words :: Trevor McDonald
Midday at the Squamish Smoke Bluffs. A man dangles over the edge of a granite cliff, stabbing a crack in the rock with a metal bar, releasing detritus to the ground below. All manner of tools hang from his harness and they clang chaotically like a bizarre set of wind chimes as he swings around the rock. His clothes and his gear are dusty brown, bled of all their original colour and dyed from constant showers of dirt. In fact, the only non-earthy hues in the whole scene are in this gentleman’s hair – it’s a full spectrum explosion of colour. He looks every bit a lunatic.
It only takes one look at Allen “Hevy Duty” Stevenson to surmise that this man is a character – Iggy Pop with a My Little Pony side- mohawk. Despite almost three decades of living in North America, Hevy still uses a nickname from his youth and speaks with a distinct English dialect, both leftovers from his early life among the row homes, factory work and coal industries of Yorkshire.
“If you’re not climbing a first ascent, you’re just jacking it,” he once proclaimed in a popular climbing film.
“It was rough,” Hevy says, recalling his nights carousing the rowdy nightlife scene of the mid- sixties. “You had to have your wits about you in those days.” At the time, climbing in the UK was a fringe sport dominated by aristocrats, but the working class was taking over. Drawn to the adventure and colourful misfits of the scene, young Hevy was hooked. “I learned to climb on the Yorkshire gritstone,” he says. “That was the end of the row homes for me.”
Climbing was bold back then, requiring total commitment often with marginal protection, and those early years instilled a purist ethos Hevy carried with him in search of bigger walls and new adventures – first to France and Italy, and then in the late 1980s, to the holy land of climbing, Yosemite, California.
From early on, Hevy’s defining climbing pursuit became “new routing,” establishing climbs no one had done before. “If you’re not climbing a first ascent, you’re just jacking it,” he once proclaimed in a popular climbing film.
By 2002, Hevy’s name was on a number of routes strewn across California, Utah and Colorado, but after landing in Squamish he began to put down roots (and routes) with new partner Erica and her son Ethan. Living out of a repurposed shipping container dubbed “The Techno Box,” Hevy adapted to family life and was able to retain a firm grip on the dial-at-11 lifestyle he enjoyed. Climbing remained a constant, alongside music festivals, extreme hula hooping and slacklining, with the occasional naked pudding- wrestling match tossed in for good measure.
This culminated in Hevy Fest, Squamish’s first slacklining festival that helped establish the town as a renowned slackline destination.
As Ethan grew, Hevy and Erica shifted away from the late-night shenanigans and put that energy into community building. Hevy put the first public slacklines in at Nexen Beach, an arduous task involving hours of digging to moor the driftwood anchor poles. This culminated in Hevy Fest, Squamish’s first slacklining festival that attracted beginners and experts alike and helped establish the town as a renowned slackline destination.
After that success, Hevy’s new routing instincts kicked back in as he and Erica stormed the overgrown but immaculate granite crags of the Squamish Smoke Bluffs, scrubbing grime, trundling loose rocks and meticulously cleaning holds to establish new routes for all skill levels.
Most Squamish climbers, especially visiting ones, will never understand how much effort has gone into the climbs they enjoy. Tools and equipment costs can run as high as $100 per route and hours of sweat equity (not to mention all of the laundry). Community builders like Hevy are celebrated by those in the know, but by and large, none of this concerns Hevy too much, he’d be out there digging new routes and bagging first ascents anyhow.
“It’s like breathing for me,” Hevy says. “It’s my first wife.”
The good news for Squamish is it doesn’t look like there’s a divorce in Hevy’s future anytime soon.-ML