Words & photos :: Kieran Brownie
I came blaring out of the depths of the Coast Range alpine at a hundred kilometres an hour to be dropped off in the woods with a dozen youth. Luckily, these kids and I go way back. I was more worried about Paul McSorley (a decorated veteran of the coast mountains and an Arc’teryx Athlete) who, along with a couple guides, were there to keep us in line.
Our objective for the day was to find a sweet place to have lunch and with a bit of smoke lingering in the air we tumbled into the woods to find cleaner air. We navigated canyons reminiscent of the trash compactor on the Death Star. We challenged ourselves on the mossy boulders, reaching for purchase amongst the carpet of green. We hunted for crystals. We marveled at the berries, shrivelled and dehydrated but still on the bush. And we ate lunch beneath x̱ápay̓ay—Red Cedar Tree. And after all that a few of the youth who are members of Welhtima Kexwusem, a Sḵwx̱wú7mesh dance group, stood up in front of a few hundred guests to the territory to present their culture. Strong work on all accounts.
Climbing means many things to many people and so inherently the annual Arc’teryx Climbing Academy in Squamish is the same. For the ILSA (Indigenous Life Sports Academy) Climbing Crew, made up of mostly Skwxwu7mesh and Líl̓wat and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh youth, and the Tsleil-Waututh Nation School, this weekend means coming together with familiar faces to enjoy the land. Out of these shared experiences comes relationships that grow into new forms of collaboration, and whether it be the local community or visitors to the territory this seems to emerge as a common thread between the all different aspects of the Climbing Academy.
On Friday I attended a public clinic with Will Stanhope to learn more about Mountain Sense & Sensibilities. Will, whose CV describes a lifetime of world-class granite ascents, attracted a group of climbers aspiring to climb the walls in places like Bugaboo Provincial Park, an area that Will committed almost a decade of his life to. As the day progressed and we all became more familiar with each other the questions flowed and Will graciously reached into his experience to share what he could. For an “Academy” I appreciate this informal setting. It is less about acquiring instructions for success and more about a chance to soak up methodology. No equipment can replace an intimate understanding of the mountain environment and becoming familiar with any place or thing or one, takes time.
The next day the ILSA crew led by Sandy Ward and Chelsie McCutcheon headed to the Little Smoke Bluff’s with Shelma Jun, an Arc’teryx Ambassador who has been working with us for the last few years, while I headed back to the trash compactor chasm with Paul and the Tsleil-Waututh School. It was my first time meeting a lot of the group but I did recognize one face right away, Tylie Mills! Tylie has been advocating for climbing within her peer group at school and she can’t seem to get enough of it. She, like many of us, started scrambling trees at recess and lunch break and even after falling out of one speaks highly of the activity. Since I saw her last, she has placed 3rd and 2nd in bouldering contests through her team at the Hive North Vancouver. The day went by in a blur of giggles and wasp stings(no one mentioned that more wasps was a part of climate change!!?!?! What are we gonna do about that!?!?). At our closing circle for the day Shelma Jung said it well, “we are all really lucky to get be here today.”
By the time Sunday morning rolled around I felt a bit over-stimulated from the good times and was hesitant to tag along with Ashima Shiraishi for her clinic “Strengthening the Mind”, but it turned out to be the perfect cool down. The participants were mostly from Vancouver, one was living in their van for the summer months, all of them keen to learn from a master of her craft. At 22 years of age Ashima’s list of accomplishments is wild. At 13 she climb 5.14d/9a (the second woman to climb the grade) and then two years later she became the first woman to solve V15! Despite her incredible abilities to climb through challenges on rocks the subsequent fame was a different kind of difficult, when identity and activity begin to blur. Ashima talked about how her relationship to climbing has changed over the years, shifting away from competition and towards a broader creative process. It was these sorts of topics that drew the group a little closer together not only as climbers but as humans.
As the afternoon came to a close, I leaned back against a granite boulder, noticing how it was interlocked with countless other blocks. Cold air seeped out of the many holes and crevasses of Siyám Smánit (Chief Mountain). I wondered if I should ask someone about their thoughts on this clinic but before I could ask, one of the women said, to no one in particular, “today has been a good day.”
Do not fret if you were unable to attend this year, The Arc’teryx Academy will return with additional opportunities for you to acquire knowledge and establish those community connections!
Keep an eye out for the Arc’teryx Backcountry Academy this winter! Details to be released in October. Stay up to date here!