Calgary’s Seasoned Sender
Bonar McCallum will turn 50 in May and over the past two years, he has climbed a number of 5.14s, including his f irst at the grade. His climbing career started in the spring of 1989 with his friends Del Grams and Cliff Deyo. They top-roped all of the slab routes at Burgers and Fries at the Smoke Bluffs in Squamish. Over the next few months, McCallum purchased all necessary gear and climbed every day. In the summer, after tree planting season, he hit the road with Grams and Al Sterns in Stern’s 1970s station wagon. caught up with McCallum to fill i n the pieces between his first and his most recent road trips.
What was your first road trip like? We must have watched with Doug Robinson about 20 times before the trip and those areas highlighted in the video were where we were planning to go. Del and Al had taken a lead climbing course with Keith Reid in the summer, so we were psyched to get out, place some gear and climb some great Trad Lines. We couldn’t have more poorly prepared for our first stop, Smith Rocks. Looking back I laugh at how steep I thought the climbing was there, my only exposure to climbing up to then was slab and the vertical nature of Smith seemed so hard i n comparison. We climbed for a couple days, got shut down on 5.10 and left quickly, heading for Yosemite.
After that we travelled to Bishop and finally to Joshua Tree. There were many chances for us to kill ourselves. I vividly remember trying to onsight my first 5.11c called Crack-A-Go-Go in Yosemite and having all my gear fail. I took a 10- metre fall into a tree and was relatively unharmed. Somehow we survived, it was a great intro to the life of a dirtbag climber.
Over the next 10 years, what were your goals for climbing and how did you make them happen? After that f irst trip, I moved back to Edmonton and was introduced to indoor climbing. Over the next few years I spent my winters climbing across North America. I funded these trips by tree planting in the summer. I definitely improved, climbing 5.13 and bouldering V9. In the mid- 1990s life caught up and I took a break from climbing for a number of years.
Your first 5.14 was at the age of 48. How was that? That was a very memorable day for me. Ben Blakney and I had been working this line a while. It was right at my limit. The 45- metre route breaks down as a 20- metre 5.12c into a V10 boulder problem and then continues into the 5.13c crux at the top of Buffet Royale Extension. As the bouldering was at my limit, I needed optimal conditions. We had been battling the hot July weather for many days and both of us were getting shut down on the pinch at the crux. When we saw a drop in the weather forecast, a high of 14 C, we both played hooky from work and went for it. I just managed to send on my first try of the day. It was a huge battle all the way to the chains. Right after my send Ben f loated it, making it look easy. It was a great experience for both of us to succeed on the same day after working it for so long together.
You then sent T Rex 5.14a. Was it mentally easier than Bone Thief Extension having broken the 5.14 barrier? Actually T Rex was also pretty big mental battle for me. It was not what I would consider my style, being a roof climb. The route is an endurance test-piece, it takes the most continuous line out of the pipedream cave in Maple Canyon, Utah. The first half of the route is a 5.13d called Millennium. The second half adds another 10 metres of punchy roof climbing to the lip of the cave then it finishes with a 5.12 headwall past three bolts to the anchors. Roof climbing was foreign to me. I had to learn how to