Alex Megos Belaying the First 5.15 Send in Canada
I love belaying. It’s true. I am that guy who shouts, growls and screams as my climber gives it their all high above. I love that energy. To climb with partners who share stoke and try hard is what it’s all about. I have been known to shout a climber or two up their project. I, too, thrive when my belayer puts their vocal chords to the limit. How could I let them down? My finest belay ever was when I had the opportunity to feed rope to Alex Megos when he sent Canada’s first 5.15, which he called Fightclub.
The older I get, the more I climb, the more conscious I am of the impact my partners have on my day. I crave energy. I want to share motivation and try hard, but above all, I want to learn. I believe that we can all gain something from the people we climb with because whether we climb 5.10 or 5.15, we all bring our own spice to the crag and to life. It is not a coincidence that I had been climbing with Sonnie Trotter and his guests, Alex Megos and Megos’s girlfriend Daniela Ebler, during their six-week summer vacation to Western Canada. It was a chance to share stories and acquire wisdom from two of the world’s best. Needless to say, the energy at the crag was crackling as Megos inched his way closer to Canada’s hardest sport climb. And lowly old me, well, I stayed busy at the crag holding the rope for many of Megos’s attempt, while trying my own projects.
So, what is it like to climb with one of the world’s most accomplished sport climbers? The first thing I noticed is that Megos is a wry and funny guy. Climbing is fun and he loves it as much as you and I. On the wall, Megos climbs perfectly and defies all of my previous conceptions of what elite climbing looked like. There are no power screams and certainly not many mistakes. Even when entering the crux of a 5.15b, it is not apparent whether he is struggling or not. He is either on the wall or off.
We often hear “natural talent” thrown around the climbing world as a catchall to explain today’s elite sport climbing achievements. Sadly, it is usually in a derisive tone and used to undermine groundbreaking achievements of our sport as a simple bit of genetic good luck. To write off elite climbers as super humans or winners of the genetic lottery is patently unfair to those climbers’ dedication and hard work and, in my experience, untrue.
If climbing with Megos has taught me one thing it is that the majority of us do not try hard enough and we do not try enough. I have news for you naysayers, Megos and I are proportioned almost exactly the same, but he climbs a full number grade harder than me and I have been climbing considerably longer. Of course, Megos has a very desirable body type for climbing, thousands of climbers do. Over his 18 years of climbing he has cultivated the grit, determination and perseverance required to climb 5.15b quickly through thousands and thousands of hours of dedication, both to training with the top coaches and to climbing outside.
I asked Megos if he would take a day to relax if he sent his 5.15 project at Raven Crag. Sitting in the dirt, meticulously using a razor blade to file off a new split in his finger, he glanced up at me and said, “No. I really want to send so I won’t have to take any more rest days.” He then resumed his manicure, applying tape to another finger. Minutes later, with six of his fingers fully taped, blood leaking through, Megos tied in to try the project once again – his fourth attempt that day. Quite simply, he oozes the drive to be outside and indulges in his love of climbing. “Each time I tie in, I just think, this could be the time I send,” he replied when asked how he maintains drive and motivation during his hard projects. His energy is infectious and between his attempts to send the full project, he insisted that I give the f irst half a try. Every time he reached a high point, fell and lowered off, I would tie in as Megos fed me beta. While Megos has climbed the first 5.14b section over a dozen times, no one else has repeated it.
Since my time climbing The Path 5.14R with Tim Emmett, I have been reciting and sharing a positive affirmation that Emmett brought back from a conference during our final trip to Lake Louise. “Today is the best day of my life.” It’s funny, it’s hyperbolic and when we say it enough, we catch that iota of truth that it holds and it permeates our day. As I pulled hard on my locked GriGri to show Alex his belay, we made the requisite fist bump and I offered encouragement, “Today, Alex.” He grinned and said, “It’s the best day of my life,” before setting off into Canadian climbing history.