Big Climbs, Too Many Accidents and a New Year
As I look back over the past year, I can’t help but think it was one of the most breakthrough, upsetting and all-round memorable since I started climbing two decades ago. In February, American Margo Hayes became the first woman to climb 5.15a with her send of La Rambla. Then tragedy struck when top climber Ueli Steck, known for his solo speed records, died soloing Nuptse on an acclimatization climb in preparation for his solo climb up Mount Everest. It took the climbing world by surprise and left a deep sadness in those who knew Steck and those who admired him. In June, Alex Honnold free-soloed El Capitan via Freerider, a 30- pitch 5.13a. He noted after: “It doesn’t feel that big a deal when you finally do it, because you put so much effort in. I mean the whole point is to make it feel not that crazy.” And then in the fall, Adam Ondra climbed 5.15d, Hayes sent another 5.15a, Canadian Gord McArthur climbed the world’s first D16 in B.C. and Evan Hau became the first Canadian to climb 5.15a with his new Honour and Glory near Canmore. But the bad news didn’t stop with Steck i n the spring. In between the good-to-hear stories were reports of climbers getting into serious accidents. Too many to count. Then in October, we heard the news that top alpinist Hayden Kennedy took his own life after his partner Inge Perkin died in an avalanche, which Kennedy survived. And then a few days later, ace big-wall climber Quinn Brett fell on The Nose and broke her back.
Our community takes the bad with the good. Heading into 2018, I can only imagine the sorts of things we’ll witness. There’ll be monumental successes and unimaginable losses. Will we see the first 5.16? Will El Cap be free-soloed again? Will Ontario’s only 5.14d get a second ascent? Will the Northwest Face of Devil’s Thumb in Alaska finally be climbed? And will a young Canadian rise to the top of the international scene and take us all with her or him? I hope so.
In 2017, I wanted to climb at 10 crags in Canada that I hadn’t yet visited. At every crag, I met passionate locals who showed me their favourite routes and talked about their go-to spots. While it’s screaming-barfies and gym-climbing season in Canada, I’m already marking maps for next year’s adventures. There seems to be no end to the new places to explore, new routes to climb and new friends to meet.
I heard someone joking around at a crag this year that safety is third, and having fun and looking good are first and second. Although I can’t disagree that looking good and having fun are equally important, I think safety should be bumped up to number one. So let’s rock old, stinky plaid and keep the good times rolling, but only after we check our safeties. Wishing you a happy holidays and safe New Year.