On 27 Years of Climbing and Music
During the 1990s, Sean Isaac helped push the sport of winter mixed/ice climbing in Canada, which eventually led to a successful career as a remote big wall climber. Nearly three decades after finding climbing, he has shifted focus from dangerous new routing to being a dad, editor of the ( an alpine/ice guide and a musician. We touched base with Isaac at his home in Canmore after his ice climbing guiding season and before his music tour season.
Where are you from and how did you find climbing? I grew up in Saint John, N.B., but went to university in Thunder Bay, Ont., where I learned to climb 27 years ago. Climbing almost instantly took over my life so I quit school after two years and spent eight months climbing in New Zealand and Australia, where I progressed from leading 5.7 to 5.12. Upon returning home, I drove west across the country to Canmore when I was 20 and never left.
Do you miss being a pro climber? I was a sponsored professional climber for about 10 years from 2000 to 2010. At the time, I thought it was the best “job” ever, and indeed it was. I climbed as much as I wanted and travelled as much as I wanted. It was perfect at the time, but I do not miss it. I am equally content and motivated now with my life as an alpine guide, editor, father and musician. Where’s a few ranges you climbed new routes? I was fortunate enough to climb new routes in remote ranges all over the world, including three trips to Patagonia, two trips to Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Peru, Alaska and Cirque of the Unclimbables. I’d say the one I am most proud of is the first ascent of the east face of Cerro Mascara in the Bader Valley in Chilean Patagonia. Conny Ameluxen and I spent 14 days on the wall climbing through some pretty intense weather to complete it.
What has changed since you started climbing? A lot has changed since I started climbing in 1991. There were no climbing gyms or even sport climbing in Thunder Bay, so I feel lucky that I learned to trad climb before I even knew what bolted climbing was. The other huge change for me would be ice equipment. My first tools were slippery straight-shaft X- 15s with homemade webbing leashes. Then I progressed to bent-shaft Black Prophets with slightly better leashes then Cobras with clipper leashes, then leashless Vipers, then Fusions, and now, Nomics. We used to have to carry a third tool to torque in the screws because they were so awful. Now a modern screw spins in within 20 seconds and almost zero effort.
Who are three young climbers that impress you? I have been the editor of the for the past 10 years, so I read a lot of impressive ascents. But I’d say I am most taken by Marc-Andre Leclerc. Of course, his solo alpine ascents are mind-blowing, but without really knowing him other than through his writing, I appreciate his ethic and approach to alpine climbing. I am going to add my two friends named Will to that list – Will Gadd and Will Mayo. They are young at heart and continue to impress and inspire me.
You’re an alpine guide, is that your main work? Yes, I am an acmg alpine guide and work year-round guiding rock, ice and mountains and instructing courses. I really enjoy the teaching aspect of being a guide. Part of me wishes I had learned from an experienced professional instead of through drawn-out trial and error.
Besides guiding, you’re a successful musician. Who is your partner and what/where do you play? My girlfriend, Julie Chang, and I began a singer-songwriter duo
Julie Chang and Sean Isaac are The Raven & The Fox