Paul McSor­ley

Mod­ern Day Pi­o­neer

Gripped - - NORTHERN FACES - Story by Vikki Wel­don La Es­coba de Dios, Vikki Wel­don is one of North Amer­ica’s strong­est women climbers and a regular con­trib­u­tor to

“Well, it’s six of one, half-dozen of the other,” Paul McSor­ley ra­tio­nal­ized be­fore crash­ing for ward through the thick and un­for­giv­ing fo­liage. I looked down at my r ipped pants, legs bleed­ing un­der­neath and sighed. We lost the trail again or what­ever sem­blance of a trail we were fol low­ing. The thick jun­gle be­neath our ob­jec­tive seemed to be in­tent on slow­ing us down. False paths led to dead ends, gi­ant thorns ap­peared out of nowhere and low hang­ing clouds hit our faces. It was pour­ing rain.

McSor­ley and I were in north­ern Africa, in­tent on es­tab­lish­ing a f irst as­cent on a gor­geous piece of Moroc­can lime­stone. A newbie in all senses of the word when it came to route devel­op­ment, I had no idea what I had got­ten my­self into. It was day one. We couldn’t f ind the trail to the cliff, so our so­lu­tion was just to bee­line it up the hill­side. Af­ter three hours of heinous bush­whack­ing, we weren’t even close to the wall. I was soaked, bleed­ing and mis­er­able. McSor­ley, on the other hand, was a bun­dle of en­erg y, charg­ing up the hill­side with en­thu­si­asm. If there wasn’t a trail, McSor­ley would make one.

For McSor­ley, tak­ing the path less travel led or per­haps not travel led at a l l is the best di­rec­tion. Toronto-born and raised, the young McSor­ley was into the stan­dard vices of ever yday youth. From trou­ble­mak­ing and skate­board­ing to mak­ing mu­sic. Life was f low­ing along as so­ciet y had planned. That is un­til a fr iend con­vinced the 15- year-old McSor­ley to play hooky from a track and f ield meet in or­der to hit up the Buf­falo Crag on On­tario’s Niagara Es­car pment. With ba­sic climb­ing skil ls, McSor­ley and his fr iend Bill Mac­Far­lane climbed bare­foot with a bor­rowed rope. “That day was my cross­roads,” McSor­ley said, “I was al l in.”

McSor­ley stayed in On­tario to com­plete a de­gree in English and phi­los­o­phy at the Uni­ver­sit y of Toronto. The moun­tains were cal ling his name and af­ter the last day of his f inal exam, he left the me­trop­o­lis be­hind in search of adventure. McSor­ley was look­ing for a higher ed­u­ca­tion and it was in the Canadian Rock­ies he dis­cov­ered the moun­tains, which be­came his most im­por­tant teacher. McSor­ley honed his sk il ls in the high alpine, climb­ing rock in the sum­mers and ice in the win­ters. Raft guiding and sling­ing climb­ing equip­ment at the lo­cal gear shop in Banff al lowed him to sup­port his new­found pas­sion. Be­fore long, he found a new ca­reer based on pas­sion and tran­si­tioned into alpine and rock guiding, which led to moun­tain safet y work and r ig­ging.

McSor­ley cur rently works as an as­pi­rant alpine and rock guide. While guiding pro­vides McSor­ley with the free­dom to pur­sue his dream as a ful l-time rock climber, he does ad­mit that it is an ex­haust­ing ca­reer. “It’s rough guiding peo­ple who have be­come so dis­con­nected from na­ture that they can barely walk of f trail,” McSor­ley ad­mits, “Once in a while you get through to those peo­ple and they re­al­ize that be­ing in na­ture is bet­ter than star ing into a screen.”

Af­ter cut­ting his teeth in the Canadian Rock­ies and de­vel­op­ing rock and alpine skills, McSor­ley was ready for more. “In 1992, I saw a f ilm by John Catto called about climb­ing a f irst as­cent on Cerro Cathe­dral in Tor­res del Paine, Chile. It looked like the adventure I’d al­ways dreamed of hav­ing.” Float­ing in the back of his mind for close to a decade, Patag­o­nia was to be­come a re­alit y. In 2002, he com­pleted the Bonnington/Whillans route on the Cen­tral Tower of Paine. “Climb­ing that rocket ship of gran­ite was a dream come true,” said McSor­ley. “It was a step­ping stone to big­ger things.” His ex­pe­ri­ences amongst the inspiring Patag­o­nian spires led him to re­al­ize that so much more was pos­si­ble.

For McSor­ley, life is not about fol­low­ing well-worn paths. Climb­ing was not meant to be about grades and hard moves. Dis­cover y and cre­ation are at the root of McSor­ley’s thriv­ing ap­petite for the moun­tains. “I am will­ing to put in a ton of ef­fort to make a f irst as­cent,” said McSor­ley. “I’d walk all day to f ind the per­fect pitch.” And walk he has. McSor­ley has trav­elled all over the world to pi­o­neer new routes. From North Amer­ica to Chile, Ar­gentina, Morocco, the Philip­pines, In­dia and Cam­bo­dia. Whether it is sport and tra­di­tional sin­gle pitches or big walls, McSor­ley has a list of f irst as­cents that most climbers could only dream of re­peat­ing. Fit­tingly, The Canadian Route on Fitz Roy is his proud­est as­cent. It was es­tab­lished over two days with fel­low Canadian Jon Walsh in 2005 on the gran­ite spires that taught him to fol­low his own path.

Th­ese days, McSor­ley re­sides in Squamish. If he’s not guiding, climb­ing, scr ub­bing cracks or travel ling then he’s prob­a­bly above you, paraglid­ing from a dis­tant peak. “Fly­ing is as good as it sounds. It’s like sur f ing or pow­der sk iing, but you’re in the sky,” said McSor­ley. “I’m only a 5.10 pi lot, but in f ly ing there’s no take.”

McSor­ley’s per pet­ual en­thu­si­asm for his pur­suit of adventure is con­ta­gious. With no plans to join the nine-to-f ive crowd, McSor­ley con­tin­ues to fulf il l his dream of climb­ing ful l time. Next is a win­ter climb­ing tr ip to Nor­way. Af­ter that, who knows where on the map McSor­ley wil l land. But one thing is cer­tain, it wil l be of f the beaten path.


McSor­ley’s Top-Five Favourite First As­cents

Above: McSor­ley en­joy­ing the road less trav­elled in Morocco

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.