When an Idea Becomes an Obsession: Rock Climbing in the Bugaboo Range, BC.

Bugaboos, BC

Will Stanhope

What’s in an idea? That’s the question the Innate crew asks when contemplating a new design or manufacturing process that hasn’t been done before. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor, but there are other moments when the challenge is simply too compelling to ignore. That’s when we draw strength from this quote from Steve Jobs.

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things…”

We’re privileged to be exposed to people in our community who aren’t afraid to think big and pursue the long hard road of creating a great body of work in their chosen calling. We believe rock climber Will Stanhope is cut from that cloth and as such, we asked him to share with us his thoughts on how an idea germinates into an obsession.

Will_1I took my first gear climbing course in Squamish when I was 15 with my best buddies Jason Kruk and David Nykyforuk. Under the tutelage of Graeme Taylor and Andrew Wilson, we fooled around with nuts and cams in the Smoke Bluffs, walking the network of trails, fiddling the foreign gadgets into the cracks. Though we were placing pro from hum-drum hands-off 5.4, it all felt wildly exciting. We debriefed the course in Graeme’s driveway, passing around a tub of ice cream, as this was in the days before beer. Mostly touching on “place protection every body length”-type adages, Graeme and Andrew also talked about the Cobra Crack, instilling in me at least a sense of where trad climbing could take you. On that summer day the Cobra was still a pipe-dream, an old Peter Croft project behind the Chief. In one of those rare youthful moments that are impossible to forget, I sat, mouth agape, shoveling ice cream into my mouth on the hot blacktop of Graeme’s drive way, hearing the tale, enthralled.

I hiked up to the mysterious Cobra as soon as I could. Squinting up amongst the cedars and the Douglas Firs, I couldn’t think of a more pure aesthetic line. Imagine this: without the sinuous splitter the wall would be baby-bum smooth, absolutely impossible to ascend. But, with this crack, a geological diamond in the rough, you could dance with the impossible. I like splitters because they put you where humans really shouldn’t be: in a sea of blankness. They give me the heebie-jeebies, a spine-tingling “I’m not supposed to be here!” feeling. But they are impossible to ignore.

In the summer of 2008 I was sifting through a pile of cams in Chris Brazeau’s Golden, BC driveway in the hot summer sun. I was about to hike into the Bugaboos for the first time and I was giddy with excitement. The drive to the Bugs takes you past a roaring creek on a wash-board logging road. There’s no telling, until you see the first glimpse of the Marmoloda spire, that you are about to stumble upon a cirque of mint granite spires.

Will_2Wiping sweat from my brow after a few hours of trudging, the dense Kootenay forest gave way to a rocky moraine and a view of the East Face of Snowpatch:  a wide, beautiful wall with a creamy splash of snow on the left side.  The steep prow on the right edge of the face caught my attention.

“What’s THAT?” I asked Chris.

“Tom Egan Memorial Crack.  A Daryl Hatten FA from the ’70s.”

Squamish is rife with Daryl Hatten legends.  He established the wildest aid climbs in the area and could party harder than anyone else, according to local lore.  The Pan Wall, perhaps the most exposed pane of rock on the Chief, is spider-webbed with a handful of Hatten lines.  All of them are incipient, wild and technical.  I never met the man, as he died in 2004 rescuing a cat from a tree.  I can only guess that he too liked feeling “out there.”

In 1978, with John Simpson, he plucked the very best line in the Bugaboos.  On the right side of the East Face of Snowpatch is a triangular, rocket-ship shaped prow.  The Tom Egan Memorial route splits the very center of the prow on a sheath of bone-white alpine granite.  I had found the Cobra of the mountains.

In 2010, Hazel Findlay and I climbed the Power of Lard, which is a stone’s throw to the right of the Tom Egan Memorial route.  At the ledge below the final pitch of the Power of Lard, I traversed over into the Egan, armed with a hammer and few quarter-inch bolts to beef out the close to 30 year old belays.

While rigging the rappels my heart was in my throat; I’d never been on a wall quite so sheer before.  After equalizing everything just right, we dropped the ropes with a gunshot crack.  They didn’t even remotely touch the wall.  Slithering down the cords we gingerly poked the golden rock, finding intermittent barbed fingerlocks the whole way.  The next pitch was even more splitter: rough alpine granite just barely wide enough for tips the whole way.  Lower down, the crack pinched off into knifeblade nothingness.  If there was going to be a way to free it, there would have to be a way in from either side, a grim prospect considering both faces looked almost completely blank to the naked eye.

Two summers later, Matt Segal and I arrived in the Bugs with spools of static line, intent on bandalooping around until we found a free line on that perfect acreage of granite.

Will_3In between the piping espresso in the morning and a splash of single malt before bed, we were on the wall.   This sort of climbing involves a lot of toiling and tedious manual labour.  But every so often the Bugaboo spirits would help us out a little, as if to encourage us so we didn’t lose heart.  We had a few weeks of false starts, unable to find a free line to access the crack. Just when we thought it wasn’t going to work, Matt thought we might as well look to the left, which looked like the blankest option.  He spied one hold, then another and another.  All razor sharp crimps, the smallest we could hold, in a swooping crescent leading to the splitter.  This discovery in particular had us hooting and hollering to the glacier below.  A totally free line!

Two seasons later, after 50 days on the wall, what do we have to show for our efforts?  On the face of it, not much more than a mountain of fuzzy static lines and swollen fingers.  So far the gifts have been in the moments: perched out on tiny ripples for footholds, plugged in at the first knuckle on rough white granite, sneaking glances down at the intermittent cams, and below that, the glacier.  Once we quelled the butterflies, we were able to appreciate just how wild it was being up there.

Back in camp, climbers sometime shake their heads at the monomania of devoting so much time to one route.  “Why?”  A good question, really:  there are tons of awesome new lines to explore in the world.  I shrugged then, probably saying something like, “C’mon dude, look at it!”  Now, with the Bugaboo towers cloaked in snow, writing this has been a chance to mull over the topic of inspiration.  Those starry-eyed moments that have formed the blueprint of what I’ve done with my life since.  I know where we’ll be next summer.



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