Since I was a wee lad, being off the ground has profoundly terrified me.
Maybe it’s because I’m from the barren flatlands of Saskatchewan where the nearest thing resembling a skyscraper in most places is an orange Pioneer elevator. It is this exact phobia of heights that has allowed me to appreciate mountain and glacial climbing as the truly perplexing sports they are.
On the west coast of Canada’s breathtaking Vancouver Island, glacial climbing has amassed an impressive following that dates back to the 1920s when mountaineering first became popular. The Comox Valley, near Mount Washington on northern Vancouver Island, is home to the largest glacier on the island and is the most popular playground for glacial climbers and outdoor enthusiasts on the West Coast.
It is fitting that the first recorded ascent of the glacier in 1922 was by Reverend George Kinney, because looking down some of the peaks of the glacier would scare the living Christ out of most ground-dwelling folk.
Dubbed Queeneesh by the First Nations people who first populated the area, the term translates to “white whale” and has a mythical legend behind it similar to the Christian rendering of Noah’s Ark.
Paths cleared by forestry companies and a trail established by the Comox District Mountaineering Club have made the Comox Glacier easier to access since the first recorded scaling of the glacier. Nevertheless, the actual trek to triumph over the treacherous glacial beast is just as dangerous as it was nearly a century ago. Cautionary measures such as using ice-pick walking sticks and ropes to connect a climbing party are still mandatory.
Glacial climbing is not just a mere product of jagged athleticism. The activity also serves the crucial need for emergency rescue of people who become trapped in the frigid climate of a glacier or mountain. For those wishing to tango with nature’s harsh and unforgiving elements that glacial climbing offers, the Vancouver Island section of the Alpine Club of Canada provides custom guided tours with professional instructors, some of which have lived in the Himalayan Mountains and can fluently converse in Nepalese.
Squamish, 60 kilometres north of Vancouver, is another world-class climbing spot that attracts adrenaline junkies from around the globe.
Climbing in Squamish is popular because of its gigantic collection of granite, which ranks second largest in the world.
Squamish is one of the true scenic wonders of Canada’s west coast and one of the most sought out rock climbing destinations in North America. Its rugged, mountainous coastline earns it the title of “Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada.”
Instead of the snow and ice the Comox Glacier is notorious for, 16-pitch routes, ocean-side crags, sunny faces, shady walls and splitter cracks comprise the alpine playground of Squamish’s urban climbing oasis. Climbs vary in difficulty and are rated on a scale of one to 15, with heights reaching beyond several hundred feet.
Going to places of high altitude like Seattle’s Space Needle or cruising down a questionably winding road in the Swiss Alps with a crazy European driver have never been my idea of a pleasurable experience, so glacial and rock climbing might never evolve into my signature sport. But they are most definitely confounding and utterly astonishing to watch others perform, especially while in the captivation of B.C.’s picturesque terrain.
photo Dorian Geiger