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