Notes from the Top

For Gripped Co-founder David Smart

Gripped - - CONTENTS - by Lynn Mar­tel

The Sum­mit of Ex­cel­lence

As a south­ern On­tario teenager in the 1970s, David Smart es­caped the bore­dom of sub­ur­bia by climb­ing the cliffs at Rat­tlesnake Point. As he pur­sued his pas­sion, he also dis­cov­ered, at his lo­cal li­brary, that many climbers be­fore him had writ­ten books – some ex­cep­tion­ally good – about their ac­tiv­i­ties on rock walls and moun­tains around the world.

“I al­ways loved ad­ven­ture and his­tory books as a boy,” Smart said. “I loved Beau Geste and Moby Dick, The Odyssey, but since I was too young to be a whaler or join the French For­eign Le­gion, I be­came a climber. When I found out there were books about climb­ing, I found a way to make it fill all my time.”

Smart’s pas­sion for climb­ing, and for books about climb­ing have shaped and en­riched his life ever since. You might rec­og­nize his name from the mast­head of this mag­a­zine – Smart teamed up with Sam Co­hen, who turned out to be a vi­sion­ary pub­lisher, in 1999 to cre­ate Gripped, and he con­tin­ues to be in­volved as ed­i­to­rial di­rec­tor.

And, more re­cently, at the 2019 Banff Cen­tre Moun­tain Film Fes­ti­val, Smart was pre­sented the Sum­mit of Ex­cel­lence Award, given an­nu­ally to rec­og­nize an in­di­vid­ual who has made a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to moun­tain life in Canada. The award is named for Bill March, a Cal­gary climber, au­thor and ed­u­ca­tor who led Canada’s first suc­cess­ful Ever­est as­cent in 1982. Pre­vi­ous re­cip­i­ents in­clude Coast climber Don Serl, tire­less moun­taineer and guide­book au­thor David P. Jones, climber and au­thor Ge­off Powter, award-win­ning au­thor and for­mer di­rec­tor of the Banff Moun­tain Film Fes­ti­val Ber­nadette Mcdon­ald, and Sharon Wood, first North Amer­i­can woman to sum­mit Ever­est. Smart is in very fine com­pany.

Ven­tur­ing be­yond On­tario, as a young climber Smart made as­cents of clas­sic routes in Yosemite, the Alps and on the Rock­ies’ Mount Yam­nuska. He’s also devel­oped more than 300 new routes for oth­ers to en­joy in On­tario, Que­bec and Al­berta, in­clud­ing Gold Rush, which he built with Bran­don Pul­lan on Mount Run­dle in Banff last sum­mer.

In ad­di­tion to writ­ing five climb­ing guide­books – the first, The Ni­a­gara Es­carp­ment in 1984 which he con­vinced his grand­fa­ther to print – he’s also penned two his­tor­i­cally themed climb­ing nov­els, Above the Re­ich and Cin­ema Ver­tigo, both pub­lished by Can­more-based Imag­i­nary Moun­tain Sur­vey­ors. His poignant and hu­mor­ous

mem­oir, A Youth Wasted Climb­ing (Rocky Moun­tain Books), was short­listed for the Moun­tain Lit­er­a­ture Award in the 2016 Banff Moun­tain Book Com­pe­ti­tion. His other guide­books in­clude On­tario’s Finest Rock Climbs, a guide­book to Devil’s Rock in North­ern On­tario and the soon-to-be-re­leased North­ern Stone, co-writ­ten with Gripped ed­i­tor Bran­don Pul­lan.

Smart’s most re­cent book, Paul Preuss: Lord of the Abyss, a bi­og­ra­phy of the enig­matic early 20th cen­tury Aus­trian climber made the short list for the 2019 Banff Moun­tain Book Award for Moun­tain Lit­er­a­ture, and the short list for the pres­ti­gious Board­man Tasker Award for Moun­tain Lit­er­a­ture.

Smart said he was in­spired to write about Preuss be­cause while ev­ery­thing he read about the man spoke of his ex­treme views, he re­mained an ex­cep­tional climber. “He al­ways in­trigued me be­cause all that was typ­i­cally writ­ten in his­tory books was about how ex­treme his views on style were, and yet he was the best climber in the Alps,” Smart said. “The more I learned, the more I wanted to read a bi­og­ra­phy of him.”

An ad­mit­ted lover of magazines, Smart has writ­ten for Climb­ing, Rock and Ice, Alpin­ist and the Cana­dian Alpine Jour­nal.

Writ­ing about climb­ing, Smart said, came nat­u­rally as a means of record­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing his and his friends’ ac­com­plish­ments, an ex­ten­sion of tra­di­tional guide­books of that era which tended to fo­cus on in­struc­tion.

“It was also a jour­nal of the pas­sions and achieve­ments of suc­ces­sive com­mu­ni­ties,” he said. “I have al­ways seen writ­ing about moun­taineer­ing and climb­ing as an im­por­tant dis­ci­pline within the sport. As a kid, I al­ways as­sumed that Chris Bon­ing­ton, David Roberts, Gas­ton Re­buf­fat, Doug Scott and Royal Robbins and the rest were the best climbers be­cause I could read their books.”

In team­ing up with Co­hen to cre­ate Gripped, Smart said their mo­ti­va­tion grew from an ab­sence of a Cana­dian climb­ing mag­a­zine. Two decades later, the com­pany owns four ti­tles.

“There have been many chal­lenges, but we’re still do­ing well, pub­li­ca­tion-wise,” he said. “I’m proud to be able to pro­vide a mag­a­zine that of­fers a voice for the Cana­dian climb­ing scene in which I made my own life.”

The cur­rent pop­u­lar­ity of climb­ing has helped cre­ate a cri­sis within the sport, he added, a sit­u­a­tion writ­ing can help rem­edy.

“It feels great to add some­thing to the cul­ture, to tell sto­ries most people don’t know or to in­crease our un­der­stand­ing and love of climb­ing cul­ture,” Smart said. “There is a cri­sis in climb­ing cul­ture right now with so many new climbers and so few of them re­ally know­ing or un­der­stand­ing our story. Writ­ing about it can help with this.”

To this end, the con­tri­bu­tion his book on Preuss has made was pub­licly rec­og­nized by mas­ter climber Rein­hold Mess­ner who praised it dur­ing an on-stage in­ter­view at the re­cent Banff moun­tain fes­ti­val. “I was a bit sur­prised, but as he is an ex­pert on Paul Preuss, I took it as a com­pli­ment,” Smart said. The shout-out from Mess­ner aside, re­ceiv­ing the Sum­mit of Ex­cel­lence, Smart said, is a tremen­dous hon­our.

“Climb­ing has meant so much to me in my life and the Banff Cen­tre has such an amaz­ing role in moun­tain cul­ture,” he said. And, he added, his pas­sion for climb­ing is as deep as ever.

“[Climb­ing means] ev­ery­thing, al­most, like it did when I was 17,” Smart said. “I wish I was climb­ing right now.”

David Smart on White Im­pe­ri­al­ist 5.10d, Grassi Lakes, Alta.

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