No foot? No problem!
Despite an injury that would’ve ended a climbing vacation for many people, one athlete proceeded to keep climbing many of Squamish’s routes and boulder problems — with one foot.
In a stroke of bad luck, Ottawa climber Ryan Wilkinson found himself injured almost immediately after arriving in Squamish on Sept. 5 for a climbing trip.
In his excitement, he and a group of friends made a beeline for the Smoke Bluffs and hopped on climbs in the Neat and Cool area.
They quickly ticked off some Top 100 routes, such as Cat Crack and Flying Circus. Feeling ready for the next challenge, they were getting prepared to take on the neighbouring route — the namesake of the Neat and Cool area.
But then the unexpected happened.
While walking from the base of one climb to the next, Wilkinson fell, jamming his foot in a small crack.
“I was getting all excited to climb Neat and Cool and kind of rushing my way over there,” he said. “[I] wasn’t even climbing — just slipped on a rock and slid down the rock a little bit.”
It was not an inconsequential fall. He incurred a fractured metatarsal, an injury to a bone in the middle of his foot that warranted a set of crutches and a walking cast for his foot.
This certainly was not the way the trip was supposed to go. Wilkinson had the Grand Wall on his bucket list. But it was not meant to be.
He thought his trip was ruined, and, at first, imagined that he would be relegated to sulking at the campsite. However, that changed when his buddies asked him to come along to some climbs and help out as a belayer.
Hoping to make the most of what he could, Wilkinson, a firefighter back in the Ottawa area, decided to head to the Shannon Falls area with the group.
Perhaps the hardest part of his first climb was actually getting to the climb itself.
Wilkinson said that he had to hike to the location in crutches. He made it, and, after watching from the sidelines as his friends climbed, he decided he’d give it a go.
He laid his hands on Klahanie Crack, a vertical splitter that looks like it was lasered into the stone.
“This is an incredible crack — I don’t get a lot of crack climbing in Ontario, so it was beautiful to get my hands inside the crack and to jam hard,” said Wilkinson. “And I’m realizing, it doesn’t take a lot of feet to do this. It takes a lot of hands and upper-body work.”
He made it up on top rope, which is the safest way to climb — it’s almost impossible to get injured using this method so long as the belayer is capable and the anchor is set up correctly.
At that point, he realized that the trip may not be ruined after all.
It was at that point that one of his climbing buddies, Steven Lauzon, snapped a picture of Wilkinson ambling up the crack with a cast on his foot.
Lauzon, like the rest of the group, was impressed.
“I was just shocked, blown away,” he said. “The whole mood lightened up as soon as he got on Klahanie. Everyone was super happy for him, because we all kind of felt bad, right? And when he was crushing, that kind of changed the tone of the trip. Everyone was happy again.”
And from then on, the adventures continued.
“He still had one foot he climbed with. I mean, you got two for a reason, right?” Lauzon joked.
He later posted the Klahanie picture to social media, and it drew lots of applause online.
Lauzon joked that he would make his buddy famous, and that slowly became true.
Wilkinson’s adventures would then be posted over the following week.
Shots of him ascending boulders at the base of the Grand Wall later gave way to a beautiful picture of the cast-foot climber ascending Star Chek, a scenic route overlooking the turquoise-blue waters of the Cheakamus River.
Lauzon said that climbers lined up at that popular route were so impressed that they wound up taking pictures of Wilkinson themselves.
For Wilkinson, the hardest part was actually getting to the climb.
He said making his way across the slippery talus and scree was a big challenge on crutches.
Wilkinson counted that climb as perhaps the highlight of his trip.
As for the step, Wilkinson said on Sept. 11 that he was planning on finishing up his trip with an excursion up Exasperator, at the Grand Wall base area.
He expressed gratitude to the nurses and doctors at Squamish General Hospital.
“Definitely, I’ll be back next year — 100%,” said Wilkinson with a chuckle. “Knocking off some harder stuff and hopefully not break[ing] the other foot.”