North­ern Faces

Quentin Roberts

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Born in Wales, to a Cana­dian fa­ther and Aus­trian mother, Quentin Robert had an ad­ven­tur­ous child­hood. He started climb­ing in Wales with his fa­ther and even­tu­ally found his way into the Alps with his school’s alpine climb­ing team in Ger­many. He then moved to Van­cou­ver Is­land and at­tended Pear­son Col­lege and soon went on to earn a de­gree in me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing. He’s since gone on to send routes like Air China 5.13+ on gear, make solo as­cents on grade-five alpine routes in the Rock­ies and es­tab­lish bold alpine lines in South Amer­ica.

“When I was 12, we moved to Ger­many, and I joined the school climb­ing team,” said Roberts. “We’d do a trip to the Alps ev­ery two weeks. It was re­ally just my­self and an­other kid called Louis who were keen enough. We’d go off with our teacher, Herr Schäf­fer, who’d haul us up routes in the moun­tains, some­times even arm over arm. I don’t re­mem­ber the route names, but I re­mem­ber the ex­po­sure, the climb­ing, the alpine lakes and the thick hot choco­late we’d get at the moun­tain huts on our way down. I moved to South Africa shortly af­ter that.”

In Canada, his ded­i­ca­tion to bold and big climbs cranked up to search­ing for new routes. “Af­ter high school on Van­cou­ver Is­land, I made my way to the Cana­dian Rock­ies be­cause I had am­bi­tions to be­come moun­tain guide,” Roberts said. “Those am­bi­tions quickly evap­o­rated when I re­al­ized that they might ac­tu­ally get in the way of climb­ing what and how I wanted to. I went to univer­sity in the Okana­gan in­stead, but found my­self re­turn­ing to the Rock­ies ev­ery chance I had. It felt log­i­cal to move back there when I fin­ished my de­gree.”

He teamed up with top Cana­di­ans, like Alik Berg, for bold new climbs. On Mount Tuzo in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, they made the first as­cent of Hid­ing in Plain Sight AI5 M5. The un­re­peated alpine route takes the ob­vi­ous strip of ice on the left side of Tuzo’s east face. The ice through the head­wall is quite steep and is the noted high­light of the route. They also teamed up for new route on the east face of Chacraraju Este (6,001 m) in Peru. They named it The Devil’s Reach Around M6 5.10. It was the first route on the face to be com­pleted with­out aid, and they did it in only two days.

Like many of Canada’s great alpin­ists, such as Barry Blan­chard and Marc-an­dre Leclerc, Roberts is known for his bold so­los. In 2018, he soloed the 1,200-me­tre Striv­ing for the Moon V WI6 on the east face of Mount Tem­ple. He also made solo as­cents of the Grand Cen­tral Couloir V M5 on Mount Kitch­ener and the north face of Edith Cavell IV. Of Striv­ing for the Moon, he said, “I spent an hour wal­low­ing around a but­tress try­ing to join the bet­ter ice, but it cliffs out. I didn’t bring a rope so I can’t rap­pel, and

I don’t feel like down­climb­ing the steep pil­lars just to climb back up again, so I con­tinue on the drier side. For­tu­nately, it ends up climb­ing more eas­ily than it looks. A few good torques, hand jams and gen­tle tool taps later and I’m back to bet­ter ice, and en­ter­ing the gi­ant bowl that drains the route.”

In 2019, Roberts and Juho Knu­ut­tila from Fin­land made an im­pres­sive at­tempt of the un­climbed North Pil­lar of Tengkang­poche (Teng Kang Poche) in Nepal. Un­like pre­vi­ous at­tempts at the mas­sive wall, they didn’t bring a por­taledge or hand drill, and took food for seven days, a small tent, pitons, dou­ble rack, a sin­gle rope and 6 mm tag line. They planned to climb the line “in pure style or not at all.” They reached a pre­vi­ously un­climbed head­wall and climbed to within 100 me­tres of the top of the stun­ning pil­lar, where they en­coun­tered steep and blank slabs of rock. They turned back, hav­ing reached a high point of 5,930 me­tres and en­coun­ter­ing dif­fi­cul­ties up to M7 A 35 .11.

De­spite not reach­ing the sum­mit, it’s con­sid­ered one of the bold­est climbs in the Hi­malayas last year.

Roberts’s most re­cent new route is MA’S Visión, a 950-me­tre

line on Torre Eg­ger in Patag­o­nia with Brette Har­ring­ton and Ho­ra­cio Grat­ton. They es­tab­lished the first half of it last year, a 13-pitch 5.12b/c, and they fin­ished it up Ti­tanic this year. The trio spent four days fin­ish­ing the route. The route is named in mem­ory of Marc-an­dré Leclerc, who died in the spring of 2018 in Alaska with part­ner Ryan John­son. Lel­cerc had soloed Cerro Torre, Torre Eg­ger and Aguja Stand­hart dur­ing his vis­its to Patag­o­nia.

“There are peo­ple who climb for so­cial sta­tus or new grades on the point sys­tem, and there are peo­ple who climb for the ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Roberts. “Marc was the lat­ter. It didn’t mat­ter if he was work­ing on an im­mac­u­late boul­der prob­lem in Squamish or kite-ski­ing across the Patag­o­nian Ice­cap to solo a re­mote peak on his birth­day, he was af­ter the ad­ven­ture. Marc and I both felt that climb­ing was the foun­da­tion through which we could chan­nel our bi­o­log­i­cal drive to ex­plore and grow.”

The new route on Torre Eg­ger is an ex­am­ple of one of Leclerc’s many ideas. “Cu­mu­la­tively all of these ideas were the vi­sion that Marc had for his climb­ing,” said Roberts. “We called the route MA’S Visión be­cause it car­ries a dou­ble mean­ing. Marc-an­dré’s Visión for the fact that he en­vi­sioned the line we climbed, and Más Visión (Span­ish for “more vi­sion”) be­cause we feel that the climb­ing world could do with more peo­ple who share Marc’s vi­sion­ary ap­proach. Marc had the spirit, and it’s on us to keep it alive. Let’s do like Marc and oblit­er­ate pub­lic no­tions of what’s pos­si­ble, live on our own terms, be hum­ble and lov­ing to those around us, value

ev­ery day for what it is, and em­brace the gift of life.”

Roberts said his favourite pitch was the first be­cause it’s the one that Leclerc saw from Ti­tanic and it un­locks the crux cor­ner sys­tem above. The pitch climbs for 60 del­i­cate me­tres through flakes with poor pro. “Dis­tri­bu­tion of weight and di­rec­tion of pull are key, and the climb­ing is sus­tained at 5.11,” said Roberts. “You have to climb con­fi­dently in the ‘no-fall-zone’ trust­ing that an­other hold will ap­pear. It’s beau­ti­ful, and Marc would have loved it. The crux pitch is spec­tac­u­lar power crimp­ing in a cor­ner and I think all of the cor­ner pitches on the route would get five stars in Squamish.”

Learn­ing how to cope with the deaths of friends in the moun­tains is some­thing ev­ery alpin­ist needs to learn to do. “I’m not sure that I can say that I do deal with them,” said Roberts. “I’m still learn­ing ev­ery day about how to deal with it. Los­ing close friends to the moun­tains is as bad as it gets. Climb­ing is not worth dy­ing for, but it’s true that we all die some­how at some point. We risk our lives in the moun­tains be­cause we think our chances are good, and we know that the re­sult­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is life-giv­ing like no other. The moun­tains give us our com­mu­nity, they give us chal­lenge, they give our lives pur­pose and they pro­vide a per­spec­tive filled with grat­i­tude.”

Roberts has learned to bal­ance his pro-climb­ing lifestyle with his per­sonal am­bi­tions. “I feel so for­tu­nate that I am able to be spon­sored by the com­pa­nies that I would choose to rep­re­sent given the choice,” he said, “com­pa­nies that give me the room to ex­plore my own dreams and am­bi­tions, and en­cour­age me to be gen­uine. Be­cause of this, my per­sonal and pro­fes­sional lives are sim­i­lar and I don’t have to worry about some sort of per­son I need to main­tain or some kind of ex­pec­ta­tion I need to live up to.”

Roberts, who rec­om­mends that new alpin­ists read Rock War­riors Way by Arno In­gler, will con­tinue ex­plor­ing bold routes know­ing that the peaks can give you ev­ery­thing and take it all away.

“Life and death ex­ist in the same place,” he said, “so if you hide from death, you also hide from life. All of the peo­ple that I know who have died out there chose to em­brace their lives, thereby also em­brac­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of their deaths. Crush­ing the power of life be­cause you’re hid­ing from death is worse than death. But you also have to re­mem­ber what you have to lose and lis­ten to your in­stinct. I’m def­i­nitely still deal­ing with my friend’s deaths and don’t see my­self be­ing done any time soon. It might be some­thing I do for the rest of my life.”—bp

Quentin Roberts at base­camp for Cho­latse in Nepal

Roberts on North Star 5.13b in Squamish

Below: Roberts in Nam­che Bazaar, Nepal Right: Roberts climb­ing Cho­latse

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