“All the crazy shit I did tonight, those will be the best memories” – Kid Cudi, “Memories”
There are moments in life — as well as climbing — that we will all remember forever.
There’s the first time I hiked into the mountains and felt that absolute freedom only the high peaks can provide; that nano-second when I first swung my ice tool and felt it ‘stick;’ that first mind-blowing WI5 lead; the first scary WI6 lead.
Then there’s the moment when two living legends — one an ice and mixed climbing maestro, the other a virtuoso with a camera — pulled up at my door one morning to head out for a day of climbing and photography.
Will Gadd had barley finished knocking on the door when he was back on the phone, texting, emailing, scheduling. I guess being an internationally-renowned ice and mixed climber, not to mention world-record setting paraglider and expert kayaker, brings with it its own set of downsides!
The other guy is Kennan Harvey, whose image of a rock climber at Lake Louise was the first-ever outdoor-adventure photograph to be featured on the cover of American Photo — an image I remember well, as I read that issue cover to cover — and who’s been creating spectacular images ever since. (Check it out: American Photo)
Driving up to Lake Louise, the fact that I’m in a car chatting with these two guys is a rather memorable moment in itself.
And then there’s the moment when, as Will is explaining the myriad dangers of falling ice, I realize I’d left my helmet at home. Shit.
But all is not lost: Will thinks he has a spare.
And then as I think about it, I realize that if I don’t have my helmet, I also don’t have my harness, which I generally roll up and stow in the helmet. Fuck.
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.
This isn’t turning out quite as well as I’d hoped.
Between frantic texts to my wife — maybe she can drive up to Louise with my missing gear?! — we make a quick pitstop and ascertain that, yes, indeed, I have forgotten my helmet and my harness, but that, on a positive note, Will does in fact have an extra helmet. “There won’t be any photos of you today,” he says digging out the RedBull-decalled lid.
So all is not lost — I have a helmet, we have rope, there are no hanging belays involved, I can belay off the anchor, I can make a sling harness, we’ll figure something out.
And, after all, before harnesses came about, climbers used to just tie a rope around their waist. I conjure up images from Fred Beckey’s recent Banff Mountain Film Festival slideshow, in which he showed photographs of tennis-shoe wearing climbers encircled with a length of hemp rope. It if worked then…
Back in the car, I’m pretty sure my embarrassment is palpable.
A short while later, gearing up at the base of Louise with Will, I wrap a sling around my waist and clip it tight with a locking ‘biner. Harness, done. At least I brought my crampons, tools, and other gear.
“Yeah, light and fast!” Will says with a grin, nodding at my makeshift harness. “This is quite funny. At least, I’m finding it pretty funny!”
I grunt something or other and continue gearing up, wanting to get moving as fast as possible. I’m sure the redness burning up my face could melt ice.
But within minutes everything fades away as the rope starts running through my GriGri, Will moving up the ice, heading for the cave. I forget that I’m wearing that famous Redbull helmet, but have a sling for a harness. The sky is a gorgeous blue, the warm March sun starting to peek over Fairview Mountain. The rope is running ever upwards, and I swing my arms, warming up for the climb.
These will be my best memories, the moments that I’ll remember forever.
Will on the right-hand pillar of Louise. Pretty sure we were the first two climbers up it this year — I learned a lot about ice climbing, and ice, by watching Will on this thing. I’ve always thought the best way to learn anything was to watch the experts do it, and then try it yourself! (Though I would have preferred to have climbed with a proper harness!)