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Ed Cooper, 60 years after climbing the Grand Wall

The pioneering climber's achievement is being celebrated at this year's VIMFF.

Overlooking Squamish from one of the iconic sheer faces of the Stawamus Chief, Ed Cooper and Jim Baldwin noticed they had an audience of thousands cramming the highway and nearby roads.

There was a good reason for that.Squamish's then-mayor, Pat Brennan had recently informed Vancouver's two main daily newspapers that the pair were on a mission to climb the Stawamus Chief's Grand Wall.

Stories were published, and the public interest was immediate.

"That was insane. RCMP was down there trying to move traffic along, everyone was trying to get a look. That was probably an incredible experience in itself. For us looking down at all the cars, the cars looking up at us," Cooper told The Chief.

The 84-year-old was speaking via phone from a retirement home near Sacramento, California.

With the Grand Wall's first ascent reaching its 60th anniversary this year, Cooper is reflecting back on some fond memories of the pioneering adventure that he undertook with Baldwin.

And, as part of the occasion, the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival is celebrating the event by streaming In the Shadow of the Chief, as part of its Best of Climbing online event, which is taking place until June 16 online.

The 2003 film, which was put together by director-writer Ivan Hughes and producer Angela Heck, chronicles Baldwin and Cooper's ascent of the monolith.

It takes viewers through the journey, starting from how the pair hacked their way to the route, clearing out the original trail that's still in use today, all the way to their historic ascent.

After climbing the Grand Wall, Cooper would go on to establish a route on El Capitan.

He would then go on to have a short-lived career as a stockbroker and ever since then, he's been busying himself with writing and photography.

Baldwin, however, tragically died in a climbing accident in 1964.

Cooper got his start climbing as a 16-year-old from New York, who went out West with his sister.

He'd first climb Pinnacle Peak in Mount Rainier National Park in Washington.

"That's what probably started," recalled Cooper. "We went on to climb Mount Rainier that same trip, and ever since it's been on to other peaks and other climbs."

From there on, his interest would grow. He described the sensations he experienced when out on the rocks.

"The beauty of the mountains, and being outdoors and just feeling alive," he said.

Eventually, he'd find himself in Squamish with Baldwin, conducting reconnaissance by cutting a path to the Grand Wall.

"It was quite an adventure," he said.

"We really opened up the climbing world."

Now climbers regularly flock to Squamish to test themselves against the monolith.

Cooper said he knew the area would become popular, but noted he was surprised at the extent of it.

"Almost every cliff in that area has climbs on it," he said.

Cooper said he thought it'd eventually become mainstream, which it has.

He remained tight-lipped about his thoughts on the current state of the sport.

"It's not whether I'm happy or not. It's what has happened," he said, but noted that the sport has progressed logically.

Looking back at it all, Cooper said that some of his fondest memories were spent when he and Baldwin would come down for the day after a climb and relax with a beer.

Brennan supplied the pair with food and lodging, and Cooper recalled that it was one of the many ways locals supported the climb.

"I do remember how nice the people of Squamish were," he said.


***Update June 14: adds credits to film.