Northern Faces

Quebec Crusher Sends Pure Imaginatio­n 5.14c

- by Dave Barnes

Annie Chouinard

I was scrolling through my social media feed and came across this young woman who had just sent a test-piece at Red River Gorge. The route’s name stood out, Pure Imaginatio­n and so did the grade of 5.14c. The climber’s name is Annie Chouinard, 40, and she lives in Sherbrooke, Que.

I did some further research and found out that she has been quietly ascending the grade rungs of the climbing ladder while holding down a real-world job and climbing for love, not money. This was a common climber with some verve and I wanted to get to know her story about her first 5.14c and her journey to get there. This is the conversati­on I had with Chouinard.

What inspired you to climb

Pure Imaginatio­n?

During my trip to Red River Gorge last year, I tried a route of the same grade as Pure Imaginatio­n, but realized I wasn’t ready for it. Once I was back home in Quebec, my coach completely changed my specific training protocol, which became much more intensive than in the past. I started working part time at the hospital, to start training twice a day. I trained hard until I left for this year’s trip at the end of October. On my first week in Kentucky, I walked by Pure Imaginatio­n at the Chocolate Factory and was inspired by the line. I gave it a go and loved it, and decided to work that one instead.

What did you need to find within yourself to complete it, physically and mentally?

Red River Gorge is about 1,500 kilometres from my home in Montreal, which means I couldn’t just swing down anytime. I had to be prepared to climb hard on my trip. I had to be focused and present in the moment. The deadline of my return trip home added a certain amount of pressure. It can sometimes be hard to handle, especially because the route was above my limit and my first of the grade.

The whole process of balancing training and work required a lot of investment, self-discipline, sacrifice and motivation. During the winter, I work over 40 hours a week at the hospital as a medical technologi­st. I trained 20-plus hours a week in the gym and I also coached on the weekends. There’s a lack of sleep, but I deal with it because it’s the only way I can pack intensive training and work into my days. This is the reality of a non-profession­al, selffunded and passionate athlete.

In trying this route, I wanted to see how far I was able to push myself. For me, Pure Imaginatio­n was what I call the “logical next step” in my progressio­n. It took me a while to be able to ignore the grade and only focus on the climb. Since I had never climbed a route a 5.14c, I was quite intimidate­d by it. When I managed to only focus on the climbing itself, on the beauty of the route and the quality of the moves, I started unlocking sections more efficientl­y and the moves started to flow.

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