Kelly Tobey’s Interview on the Making of the Barrier Bluffs Guidebook
I met Kelly by chance in 2014 as he was packing up and getting ready for a move to Thailand. I had owned and lost his long-out-of-print pocket-sized guidebook to the very popular cliffs known as Barrier Bluffs that are situated about 10km on the drive into Kananaskis from Hwy #1. However I received the book as a birthday gift around 2009 and it gave me the knowledge to explore more sections of the cliff aside from the main sport climbing area of Yellow Wall. I always admired that local book when I would see it sold in the early 90s in some Calgary outdoor shops – the first thing that caught my eye was the compact size and what I presumed was 3 friends of the author who awoke one day and put on the exact same clothes and went out and climbed 3 separate routes for the cover of the book.
Being a lover of history, I was overjoyed to have the chance to meet Kelly before he left to the other side of the world, then, nearly 5 years later be able to find out how that book came into being, giving the local climbing community beta for not only sport lines, but a plethora of old gear lines. I promised Kelly then that I would give away the last 25 copies he owned of the guidebook to whomever was excited for it. If you have a copy: cherish it, there are no more out there to be had of this important piece of local climbing literature. So below are about 50 questions (get a tall drink ready) I sprung on the man behind the book. An array of photos and some of the recipients of the free 25 final copies are shown in the slideshow, please enjoy!
Rockies Obscure: When did you get into climbing and what brought that on?
Kelly Tobey: According to my mom I got into climbing in my first year or second year of birth. She came in to find my legs sticking up out of a wastepaper basket. Apparently I had climbed out my crib and took a fall on my way down the outside. After that it was trees and anything else I could find to climb. There wasn’t any rocks in the area where I grew up so it was only on family vacations that I got to scramble around on rocks in the Northern Shield in Ontario.
In my teens and early 20’s I lived on the streets hitch-hiking around North America. Whenever I came across cliffs to climb I went for it. Back then I scoffed at people I saw on the same cliffs using ropes. Youthful ego, arrogance and ignorance. Later when my adventures led me to visiting an ex-girlfriend I met her new boyfriend. He happened to be seriously into climbing. He had climbing magazines out of the UK (I don’t think they had any in Canada or the USA back then). I enjoyed looking through the magazines and he explained the virtues of climbing with ropes. He told me because of the ropes one could push past earlier limitations because it took away the possibility of death. He took me out to some crags on Vancouver Island and turned out he was right. I was hooked on the benefits of gear!
I still preferred the absolute freedom of free soloing and that it allowed me to cover so much ground in much less time. Yet because of roped climbing I was now able to push my limits much further because of what I learned.
RO: Where did you grow up and when did you move to Calgary?
KT: I grew up in Peterborough Ontario on the side of a bay. Just a short swim to get to the forest on the other side. Ideal for exploring and camping as a youth.
RO: What made you pick Barrier Bluffs as a place to develop so intensely? What was it like before you started opening up lines? Loads of choss? No trails? No descriptions from previous ascents?
KT: Driving by on my own one day, I stopped and hiked up to the bluffs. I fell in love with the place. I like how the cliff is right by the lake for some outstanding views. It was hard to believe that a cliff so close to the rode was virtually untouched. (Later in our explorations we found some signs that there had been some climbing activity there before.) I could be there with a quick drive from Calgary so I could climb and work on the same day if I wanted to. I appreciated that there was a great variety of climbing styles called for because of having so many variations in the rock formations. The Yellow Wall had so much sun exposure that we could climb even in the winter months from time to time.
With a keen eye a person can notice some snow in the bottom corner of the Barrier Bluffs Guide cover even though I am out climbing in a Hawaiian shirt! The amount of choss especially on the lake side was in a way a blessing as it is probably one of the reasons no one had fully developed the area. I have great patience with cleaning routes. Sometimes it was one of the most exciting things of climbing, as the dirt, moss and loose rocks were cleared that perfect handhold that will take a person through the crux was often discovered! The choss also made it clear that no one had ever ventured onto that piece of the planet before. Somehow that was always a thrill for the explorer in me. As I would make my way up to the cliff-side, I put up orange logging tape to mark where I had been. This created the opportunity to walk the same path over and over again. Each time clearing some debris, cutting back branches, moving rocks. I really enjoyed the process of watching how ever so slowly a walk through the woods would turn into an actual trail.
RO: Can you describe a day in the developing of Barrier Bluffs?
KT: Have a hearty breakfast in Calgary. Drive to the bluffs. Hike up to the base and walk along the base until some potential line catches my attention. Lace on the climbing shoes. Put on a harness and load it with cleaning tools such as a rock hammer, an ice climbing axe, and a gear pick. Clip my repel station bag that includes bolts, hanger, aircraft wire, u-clamps, and a wrench to a carabiner on my harness. Tie a repel rope to my back like a pack. Clip my water bottle to my harness. Tuck my backpack under a rock or an overhang so it does not get showered with debris.
Clean and climb, clean and climb, clean and climb until I reach the top. If I have not previously set up a good repel station nearby then I set up a new repel station. Hopefully there will be a tree close enough to the edge that I can wrap the aircraft cable around leaving enough slack for tree growth. Double up on the repel rings on the cable for extra safety. Fasten the u-bolt hanger to secure the cable. If no tree, hammer-drill two bolts, add two strands of aircraft cable, two repel rings and two u-hangers. Repel down. Have a snack from my backpack. If it is later in the day add the headlamp to my equipment and clean and climb the next promising line.
Repeat until I run out of light. Hike back down to the car or van. Write down descriptions of the climbs while they are still fresh in my mind. Drive back to Calgary for a good sleep.
RO: Why did you solo so many new routes there?
KT: My biggest passion for climbing always came when I was free soloing. And is amplified by free soloing new routes because I do not know if they are possible or not, because no one has done them and there is no guides to follow or prior rope climbing that was done to make it clear it was possible. The heightened sense of fear puts me into high levels of ultra-sensitivity to being present in a moving meditation! It provides life lessons gained by facing fear with none of the typical options to avoid it. I can’t freeze for long or my muscles will burn out. I can’t fight with the mountain, I have to befriend it to be shown my way through. I can’t flee, there is no where to run to.
So what is left is engaging the mind, the emotions and the body in facing the fear and doing what is best in the circumstances. For me it is a very spiritual experience where the earth and I are clearly joined in unison. Free soloing has taught me how to face demons much bigger and scarier than any mountain I ever climbed. Namely the internal demons that grew out of life traumas and challenges. I enjoy the freedom of not having to deal with ropes and gear. I like the amount of ground that gets covered with all the time gained by not waiting for a climbing partner or fiddling with gear.
For example I remember free soloing the face of Yamnuska in about 45 minutes and that included sitting in a couple of spots to just take in the view and the majesty of it all. Normally for me, rope climbing with a partner is counted in hours not minutes. In the case of new routes on Barrier I could take as much time as I wanted to meticulously clean the new routes as I climbed. No partner waiting patiently or not so patiently below. No partner below needing to dodge dirt and rocks being cleaned off the route. No rope below in danger of being cut through by rocks being cleaned off the route.
RO: Do you recall the first FA you did at Barrier?
KT: I don’t remember.
RO: How did you gather info for the guide pre-internet?
KT: Aside from talking with one of the men that had climbed there previously the only info needed was from the experiences of my friends and myself. Of course after the guide book had been published many people outside of my circle of friends have climbed there and put up new routes that were not in the guide book.
RO: When would you say climbing at Barrier caught on – before your guidebook, during or after it was out?
KT: When I would go into the climbing shops buying gear with my hands all chewed up, I would be asked where I was climbing. I would tell them but it was hard to give details with just words so no one else was showing up unless I brought them out there. That did plant a seed for me that if there was a guidebook it would open the door for others to enjoy such a fun and challenging area. But writing and producing a guide myself seemed way out of my skill set. And all my extra money was being spent on gas and gear. Money on gas to get to the bluffs as well as to take road trips down into the states. Money on gear was being spent on bolts, pins and repel stations to leave behind for future climbers to make use of. It was later on that Diane Edmunson my girlfriend and climbing partner convinced me that I could create a guide book and that she would help if she could. So I continued with taking photos and making notes about the climbs. After her death at the bluffs it shook me up and I stopped climbing for a while. But whether it was her spirit or my imagination, she came to me and I got the message to get back to climbing and to go through with creating a guide book. That is why it is dedicated to her.
In retrospect it was actually a good thing that the Barrier Bluffs did not catch on much until after the guide book because it meant that the only people I had to keep safe from the debris of cleaning routes was the people I was with and I knew where they were. No stray people wandering around to catch a rock on the noggin. There was a little over lapping before the guide book came out because the people I took there were telling and bringing others sometimes. So there would be the odd group out there at the same time as myself and whomever I was climbing with. Once the Barrier Bluffs Guide came out I started seeing more and more people coming out. It made my heart sing when I would see rows of cars parked at the side of the road, knowing that I was a catalyst to bringing some more joy into people’s lives!
RO: Do any of the route names have good stories or stand-out memorable moments?
KT: Screamin’ Monkey Vomit has a crazy name and a good story to go with it. The story is in the guide book. Chalk Bone Crack is an interesting one. Old time climbers will be familiar with the term chalk stone, I do not know if it is in use much anymore but basically it is a stone that is wedged into a crack that you can wrap a sling around and use for protection. Well I am opening up a new route following a crack up a steep part of the cliff and what do I find in the crack but a huge bone! It looks like a vertebrae off of a very big animal. How the hell it got wedged in a crack a third of the way up the bluffs is anyone’s guess??? I grab it and it is hard and solidly in there. Maybe partially petrified. So what the hell, I wrap a sling around it, pop on a carabiner, clip in my rope and climb on.
RO: How many FA’s in-a-day do you think you ever did there?
KT: Probably the most free accents in a day would have been on free solo adventures. I might have done 4 one long day but only took the time to partially cleaned them so had to return and clean them up properly later.
RO: What are your favourite Barrier routes?
KT: Hmm that could be a long list. Some that would be on it would be Rainbow Bridge (the one on the cover of the guidebook), Krazy Kelly’s Kiddy Ride is a fun traverse, Vapour Barrier has great views and nice exposure, Lumpy Corner and Drifter’s Escape.
RO: What made you want to make a guide to Barrier? How many in total were printed? Where did you sell them?
KT: It is my nature to want to make this world a better place to live in so I have looked for ways to do that since my teen years. I have gotten so much out of climbing that I wanted to share my passion for it with others, knowing that if approached appropriately it can be a big teacher as well as bring immense satisfaction into people’s lives. My whole approach to the Barrier Bluffs was not just for my own enjoyment but to make it accessible for others to enjoy. So making trails, discover routes, leaving hundreds of dollar’s worth of bolts, pins and belay stations even on routes that I have only climbed once myself was all an extension of my life’s purpose. Once I envisioned I was likely capable of making a guide book that became a natural next step. I cannot remember how many I actually had printed. I remember making enough that if they all sold at a fair price I would be able to break even on the project.
Three flaws in that plan were that 1. There was not a big enough market for guide books back then for me to be able to sell them all. 2. I was not able to get what I thought was a reasonable price for them. I had no idea of how marketing worked and did not realize how much of a cut the retailers would want. 3. I thought prior that stores would buy a reasonable sized stock of the books at one time. Little did I know that they would only take a very few at a time and that it would be up to me to check in to see if they sold out and offer a few more. So I spent big chunks of money driving back and forth to shops in Calgary and throughout the National Parks to restock a handful of books at a time.
Eventually I discovered a distributor that did that with several different books at a time so their driving around or shipping could be profitable but of course they took another cut of the price of the book to pay for their work. Bottom line was that I never sold all the books and the ones I did sell were at a loss. For anyone hoping to write and sell books and break even or make money on them, be forewarned you will need to have a much better grasp of the business than I did.
RO: What was the inspiration for the wacky, original cover of you imposed 3 times on the front cover?!
KT: Well I had seen covers of magazines and guide books that showed a cliff from a distance so you got a lovely view of the area but not a sense of the climbing as the climber was so small. I also had seen ones of close ups of climbers that were great for expressing the action of climbing put left you wondering what the climbing area looked like. So I wanted to find a way to give both. Now this was before the days of computer programs like Photoshop or digital cameras. So how could I do this? What if I could make a blend of close up and distant images?
I found a person in Calgary that painted touch ups on old photos to get rid of cracks and other flaws. I blew three photos of the Rainbow Bridge climb up to a very large size. Then I used an exacto knife to cut the photos up and piece them together on a big light table. I taped the pieces together and then she painted in a facsimile of the colors of the cliff to join the three photos together. By the time it was reduced back down to the size of the guide book cover even I could not tell where he joins were. Perfect! Not only did I get the close up of action and the long shot of the crag but I got the mind bender of “what the hell, is that three climbers dressed the same on the cliff? Or what is going on here?”
RO: Did you use a hand drill for any bolts or use a power drill at that time?
KT: All bolting was done by hand while ascending the routes.
RO: What was your exploration tactics? – look up and visualize a line or rap-in to pre-inspect? Did you scope lots with binoculars?
KT: Did not use binoculars. Did not rap down to pre-inspected. I preferred letting the mystery unfold! From the bottom if I saw something that looked like a start to a possible line, I (or we) would just get started and hope that it would reveal a way to the top within my (or our) skill level.
RO: Did you have to trundle lots of loose rock in the Barrier development? Any stand out memories of huge blocks dislodging?
KT: YES! Lots of trundling! Which I love. Especially the huge blocks that would sometimes shatter on the way down. It is one of the reasons why I did not tell many people about the bluffs in the early days. It was important that there would be no one below us for the sometimes massive trundling. Because of doing the first ascents from the ground up, unless I was soloing, there was always the risk of damaging the rope below and/or hitting the partner(s) below. I learned ways to trundle to one side or the other away from ropes and partners.
It is one more reason why I appreciated free soloing that way I did not have to be concerned about hitting ropes or partners below. It made the trundling much simpler. The downside of cleaning new routes from the ground up was that the debris being cleared would often end up messing up the area below us that we had just cleaned. Sometimes after completing a new line from the ground up keeping the mystery intact, I would return later and repel the route, re-cleaning any hung up debris from the top down.
RO: Who did you mostly have as partners?
KT: I loved turning people on to climbing so I introduced dozens of people to it. So I had a big rotation of partners. And if they led even one pitch on a first accent, I liked to list their name first in the acknowledgements in hopes it might be one of many ways to encourage them in learning more about climbing. I apologize as I will probably miss a few but some regulars that I climbed a lot with were Larry Ostrander, David Dancer, Frank Campbell, Diane Edmondson, Jeff Nazarchuck, Dave Stephan, Glen Riensenhoffer, Bruce Burley, Roger Chayer, Paulo Uchoa, (who would come visit from Brazil year after year).
RO: What was your favourite piece of gear you had to always carry? (mine is a pink Tri-cam)
KT: I too really liked Tri-cams as their unique design could get into some otherwise impossible places. Camalots were probably my favourite as their range was so huge.
RO: Aside from Barrier, what other places in K-Country or the Rockies did you often visit?
KT: Before discovering Barrier Bluffs I used to take lots of beginners out to Wasootch Slabs. Enjoyed Yamnuska a lot of times. Liked caving in Rat’s Nest Cave.
RO: What was the inspiration of the Barrier Boys T-shirt? Are these certain people who make up “the boys”?
KT: A girlfriend at the time, Carmen was up from Brazil. She was an artist but had no income here in Canada. So we came up with the idea of her painting on T-shirts to make a bit of money under the table. She used my climbing photos as inspirations for the drawings. Each one was an original hand painted drawing. Some looked much better than others but when I look back on it, we sold them for ridiculously low prices for the work she put into them. We knew that “Barrier Boys” was limiting because there were some women (including her) involved in developing the area as well but we were stuck on how good it looked to stack two climbing hexes on top of each other to form the B’s….Hee hee.
RO: The book says Carmen from Brazil drew the artwork- how did you meet and do you still stay in contact?
KT: There was a man named Paulo that used to come up from Brazil to meet with friends and go climbing with me. One year Carmen Barbosa came up with him. We took to a liking of each other and got into a relationship. She was the artist of the Barrier Boys T-shirts and of the illustrations and jokes in the guidebook. We stayed in contact for a long time but have not been in contact for the last couple of years. She is married with children back in Brazil and has not been back to Canada.
RO: What was the longest fall you ever took and where?
KT: Interestingly I cannot remember the location but I remember being about 20 feet out on a traverse when I peeled off into a huge pendulum. Unfortunately hitting the wall forced me into a spin so I was really out of control. At one point I smashed into the rock with my shoulder creating huge pain. I never did get a medical check-up on it, so did not realize I had broken my clavicle. To this day when I rub my hand along my clavicle there is a big lump because the bones where not lined up as they healed so half the bone was touching and half of it was sticking above.
RO: Swami belts during those years?
KT: I always used full body harnesses when rope climbing. I had no interest in the possibility of flipping upside down. And they were much more comfortable for repelling.
RO: Why did it take to the end of 1984 would you say, to complete the most popular gear line at Barrier Bluffs: Lumpy Corner
KT: I never had any set pattern to which climbs would get climbed when. We would just go out and follow the inspiration of the day.
RO: Whose idea was it to go up to Sloggers Dream Wall?
KT: Ha ha – personally I am not fond of slogging. The closer to the road that the base of a climb is, the happier I am. Hence the tongue in cheek name Sloggers Dream Wall. Only a slogger would dream of going up there when there was so many great climbs down closer to the road. Yet one day my curiosity got the best of me so I decide to slog up for a closer look. Must say there are some nice views up there.
RO: Were you a member of clubs like the CMC or ACC?
KT: I went to events held by both clubs and put on a fun slide show at one of their meetings but I do not know if I was ever an official member or not. The slide show was centered around a Barbie doll that I had taken on many climbing adventures and of course posed her in many precarious climbing situations for photos.
RO: Did you have any climbing goals that happened and what about ones that never happened?
KT: My passion was to go where no human beings had ever been before. So putting up new routes provided goal after goal. Built into that goal was to leave a place in a more useable condition than I found it. So I spent countless hours cleaning routes, leaving permanent protection, leaving repel stations, building trails to access the routes and sharing the information about the routes with others.
RO: Your book says a few routes where done in the late 1970s like Zulu etc from Bill March, but when and why did it take a number of years into the 80s for people to start climbing there?
KT: On the lakeside on occasion we came across signs that someone had climbed there before. The odd overdriven piton left behind. When the idea of making a guide book hatched, I wanted to see if I could find out whom to give credit for what. So I put out the word in the climbing community which led me to visit one of the early ascensionists. (I cannot remember which person I met with) By that time I had photos of the bluffs with lines drawn on it of all the routes that I and my friends had climbed. I left the photos with him and asked if he wanted to check with his friends and then get back to me with information on what lines they had climbed. When he got back to me he had claimed many of the lines on the photos. In all honesty I am almost positive that there were some of those claimed lines that were never actually climbed before I and my friends got to them. Reason I know that is because I had to do extensive cleaning of moss, dirt, loose rocks etcetera to make it even possible to climb some of those lines. It had been a long time since those early explorers had climbed at the cliffs so some “over growth” could be accounted for but not to the extent that it was on some of the climbs.
But in all fairness, I am sure they were not claiming first accents while knowing they never made them. A lot of time had passed since they were climbing there and I was just giving them a photo of the cliffs from a distance with a bunch of lines going up them. I had not given them a report of which ones we found gear on and which ones were extensively overgrown. So they probably thought their claims were legitimate. I was not about to argue about any of the claims because to me in the big scheme of things who climbed the routes first was not that important. I had minor disappointment for us to not get acknowledged because of the extensive work we had put into cleaning and because some of them turned out to be really nice lines, but what was really important to me was to make the routes accessible for many generations to enjoy them. Here it is years later and I have not said anything publicly about this before now. And in no way is it meant to tarnish anyone’s name. So I repeat, those lines were all claimed with honest intent. I am only mentioning it now to keep the history of the Barrier Bluffs a little clearer.
RO: Did you make any money on the guide or was it break even after all was said-n-done?
KT: I only wish it was a break even endeavour. But no, I ended up losing a big chunk of money. It was a labor of love. As was all my investment into bolts, pitons and rapping stations. Any spare money I had went into developing Barrier Bluffs so people could enjoy it for generations to come. Now that I am retired with only a budget of $41 a day to live on, I am thinking that maybe I should figure out a way to put the guidebook on line. Make it free to access but set up a way to make it possible that if anyone wanted to make a donation they could.
RO: What kind of car did you drive to get to crags? RC Hind told me once that he would get to the mountains by jumping trains in the 1930s or use the Model T-Ford he had built.
KT: Hmm all second hand vehicles for me. Did not give up on any of them until they were driven into the ground. At one time period it was an American Motors Hornet. Paint all faded right down to the white undercoating in places. The next was Thunder – a well named Plymouth Cuda I inherited when Diane died. Nice, now classic car with lots of power and the old style Hurst shifter and transmission. Haa haa a muscle car with roof racks for carrying climbing and camping equipment for road trips.
Next one was the old rainbow van. A GMC camper van with a raised roof. The drive train was good so I just kept driving it even though the body was rusting off. I just kept painting over the rust with any colour of paint I had laying around. When it rained the frame around the front windshield was so rusted that water poured into the front cab. Nothing fancy for me back then, money was spent on cheap shared accommodation, food, fuel and then everything else was spent on climbing gear.
RO: Did you have any bad encounters with animals ever?
KT: I would not say this was a bad encounter but I did dodge a bullet. I was sleeping outside in Yosemite. I was on my belly and in a very deep sleep after a long day of climbing. Having a wet sensation on my calve caused me to come to enough to look around and see a HUGE grizzly bear that was licking my calve. I was so out of it that I had no fear response and just laid my head back down and went back to sleep.
When I woke up in the morning I thought I must have dreamed it. But when checking out my belongings I discovered that the bear had left teeth marks in the metal of one of my harmonicas!! The older style harmonicas with the wooden core tended to pick up food flavours from the players’ mouth. I am guessing that is why the bear went for the bite. I am not sure if the bear was just licking salty sweat off my leg or was preparing for a bite. Maybe it did not like my flavour. He he.
I tend to have good experiences with animals and birds. I do not know if the following is actually true or not. My theory is that because I eat vegetarian style, the critters in the wild do not smell any traces of meat eating from me, so do not perceive me as a threat. So this has allowed me to have close encounters with a few animals and birds when in the wild on my own.
The only detrimental animal encounter that comes to mind is finding out that the Bushy Tailed Wood Rats like to chew up slings and use it for nest bedding. I found this out because I had been in the habit of leaving slings behind at repel stations so they could be used by others or myself on repeat ascents. Unfortunately I started finding that the slings were getting chewed up. That is when I switched over to using aircraft cable and repel rings to set up the repel stations.
RO: Were you involved with developing other areas aside from Barrier Bluffs?
KT: Myself and friends had pioneered many new routes on the sandstone cliffs in Fish Creek Park but we had to desist because the park rangers wanted to turn the cliffs into a nesting area for Falcons. They even started attaching nesting boxes to the sides of the cliffs. Great for the falcons if it worked but sad for the potential influx of climbers that would have unfolded. It was a great place to climb year round! Even in mid-winter on some sunny days the south facing cliffs would absorb and reflect enough heat to make it bearable for climbing.
The wildly contorted sandstone bluffs in an inlet west of the Bears Paw Dam was another area that myself and friends were involved in making more routes accessible. Rather than lead climbing we set up top rope stations above all the lines. We rarely ever saw other people there. Sometimes people would come in by boat, but we would either climb the fence and follow the creek down along game and cattle trails bringing us to the bottom of the cliffs, or climb the fence and walk through fields to come out onto the top of the cliffs. Last time I was there the fields are now filled with big homes. And also now some people have built some great rope swing and diving platforms out over the inlet! In the old days we set up a zip line from the top of the cliffs to the forested shore on the other side of the inlet. So after a hot sweaty day of climbing we could just zip down and drop into the water!! Wonderful! We never told too many people about this area because it is so close to the city that we were afraid it would get overrun and get everyone kicked out of there. Given that we had to climb barbwire fences to get in I am assuming it was private land.
On road trips I (or we) would stop whenever seeing something interesting to climb. So we had first ascents sprinkled all around Western Canada and the USA. Never around long enough to really develop any of the areas, nor did we publish the ascents anywhere.
RO: What climb at Barrier (and elsewhere) are you most proud of?
KT: In some ways it may be short bouldering problems at places like Okotoks Big Rock that brought me the most feelings of accomplishment. Only because of the determination to keep trying and falling on top rope or with a spotter over and over again until eventually through weeks or months of attempts, solving the problems. Then moving on from top roping to soloing those routes.
RO: When did you decide your part of the Bluffs development was done/enough for you?
KT: The death of Diane at the bluffs ripped me open emotionally. This also exposed many past traumas in my life that I had never dealt with and healed. I started to discover that exploring my inner landscape was even more exciting, scary, challenging, and rewarding than exploring outer landscapes. In my own process of working on healing my emotional body I was developing my therapist skills more fully.
I discovered that my gifts as a therapist grew exponentially. I was totally fascinated with helping myself and others to become more loving and loveable human beings. This led to me focusing more and more of my time on holding workshops and private sessions to help others with their internal landscapes. Through time my therapy work took precedence over climbing to a point where I was climbing more and more infrequently.
RO: How much did you climb after the end of the 1980s would you say? Did it trickle off, or do you climb as much as you once did, or did you stop altogether?
KT: Eventually my climbing did trickle off through the years. It is rare that I climb the outside mountains anymore but still have inner mountains that I enjoy ascending. The more inner work I do the more I get to enjoy the beauty of life!!
RO: Did you ever get injured while climbing?
KT: Aside from all the minor cuts to the hands from hand jams etc. I only had a couple of injuries. One occurred when I was run out on a traverse. I think it was on Yamnuska but it might have been at Barrier Bluffs. I came off and went into a spin as I was falling. I smashed my shoulder into the wall and it was quite painful. I never did go to the hospital but I now assume I broke the small bone that runs above the shoulder blade because to this day I still have a lump there as if the bone did not grow back into its proper place.
The other was at Barrier Bluffs. It is detailed in the story called “First Flight” in the guide book. Basically a hold blew and I took some air facing the wall. Then my toes and foot pads hit on the edge of a ledge as I watched them bend almost all the way up to my shin. FUCK! Excruciating pain.
Predicament, dangling from the rope, no good place to set up a belay. I was with two other climbers. We only had another 40 feet or so to get to the top and a good belay so one of them led us to the top. So I dragged and muscled my way up mostly with my arms and knees when possible. Now we are on the top. We set up a belay but there is no way I can put my feet against the wall, damn. So I turn my back to the wall and scrape my way down. My ass and shoulders get it the worse. My jacket and pants are torn to shreds and my ass is cut up by the time I get down to ground level.
I try to stand with the support of my friends. No way, too much pain. So I stuff what is left of my jacket into my pants, sit facing up the mountain and I start the long journey through forest and scree towards the road. Lift with my arms so I can place my ass a bit further down and drag my aching feet through the rough terrain. We try having my friend grab me under my arm-pits and doing the lift and drop but it is even worse because he has no way of calculating as he is dropping my ass back to the ground if it is landing in the least painful way or not. Not sure how long it took us to get to the road but felt like hours. At the car we remove my shoes and each foot swells up like a balloon that has just been pumped up on and air tank! We make the drive back to the hospital in Calgary. Amazingly no bones were broken!
Thanks to tight climbing shoes for helping hold things together. But ligaments and tendons are another story.
Everything is stretched out of place. And as any passionate climber knows – the worse news – you can’t climb for a long time while this heals.
RO: Did you only rock climb or did you you ever try ice, bigwall or alpine?
KT: My passion was for rock climbing whether on a small boulder or on a huge mountain. Slogging up mountains was never my thing. I did not have a desire for aid climbing although I do remember using aid once on a big wall in Yosemite as it linked two pieces of great free climbing. Tried ice climbing a couple of times but it never caught my interest. The climbing part was okay but I had no desire to be standing or hanging around freezing my ass off belaying.
RO: Did you at the time have any other hobbies or interests outside of climbing?
KT: Aside from work there were years of my life where almost all of my time was focused on climbing. Even back before the invention of climbing walls I had already fastened blocks of wood into the walls of the house I was in that went all the way down the stairs from the kitchen, into the basement and around the walls of the basement. That way I could still climb in the winter or during bad weather.
During the period of time I was working in restaurants, after a night of working the house I lived in was the party place we would go to. The walls of that house turned many a newbie onto climbing!! People would rotate between climbing the walls and playing table tennis. During the winter when not climbing in the house I would go out dancing. I loved to dance then and still do now. Fortunately now I live in a Thai city that never sleeps so I can started dancing at 2am and continue until walking home along the ocean at 6am.
RO: What was your favourite memory of Barrier Bluffs?
KT: My mother and father when in their 70’s took a road trip in a motor home from back East to the West and stopped in to see me. I went with them out to Barrier Bluffs. My mother stayed in the motorhome but my father wanted to take a hike with me up to the base of the cliffs. Once we got there I tried talking my dad into doing a climb. He finally agreed but said “Do not tell your mother or she will tan our asses.”
I chose one of the easiest routes I could think of because he had never climbed in his life and his body was much frailer than in his youth. We took our time and he made it to the top of the route where we could stand on a flat spot and look out over the lake in the valley below! I put an arm around him and wept tears of appreciation. It was so beautiful to get to share this experience with him. He now understood why I had devoted so much time, energy and passion to this project. I am crying again now as I am writing this. I am so thankful that I got to share such a wonderful thing with him before he died.
RO: What is your favourite or most memorable climb anywhere you have gone?
KT: Each climb is so unique and so many stand out as great climbs for different reasons. In all honesty I cannot claim any one climb as a favourite. Something that does come to mind though is cave climbing. It adds an extra thrill going into unknown territory in a cave where there is no possibility of a visual preview of what I might be facing. At least with most cliff and mountain climbs I get to have a visual of what I might be getting into beforehand.
It is exploring the unknown that I am passionate about. That is why I spent most of my climbing time on developing new routes. And that extends into many areas of my life. I worked at multiple jobs to see what they were like. Once I learned to be skilled at a job I would leave for another job to learn. It wasn’t until I started working as a therapist that I had finally found a job that was continually presenting aspects of the unknown. I continued with that work because we humans are so complex that there is always new things to learn.
RO: Did you ever climb outside of Canada? What places did you enjoy most?
KT: Loved road trips! Again more chances to explore territory unknown to me!! Most of my climbing outside of Canada was done in the USA. A bit in Thailand and the Philippines. One cool climb in the Philippines was a climb up through a cave to the top of a mountain. They had it set up with permanent ropes for tourists to hold onto and pull themselves up but of course I found my own ways to climb up that had more challenge. It took me out on the surface into the sunlight in places and then back into the cave! Fun climb! The person I was with knew Tagalog, their language, and had to keep reassuring the tour guides that it was okay, that I was a climber and that I would be okay. What was super cool, was that when we got to the top they had an incredibly long zipline set up that would take us from the top of the mountain all the way down over forest and fields to the ground far below! WOW! Perfect, no knee pounding trail off the mountain, no need to set up multiple belays. Just strap into the zip and down you go. Now if we only had one of those set up at every climbing area in Canada!
RO: Do you still climb these days in Thailand? If you stopped climbing when was this and why?
KT: I have not climbed much in Thailand. Mainly because there has not been much climbable rock nearby where I have been and I have not actively looked for it. There are many places where the rock is so sharp that it shreds hands and foot wear. Gone are the days where I would sacrifice my hands to get up some rock. Did run into some climbing here in Thailand. A scary but memorable free solo up a beachside cliff that wasn’t close enough to the water for an ocean landing.
Monks here like to make cave temples and place Buddhas in the sides of cliffs. In some cases there is climbing to do to gain access. Went to one place that had steps all the way up the side of a mountain to where a Buddha sat at in the mouth of a cave. Turns out the cave was huge!! Followed it through to another opening in the middle of a sheer cliff. Did a bit of free soloing out on the cliff to the shock of the Thai people I was with. They were very afraid I would fall and so upset but because of the language barrier I could not explain it was okay, so I regretfully climbed back into the cave, much to their relief.
RO: Any opinions on where climbing in general is now in 2019?
KT: Since living in Thailand I have not kept up with the climbing scene so I am not familiar what is unfolding.
RO: What tips/wisdom can you lend to climbers today?
KT: Learn to build and trust intuition. It is much more rewarding and safer to climb from a place of inspiration than from a place of ego. Intuition knows when to say no. Ego is too attached and will seduce us into dangerous places that can lead to serious injuries or death.
Thank you very much Kelly for making your guidebook to Barrier Bluffs!