standing outside with their cameras suddenly realize that the plume was going to envelope them. I’ve never seen people move so fast in my life.

PC: Best climbing trips growing up?

Craigh: A trip our family did to climb volcanoes in the Cascade Range with a side trip to Smith Rocks. The volcanoes in the Cascades are really cool, when you get to the top you can see a line of them extending north into Washington, and south into California (we were in Oregon when I made that discovery). I also had the chance to climb at Smith Rocks for my first time and learned about the usefulness of stick clips. I really wanted to try Chain Reaction but didn’t appreciate how daunting getting to the first bolt was. I was just checking out the moves working from bolt to bolt. A local guy had watched me sketch my way up to the first bolt to place the quick draw and came over to ask me where my stick clip was. I didn’t have one. He laughed so hard he nearly fell over (Smith is famous for having some sporty bolting). When I came down he kindly offered a make-shift stick clip. I used it the next day and sent Chain Reaction. It never dawned on me that climbing mid-summer at Smith is not ideal for sending, sometimes ignorance is bliss (you know what else is bliss, five scoops of blueberry ice cream as a pre-climb snack - I swear that was the magic ingredient for sending success).

PC: What’s one of your favourite climbing memories with your two boys?

Craigh: The first time I took them by myself out to Rundle Rock in Banff, AB. I got all of their stuff on and anchored them to a tree so they wouldn’t go wandering off while I set up the rope. I sprinted up the slab and turned around to see how they were doing, both were looking up at me smiling and waving. We spent the rest of the day playing around on the ropes, climbing, exploring and having fun.

PC: For those dads with really wee ones - what would be your advice to them?

Craigh: I don’t know if it’s advice but I can relay what’s worked for me. 

First, having a really supportive partner is key. I support my partner’s goals and aspirations and she does the same for me. We keep open lines of communication. 

Having a kid changes life quite a bit (in a good way), and sometimes it can be shocking how much free time you don’t have. I’m a bit of a night owl, so I just adapted to getting less sleep and training after the kids go to bed. It’s not ideal, and it doesn’t always lead to the best physical outcomes, but it does mean that we get to spend more time as a family and I still get time to do what I want to do.

Lastly, I love sharing adventures with my kids. I’m definitely a “throw them in the deep end” kind-of-dad. My approach is not for everyone and I’ve developed a pretty thick skin when it comes to other people’s opinions. I just do what I’m comfortable with and we go for it. There’s nothing radder than seeing my kids light up with excitement when we talk and plan a new adventure and then we get to experience it all together. I’m not perfect, trust me, and I learn from my mistakes.

PC: Do you and your dad have any climbing trips planned?

Craigh: We’ve been scheming doing a route up Mount Temple and possibly schlepping ourselves to Mount Alberta. I’d really like to climb the East Ridge with him and we’ve both wanted to climb Mount Alberta. Dad’s turning 70 this year so it would be cool to do one of these together.

PC: What’s on your bucket list for family climbing adventures?

Craigh: Kalymnos (never been), Frankejura (we could all have a good history lesson), Thailand (I’ve been several times and want the kids to experience it too), Fontainebleau (I love it there, and the kids would love running around in the forest and exploring), Smith Rocks (I think they’d get a kick out of climbing the Monkey Face), Spain (they are both learning to speak Spanish), Brazil (our friend Helmut tells me about it all the time and it sounds magical), the list could go on...

Jul 17, 2019

Excellent read! My dad put me in similar situations which I’m just starting to fully appreciate. Also, that red shirt traverse 😬 devious eh!

Ryley Dimmer

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