Peanut Butter and Jam!

Okay okay, I know it’s ‘Jelly’ especially if I am to conform to my new countries colloquialisms – but the pun wouldn’t work the same and besides, maybe I’m trying to make an intellectually subtle reference to the attempted reticence a fresh off the boat Yorkshire girl has to ‘conform’ to her new North American cultural surroundings. Or maybe not.

Maybe I was just looking for a clever way to introduce a blog discussing the beginnings of my new Vancouver life and to as always talk about the climbing as one among many adjustments I am now making in my new life.

I must apologize to all my non-climbing audience to whom the very notion of a ‘Jam’- to describe a method of climbing a crack system by jamming ones extremities into it is completely non-existent in their understanding of the word and therefore renders them completely oblivious to the attempted pun anyway….

My first day in Vancouver consisted of a tiring ordeal at the airport picking up my visa and my four items of luggage. 1 regular bag, 1 snowboard and 2 bike boxes, of course. After arriving to my new home – a roomy basement suite for one at the South end of Main – I naturally built up a bike so at least I could be mobile around town and then fled to the nearest grocery store for supplies.

Family and friends were duly notified of my safe arrival and also pointed out the predictability of my prioritising building a bike before contacting them. What???

The climbing:

My second day in Canada – off to Squamish! Paul picked me up at just after 8am and after picking Boyle up along the way we hit the Sea-to-Skye highway bound for some granite! My excitement just about bowled over any exhaustion from jet lag, it was bizarre yet thrilling to be back in B.C and to hook up with some old friends to get out for a climb in such a stunning location.

The conditions and group feeling lead us to the ‘smoke bluffs’, a single pitch cragging destination popular for its accessibility and high density of quality routes. Fortunately a forecast of 40% rain scared off the masses and an ‘against the odds’ sunny out-look gave room for us to have a day ticking some easy classics, well for me at least anyway. With so much to go at, since I’d hardly done any routes in Squamish before, and knowing that the style would feel very different and unnerving I was more than happy to work up the grades slowly by ticking some of the best the smoke bluffs had to offer.

I wet my appetite on ‘laughing crack;, an affable and spectacularly good 5.7 crack, despite the easy grade the climbing felt slightly strange and bizarre  smearing on sticky granite with my hands in a perfect splitter. Paul and Ian continued to be perfect hosts by leading me to 3 more of the top 100 climbs (a total of 4 all in my first day!) ‘The Quarryman’ (5.8), ‘Penny Lane’ (5.9), and ‘Flying Circus’ (5.10a). By late afternoon the jet-lag, intense heat and unusual humidity had started to make me exhausted and after sliding down the slab of ‘Werewolves in London’ (5.11a) on second we called it a day and the boys thankfully re-united me with the awesome beer in the brew pub in Squamish town! A great first day!

The next time I got to go to squamish was again with Paul, this time to Murrin Park, the closest of the Squamish craggs. Still unsure of what exactly I was capable of climbing in the YDS grading and on the granite in general – despite the grade conversion chart (you only climb as hard as your latest onsight right?!) I was still more than happy to figure it out slowly by climbing some easier classics along the way and working from the bottom up – putting the mileage in. For this reason I started on the lower easier sections (to half way anchors) on some of the uber classics at nightmare rock (Grandaddy overhang and sentry box) whilst Paul managed to tick his project ‘Perspective’ in a very controlled and cruising manner.

(Paul on the steep start to perspective)

We then moved on to the area ‘Up among the firs’ and with Pauls encouragement I had a good battle with ‘A little testis’ (10c- formerly 10.b?) another ‘top 100’ route which I thoroughly enjoyed being slightly more successful at abstaining from lay-backing the beautiful crack to the top of the crag (albeit if I had to run it out a little to save enough energy to get there!)

(The luscious hand crack at the top of ‘A little testis’ just about visible-a real treat after completing the awkward bulgy crux)

Since then I’ve managed to fit a few more successful days in around my sporadic shifts at the outdoor shop which has meant getting out mid-week with some new and suitable partners to explore more of the ‘bluffs’ and get a multi-pitch done on the papoose at Shannon falls.

(View from ‘Hairpin’ on the Papoose at Shannon Falls – photo credit to Aaron Stein)

All in all I’m finding the climbing an awesome new challenge, having done very little here in Squamish I feel like the crags are my oyster and the potential to tick awesome routes at every outing is gladly very high. I spent every spare minute glued to my guide book druling over the next adventure and psyched to work my weaknesses on slabs and cracks.

(Me having managed the unusually poorly protected low crux of ‘catch me quicker’ 10b at Burgers and fries – smoke bluffs)

What I feel I lack in technique for this style of climbing through my apprenticeship on very differently formed, British rock I feel I gain in what my training has taught me about tricky gear placements…especially for the cracks, the gear is easy to place and totally solid. I find I am running things out since I am thinking of the perfectly placed cam 10ft below my feet almost like a bolt and knowing that should a section get tricky I can stuff another one of these bomb-proof pieces in whenever I want with ease! I am hoping that climbing in this way will allow me to push my climbing to the maximum at some point on wicked trad lines and improve as an all-round climber, I’m in no huge rush to to get there though as I don’t want to miss out on all the awesome climbs that an apprenticeship on the granite is allowing me to climb. I am having fun ticking some awesome climbs and learning to move in a different way as I go. Lets hope there is still some climbing days to be squeezed out of this season!

City life and Cafe Culture

Apart from for the nearby world class climbing being back in Vancouver is just awesome. It took me a little while to get over the surreal-ness of finally being back, when you dream about something for so long the hype feels almost insurmountable and to be finally living the dream felt – well – dreamlike! I was slightly nervous that I had just had Vancouver on a pedestal higher than it deserved and therefore it wouldn’t live up to the picture of perfection I saw through my rose-tinted glasses in the doom and gloom of recession-ville, UK.

After I’d gotten over waiting to wake up from my dream (which still hasn’t happened by the way!) I then became to remember all the differences there are here to home. Differences that I took a long time in discovering last time I was here (as a first timer) and I would now need to re-learn. This was a bizarre feeling situation in itself. I had memories of things and therefore pre-conceptions of other things that felt familiar, but since I haven’t lived here for five years, they are not actually familiar anymore, I felt stuck in a strange ‘revision period’ for a couple of days until things all clicked into place and it started to feel easy and welcoming again. To give you some examples; simple things like ‘tipping’; Canadians tip between 10%-15% for service (so food, drink, taxis…) its not a big deal, I just kinda forgot that was the culture and re-learning it having once known it so well felt almost stranger than knowing it for the first time. Other examples are things like learning to use the bus system again, remembering all the cool (but very different) grocery items they have here, (the fact they call them groceries!?) the shops, the beer, the colloquilasims…so many to mention! Its not new to me, but it wasn’t familiar either. The amount of times I have said…“oh yeah I forgot about” that in the last month….

Having acquired a job and got comfortable in my new place has helped me to become very comfortable in my new surroundings and into a routine than helps me to feel like I belong here pretty quickly. Having some good friends living close by to begin with has also undoubtedly helped an enormous amount and it has been great to catch up with them. However I had also forgotten how friendly people are over here and meeting new people, new mid week climbing partners, new friends at work or just nice people to chat to down the wall/ in the shop/ at the crag/ on the bus, out on my bike is really easy and I love that.

Vancouver is a really cool city to live in and I’m glad to be feeling that vibe already even without being fully established here yet. Not only is it in a beautiful location with mountain views from most points in the city and surrounded by ocean but I really dig the city-vibe and relaxed culture of a cool urban place. Despite loving the mountains I am un-ashamedly a city dweller. I like being surrounded by a variety of fun things to do and a population scale that allows for meeting people to do those fun things with.

Vancouver has a great culture for eating out with bars and eatery’s being for the most part synonymous. There are loads of great little independent coffee houses/cafes/bars and restaurants with the opportunity to get into a variety of live music genres, not to mention theatre and arts.

Because of the large Asian population in Vancouver Sushi is a very popular dining option and I certainly buy into that culture. The rolls are really cheap too with a sushi meal out costing easily less than 10 bucks on average. I am really enjoying being able to have sushi again a lot and have already become familiar with my local sushi place on Main ‘Ogenki’. I can highly reccommend their ‘Genki roll’ – Spicy Yam tempura, cream cheese and potato crisp, Yum!

(Sushi take out from Ogenki – a becoming regular of my new diet.)

Another thing I love about living inVancouver is its laid back Cafe culture. One of my favorite day-off activities (other than climbing…obviously) is to sit in a cafe reading the paper/ Squamish guide book or taking my laptop to work on my resume whilst managing to get through a few Soya Latte’s (if only I owned some Lulu-lemon clothing and were returning from a yoga class I could fulfill the pefect ‘Fem-Van’ stereotype!).

I’ll tell you a little secret…but promise not to tell anyone – even though I’ve been made-up of late by managing to fill all my days off with getting out climbing, I have been partially hoping for a rainy day just so that I can justify going and sitting in an establishment like ‘Continental’ on Main and 26th or ‘Cafe Milano’ (which is great coffee near my work on Broadway and Manitoba) and get to grips with some emails/graphics work and updating my resume, completely free of any ‘I should be climbing instead of sitting indoors in front a screen’ guilt.

(Lazy cafe days reading a book and enjoying the great coffee at ‘Continental’ on main)

The future….

I guess the whole point of embarking on an adventure is that there are some uncertainties, it’s what makes it exciting. However I’m not on holiday here, I’m trying to make a life for myself and I feel that having a place to live, a job (whatever the wage and circumstance) and some good friends is a good start in establishing some more certainties fundamental to staying here in Vancouver. I would like to add to that certainty at some point by acquiring a form of employment that allows me to progress my career and also gives me the earning power to fulfill the fun activities I want to embark on in the winter season, but for the moment, as we creep toward the end of the summer days, I’m just trying to focus on doing what seems most fun in the here and now and to not worry too much about the future…all I know is that I hope it involves me, Vancouver, some Granite climbing and possibly a job in a cool mid-sized Architecture firm on the North-shore……


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