Back to Basics
A Brief History of a Squamish Landmark by Thomasina Pidgeon
Toronto has been the epicentre of Ontario’s indoor climbing scene since the opening of Canada’s first climbing gym, Joe Rockheads, in 1990. Since then, indoor climbing has continued to gain momentum and an impressive number of climbing gyms began to open across the Greater Toronto Area ( gta). Eventually, the climbers who began in those gyms started to make appearances in the competitive climbing circuits, climbers like Marieta Akalski, a name that made several headlines in 2014.
Marieta is the daughter of Sasha Akalski, owner of the Toronto Climbing Academy ( tca). The Akalski family emigrated f rom Bulgaria and opened the tca when Marieta was 11. The following year, when she was 12, she started climbing and her competitive nature led her to take the sport very seriously. She began climbing competitively in her first year and attended both junior and open competitions across Canada. By the age of 14, she became the first Canadian to make finals at the Youth World Championships in Austria. Coached by her father, she continued to compete in the indoor scene for 10 years, but then decided to quit climbing entirely and pursue a career as a massage therapist. “I am very determined when I want to achieve something,” said Marieta, “But I am not good at splitting up my efforts between two important endeavours.”
Marieta took a six-year hiatus from climbing and made her return to the sport in 2011. In 2014, she decided to focus on her outdoor climbing career, with the ultimate goal of climbing a 5.14. “The fall of 2014 was a special time in my life,” said Marieta. “It was a result of sacrificing everything at home, hitting the road and worrying about the consequences later.” She left it all behind to spend six weeks in Rif le, Colo., where she climbed her first 5.13d. “My first 5.13d not only gave me the strength and endurance, but also the confidence that I am capable of climbing harder.” With new confidence and fitness, she travelled to Spain, where she found a number of potential 5.14 projects.
“Initially, my goal to climb 5.14 was shattered,” said Marieta. “The steep and powerful nature of Rodellar climbing and spaced bolts terrified me. I refused to climb on certain walls because I was intimidated.” She has dealt with those fears throughout her climbing career and knew she had to work hard internally to achieve her goals and stay on track. “Sometimes, I surprise people with how afraid of falling I am,” said Marieta. “I get ‘the look’ from people that expect more of me.” But, fear didn’t stop her from achieving
Success was a result of sacrificing everything at home, hitting the road and worrying about the consequences later.
her dream, although the weather almost did. While battling storms, wet holds and seeping tufas in Rodellar, Marieta knew her time was limited. Marieta decided to project the route called Gemini, a classic 5.14a in the Gran Boveda. “Time was starting to run out,” said Marieta. “I felt like I needed to begin projecting if I had any hope of completing the climb before my set departure date.”
Marieta sent her project and became the fifth Canadian woman to climb 5.14. But, as she said, it didn’t go down without a fight: “I was full of rage when I sent Gemini because I fell on the last move three times and the poor weather was getting to me.” After the send, Marieta found her groove and kept the momentum going with a send of another 5.14a called Ixeia. The climbing day before I sent Ixeia, I linked it with two falls,” said Marieta. “Never in a million years did I think I was anywhere close to sending it.” Her sending spree didn’t stop there and with only four days left until she left for Greece, Marieta tried an inspiring line called Florida, a classic 5.14b.
“The entire time I was in Spain, I had my eye on Florida,” said Marieta. For her last few days in Europe, she plugged away at the route, describing it as powerful 5.13c to a V9 boulder problem at the very top. It wasn’t until the last day of her trip that she could link all the moves and when she reached the anchors for the first time, she knew she could send it. Marieta extended her trip to Spain and cancelled her trip to Greece. The decision proved wise as she would go on to send Florida, her first 5.14b. “Florida challenged me physically and mentally more than any climb to date,” said Marieta. “I fell five times on the second-last move, 39 metres up and I never felt close to sticking it. It broke me down. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t do anything without over-analyzing the sequence. I was at the point where I would get to the move and visualize falling. I knew the only limitation between me and the anchor was in my head. It wasn’t until I took an unplanned rest day and went for a hike to clear my mind that I was able to return to Florida refreshed and I crushed it.” After her impressive trip to Spain where she sent two 5.14a’s and a 5.14b, Marieta returned to Canada and refocused on her career. “Last year my focus was climbing,” said Marieta. “This year my focus, so far, is on work. I enjoy switching it up and not burning out at something I’m passionate about.” Her career as a massage therapist has already taken off and she was the Canadian national climbing team’s physiotherapist at the Toronto Bouldering World Cup and part of the medical team at the Pan Am Games.
Marieta is one of Canada’s strongest climbers and she has learned to balance her climbing lifestyle with her professional one. When asked about what aspect of projecting she had to focus on to help her send, she said: “Everyone is capable of becoming physically strong with today’s training facilities and coaches, but what sets the good from the best is the ability to control their emotions under pressure.”