Hard Projecting in a Land of Perpetual Rain

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It’s been a little while and I’ve found new motivation to get this blog back up again. I’m going to start with a topic that should be interesting to many people with less knowledge of Vancouver Island bouldering. Particularly hard bouldering and projects on the island.


Sutton pass wilderness

When many people plan a bouldering trip to coastal BC they oftentimes choose Squamish and are completely unwilling to give the island a chance. Many never think twice since Squamish is THE place to go. The truth is that for the average climber, the island can easily offer enough climbing for several trips. And for those looking to send big, there are likely more climbs that will be v14 and harder here on the island than in Squamish. Some are scrubbed and ready to be climbed while others are still buried in moss awaiting the right person and just a little bit of love.

The first climb I’ll talk about is a short steep crimpy problem at Sutton Pass (an area near Tofino, BC).  This problem starts seated and moves up and right through some barely existent slopey crimps with one razor edge thrown into the mix. It finishes with an almost full extension throw to a blocked off incut 3 finger crimp. This move is so hard that I haven’t done it even starting from there. I’ve gone back and forth and circled around this problem many times like a shark lurking the depths while deciding whether or not to attack. Only the shark has water to help ease the task and the surfer usually doesn’t fight back. This problem definitely fights back and can make you bleed after a short session. Maybe I could climb this if it were under water but that’s still a big maybe.


An amazing V9 at Sutton Pass, photo by Matthew Wellington

Next up is an equally hard line at a relatively unknown new section of Duke Point. The problem combines a heinous v12 a pumpy v9 and finishes on a short and burly v10. All of which are amazing problems on their own. It is also possible to continue via some terrible slopers out left more and finish on a v11 mantle problem. Both of which will be amongst the hardest problems on the island. The downfall? This area is small and doesn’t have anything easier than v8. It is also quite close to an industrial area which can produce foul smells if the winds are not cooperative. Finally it’s located right on the water beside a muddy lagoon 🙂 . Any takers?


Attempting a difficult v11 at Duke Point, Mounting the Unicorn. photo by Sean Mcgiffin

Next up is an area I only went to for the first time the other day. Accompanied by Aiden Doyle we went to Hartland, Victoria to boulder. I was skeptical at first as Victoria isn’t the first place that comes to mind when I think of high quality bouldering. After climbing some easier problems and trying some established lines we checked out a steep overhanging tall and proud cave. There were already a few lines with some chalk so I decided to attempt one of them. This problem is hard and I don’t believe it’s been climbed at this time. It starts on a core tentiony v8ish sequence and then proceeds through some big moves on bad slopers, crimps and horns. This climb really has everything including a few moves where only a toe smear keeps you on the wall. This is probably the easiest of all the climbs mentioned so far.


Trying the project, photo Aiden Doyle

Also on this boulder is a low left start to this same climb. This one will be vicious if possible at all and still needs to be cleaned a little bit before it can be attempted. The rest of the boulder has possibilities too but many of these lines will be quite close to the line between possible and impossible. The already established lines in this area are also good, but many are quite reachy. One such line is a powerful and steep v12 that Aiden came close on. Unfortunately I cannot make one of the spans so I’ll have to find different beta. He will send next time!

The last boulder I want to mention is one that’s right off the road in Sutton creak but has yet to be cleaned. It will likely need a special landing built and a bolt to allow it to be toproped first. It’s an extremely tall and bold boulder that I’ve had my eyes on for years now. I just haven’t found the time to set it up and try it yet. It doesn’t look like there are many holds if any especially through the roof section.

Given our extreme climate that involves near constant rain and the fact that I travel during the summer and fall for competitions. It means that I just can’t put in the long hours needed to climb some of these routes. But slowly I’m making progress and I’m confident they will all go sometime in the future. The next time you are planning a trip out to the west coast, consider giving areas like Sutton pass a little bit of love. There is amazing climbing for all ability levels and endless opportunities to clean more rock and get first ascents. If areas like these don’t get enough traffic and attention they will succumb again to the harsh environment. And will be swallowed like the surfer this time by a thick sheet of moss.





Hotsprings and Monkeys (2015 Canadian Lead Nationals)

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  Following a successful first place finish at the BC provincial championships, I set my sights to the Lead Nationals, also to be hosted at the Boulders Climbing gym. I felt strong and confident from all my hard training sessions and extremely motivated and excited for the event. Although I had nerves as usual, I also had a certain degree of relaxation in my mind that I’ve seldom felt before large competitions.  Part of this is due to regularly being out in nature in between trainings and also taking moments to be silly and enjoy the small things in life.

  On the morning of the qualifiers I arrived at the venue, previewed the routes and set to work. On the first one, I felt as if I was gliding up the wall effortlessly like a vulture who spots his pray and executes his moves with unparalleled precision. However on the second route, I felt more uncomfortable and also a little more nervous. The feet were smaller and I chose a few positions that were less than ideal for clipping.  Arriving at the top feeling more like a seagull this time, one that had more than his fair share of food from tourists; I clipped the anchor thinking about my climb as I was lowered to the ground. 

  Semifinals brought with it, more nerves but also some elation! I previewed the route, that involved lots of slopers and powerful looking crux moves. Working together with the other climbers to decipher the intended sequence and bring my nerves down. One particular section worried me that involved a round sloper with an unhappy face written on it with chalk.  I climbed the route quickly to that point, looked around, and then proceeded without hesitation through hard move after hard move.  Eventually only falling due to a lack of commitment on a tough roof move.  When the dust settled I was ranked 2nd and one move behind the leader (Sean).

  With only one route remaining, and my nerves reaching a height comparative to the top of the wall, I decided I needed some time to take my mind fully off climbing. This is where the monkeys and hotsprings came in.  In Japan there exists a species of macaque that lives in the far north and relies on the many natural hotsprings to survive the harsh and bitter winter conditions. They balance their time and attitude in perfect harmony. Spending time for them to relax in the springs (hot shower), be silly and have fun ( watch funny videos, think of silly things and have silly conversations) to keep the mood light, and finally they possess an ability to attain the food they need with a more serious attitude (approach the competition with the silly thoughts all out of sight and out of mind). So all I needed to do was compare myself to a macaque to reach the mindset I needed to perform at my best!

  I arrived for isolation for the final once again feeling nervous but also ready to bring out my inner macaque.  This time the route looked much more straight forward, still having powerful looking crux sections but the moves in between these looked much more sympathetic.  I stepped on the wall, pulled hard and found that the route felt the same as it appeared like it would. And the moves flowed in the same way I had imagined.  I wasn’t troubled by any crux moves until I arrived at a slopey feature near the top! I grabbed everywhere on it, hoping to find a section that was slightly better but ultimately was subdued by the sloper.  Upon arrival on the ground it was apparent that I’d keep my 2nd place spot as Sean received a + off the same hold and would finish in first. I felt satisfied with my performance but also left with the thought that I could’ve pulled to the top.

  All together the event was amazing, the Boulders Climbing Gym and Kimanda did a great job hosting it as well as the speed World Cup! I’d like to thank my sponsors for helping me achieve the result that i did, The Boulders Climbing Gym, Kailas, Kimanda J, and Flashed. I am psyched to now be a part of the Kailas team, they are an amazing company that shares the same goals as me!

  Photo by Shane Murdoch 

Haiyang – The First Lead World Cup of 2014

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Following the 2013 comp season, I found myself training hard for several months with the first lead world cup of 2014 quickly approaching on the horizon. The comp was set to take place in Haiyang China – a location that would present many challenges outside of climbing alone. The first being the differences in humidity and air quality, as well as the 15 hour time difference.   The time difference, although significant, was something that I’d previously spent lots of time working on (creating strategies with my coach to overcome it) and therefore it posed less of a concern to me. While such a time change seems quite difficult to adjust to quickly, it is actually the same as Europe, (9 hours) just going the other direction. The effects of jetlag,were less so in the morning (when the competition was set to occur). They are even less of a concern after a cup or two of green tea, a tasty breakfast (which I like to think was vegetarian) and a positive, strong mindset!

Upon arriving in Osaka airport at 10pm after a long but manageable flight, I was faced with a rather dreadful 12 hour layover followed by 2 more flights the following morning. The competition was set to begin the day after arriving in Haiyang. After chowing down on a dinner of cold tofu and some sort of spicy, pickled, Japanese fruit I set off towards the “stranded traveller hotel”.   In fact this is no hotel at all, but a corner of the airport with slightly more comfortable benches with no arm rests that a few Australian and British travelers were also calling home for the night. I unpacked my snuggie and drifted off with the melody of arguing travelers and obnoxious airline announcements humming in my head. (Well, I tried to drift off).

The following morning I boarded my next flight to Tokyo and not long after arrived in Qindao where I boarded a bus to Haiyang. I arrived around dinner time, checked in, ate and then went to bed. I woke up the next morning still feeling a bit tired, grabbed some tea and breakfast and set off for the comp venue. Although the organizers offered a quick shuttle to the event, I and other competitors chose to brave the more adventurous walking route. This involved a 15 minute trek through the man-made swamp, followed by a treacherous small stream crossing using some floating styrofoam and eventually a fence that needed to be ducked under. All plenty to get the mind sharp and the body ready for the qualifying round!

The conditions were quite humid and a tad hot while I warmed up for the first qualifying route but I stuck to my routine and focused as much as I could. The warm up wall was one of the best, littered with holds to choose from. I stepped onto the wall when my attempt arrived and quickly got extremely nervous by how slippery the holds felt as well as the off balance moves off of small feet that were presented at the start of the route. I managed to refocus for a bit but my nerves eventually caused me to fall much lower on the route than where I know I could’ve got too.

Frustrated to say the least, I spoke briefly to my coach Kimanda and tried my best to follow her advice: put the climb out of my mind and focus on the second qualifier. The temperature dropped when some clouds moved in, as did the humidity, and it felt like a whole different day. I stepped onto the next route feeling confident and in control, climbing my way into 15th on that route alone and qualifying no problem for the semis. Although still far from my best climb, I was satisfied with how I managed to change my mindset around after a less than ideal first qualifier. Because the competition was a triple header (lead, speed and bouldering), I looked forward to the day of rest before the semifinal.

I spent the following day resting, working on my headspace and adjusting to the air quality/humidity with a short walk on the beach. Managing not to step on one of the many sea urchins that littered the beach, I headed off to bed feeling psyched and strong for the next day.

The semifinal route was extremely bouldery and the conditions were once again hot and smoggy. I pulled onto the wall and fought hard, but fell early once again after messing up my foot sequence on a large move into the roof. I ended up in 22nd place, not a bad start to the season! With a couple days left in China, I decided it was necessary to do some sightseeing. Adam (CZE), Nate (USA) and myself split the small taxi bill and ventured into the city centre being greeted by a completely different world. The most interesting things were the random board games happening all over the street, as well as everyone stopping what they were doing to stare at us for a bit, and snap the occasional picture. We also embarked on a Harold-and-Kumar-like search for a tea store, which was a highlight. When we finally found someone who could show us where to go, we also received an invitation to sit down and have green tea with the owners. The remainder of the trip was spent watching the finals of the various disciplines, swimming (after being thrown into the ocean at night by some speed climbers) and flying home. All in all a great trip and an amazing learning experience!

Thanks for making it happen, @kimandaJ, @bouldersclimb. And for the continued support @Flashed!

My 2014 Competition Climbing Season: A Fascinating Young Lad

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In 2014, I am going to be doing more international competitions than ever before, including hopefully attending at least 7 out of the 8 IFSC Lead World Cups, the World Championships in Spain, and the Pan American Championships in Peru. So far, I have competed in 4 World Cups.

The conclusion of the 2013 competition season was very successful. I attended the British Lead Climbing Championships, placing second in both junior boys and senior men. I was in the semi-finals of the two lead World Cups I attended (17th in Valence, and 22nd in Kranj).
I found myself feeling motivated and ready to train hard, and to look at all the ways that could help me progress further in climbing. Alongside that, I also had plans to wrestle some pebbles in Squamish and Moes Valley, as well as climbing on the much more virgin rock offered at Sutton Pass and a new area near Duke Point, here on Vancouver Island.

It quickly became clear that the main area that was lacking in my climbing was consistency: the ability to reach my max potential on every climb as well as to give 100% on every move. Often times – whether it be out on rock or in a tough situation on a comp route – I find myself losing focus and falling well below where I am capable of going.

With help from my coach Kimanda, I started incorporating a quickset routine that I would say and do before each climb, as well as cues I use any time during routes when I found myself unsure, or lacking in commitment on a particular sequence.
Using this new routine, I quickly saw success in a longtime bouldering project of mine, the Reckoning (V14, Squamish). The problem climbs a steep overhang, mixing hard compression, small crimps and extremely precise footwork. It managed to prevent me from topping it for countless sessions, before I decided to take a break from working it.

I returned this January, with more power and a better headspace but found myself once again feeling intimidated, even before any attempts. The temperatures were quite cold, and I recall having felt a little off that day. I took a while to warm up and couldn’t help but notice the rock mocking me and the trees shaking their heads in the wind. I gave a few clumsy attempts before remembering I had my quickset routine.
I used the routine and gave the boulder everything I had, managing to reach the last move before suffering from clumsy footwork and falling bitterly to the ground. The same fate followed twice more before I gave it that little bit of extra push, sticking the move and dominating the rock, now noticing that the trees looked more like they wanted to shake my hand.

From this day on, I have bases my quickset routine on how I felt on the, and how much harder I managed to push myself than what I previously thought possible.
The other thing preventing me from getting more consistent competition results internationally is a lack of experience in international events. European climbers have the opportunity to participate in the annual European Youth Cup series, throughout their youth career. This circuit helps the strongest youth competitors transition into world cups, as they’re already used to competing against the best from other countries at a high level by the time they age in to the senior circuit.
The jump is still quite large for them, but much smaller than gap between Canadian lead comps and the world cup circuit. Hopefully in years to come, North America will see its own circuit of the same magnitude, but this might be difficult due to such a small population on a large continent.
Gaining this experience is coming along well, as I continue to attend more events and I’m finding myself more prepared and less intimidated for what’s in store on a route. But it’s still an ongoing battle. A good example being the latest IFSC World Cup in Imst, Austria (August 1 and 2nd), where I finished 13th on Qualifier Route 1, and 30-something on the 2nd route. I climbed well on the 1st route, but I still had a lot to give when I fell off.
The final thing that I have been working on is getting just a bit more power in my arms and legs. World cup routes often have tough sequences of large moves that require considerable power from the upper and lower body. With a bit more muscle, I feel like I’ll have an easier time when some of those moves present themselves. Then, overall I`ll be able to climb more confidently and efficiently.
Being able to pull harder will also benefit the many outdoor projects I currently have, many of which are just outside my grasp at the moment.
As mentioned in the title, I learned in the past month on the IFSC World Cup circuit in Europe that I am, indeed, “a fascinating young lad”, but I’ll get to why another time. I`m also going to write about some of the recent and upcoming competitions and travel experiences in more detail, and talk about the “more virgin” bouldering on Vancouver Island, and the faces behind all the hard work that’s being put into areas like Sutton Pass. I will say that Sutton has serious potential to be one of the best bouldering spots in Canada, and if you’re coming to the region you would be a fool not to stop by.

Thanks for the continued support @bouldersclimb, @kimandaj and @flashed – until next time!