Becoming a climber is one of those decisions I’ve looked back on and wondered about for years, wondered how something so infinitely interesting, challenging and complex could have sculpted this alternate direction for me. It continues to shape the decisions of my life, foreseeably, until my final days. I’ve never second guessed that choice. It felt like it was made for me. While I was in control, my hands weren’t on the steering wheel. Climbing is a wild ride if let alone to do its thing. I’m not trying to persuade, I’m making an admission.
Like unsavory smells left lingering after a burrito feast or the hiker feeling visceral fear contemplating what might go wrong for a flying base jumper, my choice to explore climbing has left many unintended negative consequences. Things that aren’t actually bad, but are almost comic in the way that they set climbers aside from the Status Quo, developing and enveloping us.
I’ve been burned so many times by climbing I’ve stopped my exhaustive tally kept in a small leather bound journal underneath my pillow. My path towards a normal, productive, rationally human life as a part of Western Society has been disrupted.
During the twelfth grade I met a sweet young lady, whom I was keen to get to know. Then climbing happened... The poor girl didn’t even receive a call, god forbid a well-worded email explaining that I was disappearing to climb in Skaha one weekend. I once finished a job, my first major contract as an animator, just hot out of school, and drove to Yosemite instead of staying on and continuing gainful employment that summer. After finishing another major animation contract later on, I ended that career with an iron spike and disappeared to Europe for four months. Upon returning I got a job in a gear store. Sound familiar? Living in vans, tenting illegally, dumpster diving for food, being a medical drug test subject, giving blood for money: I’ve done much, and met climbers more committed than I who have done it all and more to climb full time.
On a social note, I will say that many of my failed friendships and relationships in life have had their tipping points centered on that black and white question: how much does climbing enter their minds? Professionally I’ve missed meetings, dropped deadlines, rushed work, reduced engagement with colleagues. I’ve even had climbing parlance make its way into resumes and cover letters by mistake. Can you imagine? My productivity has never waned and the smile on my face never broader, yet I feel out of step with the working world around me.
I live in Squamish, BC. It’s a place where supreme splendor, natural majesty and gaudy tourism coalesce to create inflated real estate prices, ridiculous rental rates, a near 0% rental vacancy rate, and a gentrifying of the rural, outdoor centered lifestyle. We have it all, but have to work very hard or very smart to be able to live here. We are, in a nutshell, becoming Boulder, Colorado. Many who grew up here are being pushed out; those who helped to define our incredible climbing culture are leaving because buying a home is now impossible.
Climbing offers the opportunity to improve ourselves beyond becoming a better employee. The art of movement in the vertical world acts as a prophylactic against the dry slide towards recreation boom town capital of Canada. Because of climbing I work a little less, a bit smarter, wake up really, really early, choose a smaller living space, love living in a vehicle, rent out part of my house. I continue to come to terms with my waning career drive versus my interest in hanging on to the rock lightly, effortlessly, climbing a line up a granite wall in the alpine or pushing through pain and fear to see what lies on the other side.
I realize this won’t resonate with everyone, but while loving what you do makes working a real joy sometimes, work continues to be mostly work, and play is the opposite. Climbing is real play for adults, like sex, nice food and beloved company. It reminds us that there doesn’t need to be a practical useful reason to something and also just how precious moments in our life are. Those moments fly past us during our days at jobs, commuting in cars, doing taxes and generally being an adult. By making me more satisfied in life, climbing puts me at odds with the growing West Coast status quo inflating around us.
Look for me on the school grounds, I’m the one pointing the kids’ gazes upward to the Sheriff’s Badge, where a Pal, Tony, attempts to free climb an old aid line through impossible looking terrain. I’m also the one late back to meet my class because of this.
Jeremy Blumel is a rock guide, a school teacher and a father.