How Did You Start Climbing?

For me climbing started by accident. 

I moved to Port Alberni, BC, just before Labor Day weekend in 1993, after having a job interview in the parking lot of the Nanaimo ferry terminal. I arrived on a Thursday, found a place to live the same day, and settled in with everything I owned fitting into a 60L backpack I had been living out of for the last four months while hitch-hiking from Toronto to Vancouver. School was done, money was gone, and it was time to work. My one-bedroom apartment had zero furniture, so I made it homey with my camping gear. My new boss told me my survey partner would pick me up Tuesday morning at 5:30 a.m.

I quickly got into the swing of things. Being new to town and only knowing my coworker, it was a bit isolating. So, what do you do in Port Alberni in the fall when you have zero cash, no car, no furniture, no TV, no bed, and only one acquaintance? You join Dave's Gym of course. I wasn't much of a weight lifter, but the membership was cheap, and it was walking distance from my apartment. On my second trip to the gym, I randomly met a couple of guys who also worked in forestry and recognized the logo on my shirt of the company I had tree planted for. They knew the owner and, as we talked more and worked out together, we discovered we had a bunch of mutual friends.

A year later, we were a lot fitter and had spent many weekends exploring the area between Port Alberni and Tofino. One day, someone suggested hiking Mt. Arrowsmith. It was a straightforward uphill hike, but reaching the summit turned out to be trickier than anticipated. After a few attempts on the slabby rock, we decided it wasn't for us. I hadn't even heard of rock climbing at that point. On the way back to the trucks, feeling slightly dejected, someone mentioned we’d need a rope and some protection to make it to the summit. "What is this 'protection' you speak of?" I asked. A short conversation ensued involving words like cams, nuts, hexes, and pitons.

Not long after, I went searching for more information on climbing ropes and protection. It turned out to be a very short search, as I found John Long's book "How to Rock Climb" at the only store in town that sold used books. I started reading and didn’t stop until I finished. My interest was piqued. At the end of the season, I quit my job, bought a friend's 1974 Volvo 244 DL for $50 that he was taking to the wreckers, and drove it back across the country to Toronto. I spent the fall working at the "pro shop" of a family friend's under-construction golf course. Between the 5-8 golfers that showed up each day, I read "How to Rock Climb" repeatedly and created and equalised anchors between the legs of furniture in the Atco trailer that served as a temporary pro shop.  I had accumulated shoes, harness, a few draws, chalk bag and some slings.

I had planned a trip to Southeast Asia, and my departure date was approaching when I met a Californian at the Toronto Climbing Academy. "Thailand? You're going to Thailand?" he said. "Take your climbing gear and check out Phra Nang." So I did. My tour of Southeast Asia was derailed by climbing, and I spent three months at Phra Nang, followed by nine months of climbing in Australia.

Ben on the Summit of Mt Pogo

Summit view from a peak along the highway between Port Alberni and Tofino.

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