‘Black Magic’

For the past five years now I’ve been living just over two-hour’s drive from the outdoor capitol of Canada. I’m talking about British Columbia’s Squamish; the ideal summer destination for kite boarders, mountain bikers, climbers, and general outdoor enthusiasts.  Unfortunately it’s just that: a SUMMER destination. I leave every summer. I go home. I’ve spent every summer of college living on the east side working too much while completely missing the best perk of living in Bellingham! I was not going to let it happen this summer. I stayed in Bellingham. I planned to spend the entire month of August living in the shadow of ‘The Chief’ wrastling the proudest and most bad-ass boulder problems around. Hell, I even thought I might be up there long enough to find some Canadian girl. We would meet in the forest and the first words from her mouth would be something like, “Could you give me a spot, eh?” I would be totally done for. Alas! It never happened. Another Squamish season is winding down and I have almost nothing to show for it. How did I manage to squander what was possibly my last opportunity to live in the outdoor capital of Canada?! I can sum it up with a single word: Equinox.

I was never much of a sport-climber, and prior to this season had spent very little time at Equinox. It is undoubtedly Bellingham’s best local crag at just over an hour away, but being a boulderer I typically opted to make the hour forty-five trip to Gold Bar, the two-hour trip to Squamish, or even the three-hour trip to Leavenworth for a day-trip or weekend. Over the past two years I visited the place and tied into a rope just often enough to learn the moves and dial the sequences of the 5.12a I was working on, but was never consistent enough to make any progress, and often left disheartened having fallen repeatedly at the same old spot. This spring brought a refreshing turn. After several months of high-volume bouldering sessions, running, and yoga, I managed to climb my project twice in a row (had trouble clipping the anchors after my first effort) on my first day out for the year. With my first 5.12 under my belt I got to thinking. If I can climb 5.12a as a boulderer who can barely clip a bolt, how much better could I become?

‘Clip It or Skip It’ 5.12c (5.12a to first anchors)
PHOTO: Steven Gnam Photography

The seed was planted. In early June my friend Will Moore discovered the place and spiraled into full blown obsession. When I met up with him and heard that he had spent the better part of final’s week camped out in boonies climbing with whoever he could wheedle, i was beaten. No more bouldering plans, no Canadian dream-girl, just Equinox. We went on a tare. Over the course of a month I worked my way through many of the remaining 5.12’s completing Super Doctor Mega 5.12b (aka Straight Out of Sedro, Snapper, Debate Club), Kobra Kai 5.12b, Groove Tube Right 5.12b, my all-time favorite Clip It or Skip It 5.12c (5.12a to first anchors), The Green Machinist 5.12c, and Artifact 5.12d. I began to love the process of working routes. The discipline, work, and attention to every minute detail needed to complete a route is where I find value in climbing. The opportunity to exercise these practices is complimented wonderfully by the creativity and beauty of the sport.

‘The Green Machinist’ 5.12c
PHOTO: Steven Gnam Photography

After completing Artifact I set my sights a bit higher and decided to tackle Black Magic, an old-school 5.13a that follows a beautiful black water streak out of a recessed cave. The line is perhaps the most aesthetic of the entire crag and has stood out to me ever since I first laid eyes on it. It’s a good thing I find more reward in the process of working a route than in success, because this one was a doozy. Will and I worked it together and spent the better part of six weeks (likely the most time I have spent on any route or boulder problem) battling poor conditions, seeping holds, and steep, sustained climbing. After about a month of effort we both felt ready to do it, but continued to fail due to subtle mistakes and inefficiencies. Two more weeks went by before I managed to put it all together and climb to the top. My success was bitter-sweet until Will finished it up a few days later. It’s pretty incredible to celebrate alongside somebody.

And so at the end of it all I learned more about sport-climbing than I dreamed I could in a single season. My summer was nothing like expected, but I am glad to have taken the alternate path. It is amazing how rich life can be when you have the freedom to change your plans on a whim. I am looking forward to the next intersection, and eager to see what the next unknown road might bring.

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