What will you learn in 2016? | Squamish Chief

What will you learn in 2016?

Writer reflects on lessons from his past seasons of adventures in Squamish

I’ve often found that the end of one year and the beginning of the next is the perfect moment to reflect on what was accomplished over the past 365 days and what was maybe left undone. It’s usually at this time of year, upon reflection, that we resolve to do things a little differently for our next journey around the sun over the coming 12 months by making new year’s resolutions.

The beginning of a new year and a new number on the calendar is an arbitrary line in the sand, and yet, it does feel like something new has begun. It’s a new page in all of our lives, perfectly blank and waiting for us to inscribe the next chapter in our own stories.

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I’ve heard it said that we don’t learn from experience, we learn from reflection on experience. This reflection on our past memories inform the decisions we make going forward and the direction all of our lives will take.

So upon reflection, I’ve chosen four stories from my seasons in and around Squamish that stand out as ones that changed my direction in life. Hopefully you can see some parallels in your own life, or maybe it will remind you of the importance of considering the past and imagining your future. 

SPRING: Hiking the Chief

In the spring of 2010, I was still wet behind the ears in Squamish, having just moved here only a few weeks prior. The sight of the Stawamus Chief was astonishing to me, and when I learned that people used ropes to ascend this great wall of rock, I couldn’t believe it.

Eventually I found out about the trail that leads up to the summit that required only physical fitness. Unfortunately, at that time, I did not have it. 

It became my goal to summit this rock and look down on my new home in Squamish. Thinking back now, it seems like such a simple goal, but back then, the Chief was my Everest. I couldn’t imagine how someone could hike up to its top so easily.

You have to know that when I came to Canada in 2010, I weighed in excess of 300 lb. and had spent most of my free time previous to that on the couch, watching TV and playing video games. 

To train, I did hikes around Alice Lake and the Smoke Bluffs. I could barely walk for 30 minutes without needing to sit down and rest. After another few weeks, though, I felt ready enough to attempt it.

That first time up the Chief was brutal. My face went purple from the exertion, and I needed to sit down to lower my heart rate on a number of occasions. My heart was beating so hard, it seemed I could feel it in my throat.

After about three hours, I broke out above the trees onto the upper granite slabs. As I reached the top I looked back to see the view out over the Howe Sound and beyond. I’d done it. I’d reached my Everest. 

That moment was a revelation. I understood the value of climbing mountains. The summit was tangible proof that I could catch a dream, form it into an idea, create the plan and finally make it a reality. I’ve been climbing mountains for this reason, and many more, ever since.

SUMMER: Climbing Sky Pilot

By now, almost everyone in Squamish knows what the Sky Pilot is. But back in 2011, before the Sea to Sky Gondola had been built and a beer had been named in its honour, few people outside of the mountain climbing community knew about this peak tucked away behind Squamish. 

But for about a year, I had been obsessed with it. I’d seen its name mentioned in guidebooks and it immediately stood out to me. I couldn’t imagine a more fitting name for this striking peak than “Sky Pilot.”

The ascent is difficult and exposed but similar to when I hiked the Chief first, I gradually grew my experience and mettle to be able to ascend and descend this peak safely.

On one fine summer’s day in 2011, I set out with three others to climb this peak together. Even though we were within sight of Squamish, we felt completely alone. We scrambled the steep gullies and rock safely together, working as a team, before finally reaching the top. It was a personal zenith in each of our mountain climbing careers.

But more than the summit, the success was managing the risk well and working together efficiently as a group.

The view from Sky Pilot.

FALL: Ascending Dierdre

While many might feel a little sorrow as the temperatures of summer begin to drop and the days start getting shorter, for rock climbers, there is no better season. The cool air of the fall makes climbing easier. Fingers don’t sweat as much when pinching on to the holds and the tacky rubber of climbing shoes stick better to the rock. 

In the fall of 2014, my wife Spring and I decided to climb a multi-pitch rock route on the Stawamus Chief called Diedre. It would be one of our first experiences climbing solely together, using the knowledge we had learned over the past few years to ascend this face of rock. We climbed smoothly, swapping leads after each pitch upwards, before reaching the top of this climb safely. 

When I moved to Canada, I knew nothing about rock climbing. I had no idea what a belay device was or how climbing shoes even worked. 

Now, here I was, using these tools and hanging my life off a 10 millimetre-wide rope with complete trust in how these systems worked.

It was that moment when I realized the person I used to be would no longer recognize the person I had now grown into. That feeling of substantial personal growth was uplifting, and I’ve focused on it ever since. 

WINTER: Backcountry skiing

Winter can be harsh, but the strength that we use through the summer is forged in the cold, dark winter months. The short daylight hours force me to move quickly and more efficiently. The biting cold, harsh winds urge me to be more conscientious about the clothes I wear and the equipment I use.

At the beginning of this winter, I headed to the Duffey Lake Road to go skiing in the backcountry. Skiing has not come easy to me and I have gained most of my experience with it in the past two low-snow winters that we’ve had on the coast. 

But on this most recent ski trip, it felt like everything finally clicked. I was able to judge the terrain for avalanche hazards, pick ski lines that I knew I was capable of and back away from ones that I knew I was not. It felt good to finally float on top of this elusive powder, carving my turns down faces of untracked snow. 

I came away from that recent trip feeling accomplished not only in my achievements but also from the culmination of the work I had put into learning to ski the past few years finally beginning to pay off. 

In 2016, I hope you too can see your goals ahead of you and reach them. Even if it feels like 2015 ended with so much left unfinished, reflect on the past, see the personal growth and the silver linings, and take that wisdom with you as this new year begins.

Skinning on skis into the Alpine.

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