Monday, 29 December 2014

Bozeman IWC

The Ice Climbing World Cup at the Bozeman Ice Festival was pretty exciting. I made semi finals again no problem by climbing both preliminary routes to the top. There were two routes, Routes A an B and everyone got to try climbing both. Both routes were very straight forward on good holds with reasonably sized moves. Getting to the top was more a matter of hanging on and climbing efficiently. Route A was on a shorter wall and had slightly more technical and powerful moves. Route B was taller and climbed out onto the boom and the "Montana Cowbell", a box hanging from the boom. Prelims were open format, meaning there was a forerunner who climbed the route for demonstration, and competitors were free to watch others as they climbed. This format is a lot of fun because you don't need to sit in isolation for hours and hours, and you can watch your friends climb.
We have the technology! Neil with the Dremel for sharpening our picks.
Topping out the A route in the preliminary.

Route B

Semi finals were on the second day. The format was with isolation so we couldn't see ho others climbed the route and we were only allowed seven minutes to preview the route. After the preview, I was a bit nervous. From the ground it looked very difficult. The holds looked very technical, and the moves looked huge!! The semi finals route went a little better than I thought it would, but not as well as I would have liked or could have done.

Starting up the Semi Final route

Because the wall was so short, the holds were made to be very difficult to use. My ice tool slid off the first hold as I took it, but I caught myself and it held better the second time. After the first couple short moves it was mostly big moves on highly technical holds, requiring a lot of precision coupled with strength.

Getting ready for the first difficult move.
Aiming for one of three shallow divots in a small metal plate embedded in the plastic hold.
I fell off almost halfway up the route. There was a long move off a very bad hold and while I read the move the correct way at first I didn't get the push I needed to get the far away hold. I changed tactics and tried the move in a more dynamic manor and my pick skated off the hold I was leaving just before the leading pick caught the hold I was going for.
Another big move off a terrible hold.

Leaving a "good" hold for another skatey metal plate hold.

Getting near my high point. The next move was to the grey hold on the left side.

I finished 2nd in the North American Championship and 11th overall for the IWC competition. This has been my best finish yet and I feel like I'm still making progress.   I'm excited for the folloowing five competitions. The next is in two weeks at Cheongsong Korea.

Top N.Americans L to R: Ryan Vachon 3rd, Gordon McArthur 1st, Nathan Kutcher 2nd

I'm super proud of my Team Ontario who represented all of Eastern Canada. They have worked really hard and made big improvements since I started working with them. All are all hoping to do at least one more IWC competition somewhere else around the world this winter.
Neil Gowan, Nathan, Rebecca Lewis, Stephanie Mahallati

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Its been a busy past few weeks. After getting back from out west we made a quick trip to St. Alban, Quebec. Last year I climbed the three hardest routes on the first afternoon we were there and I thought it would be great to add another harder route to the area. After contacting a few people I had permission to equip a new line at the cliff. On the Saturday morning of our visit I bolted my new route and then climbed it later in the afternoon. I named it "First Blood" and its a little harder than the other routes at the cliff.

Rebecca climbing at St.Alban.
First Blood


 We have been in Bozeman for the last week. I was hoping to finish off a couple routes at the Bingo Cave, but the warm temperatures made it very difficult. The rock for almost all the routes needs to be frozen together making them unclimbable. Fortunately I was able to climb one of the routes I wanted to do. Northwest Passage is one of the more difficult routes in Hyalite Canyon and I'm excited to have been able to do it my first try.

Tomorrow (Fri 12th) the Bozeman World Cup competition starts. It will be live steamed at

Friday, 31 October 2014

Out of Hibernation

Summer has come to and end and winter is on its way! It's time to step up my training. The original plan was to go to Russia to train with friends, but the complex visa application process and ballooning projected expenses forced a change of plans. Instead I flew out west to train with my friend and teammate Gord McArthur.
Landing in Calgary with a full day ahead.

Waking up at 4 AM to catch a flight is never fun. But eight hours later we were parked at the trail head and after a quick sorting and repacking of gear we were headed off to do some drytooling.

Sorting gear

Happiness is a climbing steep wall.

Much better scenery than in Russia.

I finally have a good training setup at home, but to get the most out of training, having someone else to help motivate and push you when you feel like stopping is very important. A change of pace also helps mix things up which keeps the training routine from getting into a rut by repeating the same exercises. Between a few day trips to climb outside, home base is Gord's place in Cranbrook. He has a huge climbing wall/ training area in his back yard. We usually do two train sessions a day. One in the morning and one in the evening.

The Great Arch

Game face. Training is serious business!!

Evening session with a few youngsters.

We have also spent some time climbing in a massive cave a few hours from Cranbrook. An hour or two of highway driving, followed by a four wheel drive logging road brings you to the trail head and a short and flat (by Rockies standards) hike in. Gord has equipped a few routes, but there is still a lot of work to be done before the cave reaches its full potential. This cave is certain to soon be home to the highest concentration of difficult drytooling in Canada. As an added bonus, many of the routes should also get ice on them once the them once the temps drop.

 The rock quality is horrible, which makes it ideal for drytooling since it would be impossible to rock climb. At first it is so loose its actually a bit terrifying to think that your anchors are stuck into this overhanging kitty litter. After climbing on it a bit the rock cleans up a lot and in the really bad spots the bolts go in a very long way. The rock is so steep its almost impossible to rappel in to establish new routes. This means bolting from the ground up, climbing the uncleaned rock.
Gord working on the massive route out the center of the cave.
This cave is HUGE!!!!
 The photo below shows the cave and Gord's route, which is over 200 feet long. I am in the lower center with the blue shirt and orange helmet, working my way up, equipping a new route.
 Photo: Rafal Andronowski

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Buy a Rab Meco Baselayer and support Team Canada!

After two years of use, my old Ice World Cup jersey has some holes and was in need of replacement. As Rebecca's first year with IWC she needed something to use as her jersey.  Fortunately Rab equipment was able to help us out and our new World Cup jerseys will be the Rab Meco 165 long sleeve tee. Thank you to Rab for helping us with this!


One of the main distrubutors of Rab products here in Ontario, Outland Adventure Gear of Orangeville, has stepped forward to help us even more. Between now and until the end of December OAG will be donating all proceeds from the sales of Rab Meco Baselayer products to support our World Cup efforts!

A huge THANK YOU!! to Outland Adventure Gear for supporting Rebecca and me!

If you can't make it Orangeville you can order online.

Mens Meco 165-

Womens Meco 165-

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A New Chapter

Wow!! Lots of stuff has been going on and happening over the last 6 months. Most notable is that I took the big leap of leaving full-time employment to climb full time. It was extremely scary but also extremely liberating to walk away from the security of a good job. In a bit of irony, I realized the morning of my last day of work that it was also the 15 year anniversary of when I broke my leg and ended my plans to go traveling. I feel like I'm finally picking up where I had left off.

Over the summer I have been doing some training for Ice Climbing World Cup. I'm currently trying to take a month off from the ice tools and training to just spend time rock climbing and have fun doing it. Something I have been losing sight of in the hectic life of full time work while trying to do high-end climbing. 

Over the summer we went to the Beaver Valley Climbers Festival and had a Team Canada "booth" set up to do some fundraising of the Ontario Access Coalition. It was a miniature version of what I have built in my back yard and with ice tools hung in place.

The big news for the up coming IWC season is that there will be a World Cup competition in North America! The competiotn at the Bozeman Ice Festival has officially made the final steps to becoming part of the IWC tour.

It should be an exiting addition to the circuit and hopefully this will generate more interest in competitive ice climbing in N.America. My wife Rebecca will be part of Team Canada and will be traveling with me to a few of the competitions to compete.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Ufa, Russia

The last competition of the 2014 season was in Ufa, Russia.  After the demonstration in Sochi I flew back to Moscow. There I met up with a few of my friends for two days of training before heading to Ufa. 

The visit to Moscow started out rather interestingly. My friend Lucie and I had flights that arrived around the same time so instead of taking the 1.5 hour trip by train to the subway plus walking another 15 minutes with our bags we decided to split the cost of a 45 min. taxi ride.  While waiting for Lucie, a guy approached me and asked if I need a taxi. After haggling over the price for way too long he finally offered the price that I was told by my friend to pay for a taxi. After Lucie arrived we found the driver who was waiting for us and we headed out of the airport. Instead of going to the curb where all the taxis were lined up he led us to the parking lot.  There he had his car, which wasn't a taxi at all. So fair enough, it was just a guy trying to make some money.  After getting into the car he spent what seemed like forever trying to look up the address I had for my friend Pavel in an old map book.  After he finally found it we left the airport. At the gate where you are supposed to pay, he crept up right behind the car ahead of us and when the gate went up for them he followed right behind with the gate coming down and hitting the back of the car as we sped away. The rest of the drive was like something you see out of a dashboard camera that you would see on the news about crazy Russian drivers, minus the car crashes. After a few wrong turns we finally got to somewhere that I recognized and was able to point out the rest of the way to Pavel's house. I was super happy to arrive okay because I was really starting to think we would end up dead in a ditch somewhere! In talking with some Russian friends I found out that what we experienced was actually pretty common.

On Tuesday the four of us (Gord (CAN), Andy (UK), Lucie (CZ) and myself) went to the Moscow structure to climb. On the subway we met a woman who was also headed there and shortly after that we ran into another Russian friend of ours who was meeting up with her to climb. The structure was added onto this summer so there was no problem for the six of us to all climb there at the same time.

After taking the Metro its about 15 minutes of walking to get to the structure.

The centre/brown section is the old section and the wings off the sides are new.

Moscow training structure.
In the evening the Russian Team doctor who we had met in Sochi took us out for a night tour of Moscow. It was kinda neat because I had never seen downtown Moscow at night.  He was also able to drive us around which was nice. I had done a lot of walking in the previous two weeks.

On Wednesday we went to a small bouldering gym which was less that a five minute walk away from Pavel's building. It was rather small, but was still a good training session.

On Thursday we flew to Ufa with the competition starting on Friday.  The weekend started out really rough for me. On Wed. my dad had passed away from his battle with cancer and then after arriving in Ufa I received an email from my mom informing me that my grandmother on her side had also just passed away on Thursday….

Friday was pretty tough, but I still managed to climb really well. The competition was a Bouldering format, which means we climb several short routes rather than one long route and we could use as many attempts as the 5 minutes per route time limit would allow.

There were five routes and we would have 5 minutes between each to rest and change ropes. In preliminaries I was able to climb 4 of the 5 routes on my first attempt.  I fell off near the top of the 4th route but didn't have enough time to try it again. I ended up in 13th place heading into the semifinals.

Second preliminary route.

Fourth preliminary route. With this move you swung to the other wall. 
Grabbing the opposite wall.

Fifth prelim route. It climbed up the wall to the left then down the wood panel before getting to the ice. It was novel to actually climb ice in a competition.

Semifinals had the same format, but the routes were a bit harder. I would have liked to have climbed better, but it was still a good learning experience for me. The first route had a very difficult move off the third hold that I was not able to figure out. For each attempt we had to start climbing on the starting hold, so rather than waste a lot of energy by climbing out to and trying to figure out a move I may or may no be able to do I took the rest of my allotted climbing time to rest for the next route.
Photo: Oleg Chegodaev

Winding up for the first move of the first route in Men's Semifinal. Photo: Oleg Chegodaev  

Releasing the following tool to complete the first move. Photo: Oleg Chegodaev

The second route had what looked like a few possible options to climb the bottom. I tried what I thought was the best way a couple times with no success. I tried it another way which didn't seem right at all and then went back to trying the move the way I had originally thought, but with using a figure-4, putting my leg over my arm to help reach higher. I was able to do the move and climbed the rest of the route without too much problem until the time ran out several moves short of the top.
Starting the second route in semis.

Past the start and onto more straight forward climbing. We swung our picks into the block of wood here.

On the third route I was able to climb the bottom section first try. I was able to climb almost to the top, but ran out of time because I had to think about how to do a few moves while climbing and also need to rest my arms a little to keep from falling off.
Climbing the third semis route.

The forth route I had a lot of trouble with. The way that I thought I should do the first move was not the way to do it, but I kept getting really close and wasted a lot of time and energy continuing to try it the same way. Without much time left and no energy I tried it a different way and made some progress,  but not enough to score any points.
Working on the 1st move of the 4th semis route.

The 5th route I figured out how to do correctly, but couldn't because I was having a problem with my boot and couldn't push with my foot hard enough to reach the next hold. The metal bar which is supposed to stiffen the sole kept popping out of place and while I was able to pop it back in, it was too bent to offer much foot support.

I ultimately ended up coming in 17th for the semifinal. While I was able to do pretty well on two of the routes, I needed to climb higher on one more route to get enough points to finish better. For the season I finished in 27th place, which is up 37 places from my ranking last year. The way the overal scoring works is they take the points from 5 competitions and add them together to get the final ranking. Because I didn't place high enough in Korea I didn't get any points for that comp and because I skipped two more comps and Italy was cancelled I wasn't able to accumulate points there either so I finished with a total from only two clomps. Hopefully I'll be able to find the money to compete again next year. I think I can still do a a lot better.

Thank you to the Toronto Section of the ACC and Rankin Construction for sponsoring me. Thank you to my family and friends for supporting me with donations and/or helping me along the way. Thank you most to my wife Rebecca who stays home and funds the large remaining portion of expenses not covered by sponsorship and donations while she lets me run around the world.