Climbing at Squamish began just over 50 years ago. Apart from the 1980 guidebook, magazine and journal articles, and guidebooks, there has been no real history of climbing at a place that is special to all of us. It's time that changed. Not only because it's worthy of being recorded, but because none of us are getting any younger - as Tony Cousins' death last summer showed. So I'm sending this to about 100 climbers who were active at Squamish from the 1950s onward (most still are), and some others, to see what interest there might be. The project may of course never happen, or will happen in a different manner than outlined - that's writing, and publishing. But I intend to do my best with it, and would much appreciate your help.
I've been thinking about this project for years, given my interest in climbing, Squamish, writing, and history. Over the last year, I finally found time to scan some slides, and write up some stories of climbing at Squamish in the 1970s. They are at http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/threa ... _id=668163 It's a somewhat personal account of those times, but with intimations of broader themes, particularly history, and some context. Others such as Tami Knight, Dave Harris, Rick LeDuc, Don Harder, Greg Cameron and Andy Cairns have also contributed, and I've heard privately from a few. (Most posters have pseudonyms - I use Mighty Hiker, because in scouts I was anything but.)
I'm now talking with prospective publishers. The project will take a lot of work, and I'll need lots of help - interviews, feedback, stories, photographs, etc. It's really a community project, and I thought that it was time to inform and involve others - none of us "owns" something like this. (I have already received helpful advice from some long-standing members of our community.) Input at this stage should lead to a better product. Here's some background information, summarizing plans to this point:
- Publication date: Late 2010 or early 2011.
- Primary market climbers, but of definite interest to others. (See below.)
- Length: Perhaps 200 pages.
- Somewhat similar publications: Camp 4 (Roper), Black Cliff (Wilson), Yosemite Climber (Meyers), the Yam (Scott).
- Focus: History, stories, people, photos. More than just a narrative, which is what so many climbing "histories" are - something with context and perspectives.
- Time frame: from the start (mid 1950s), with contextual information about Squamish and a bit about the evolution of mountaineering and climbing in B.C., carrying through to the 1990s or later. Probably including modern developments, and retrospectives. (See below.)
- Research: Interviews with all key climbers from 1950s - 1990s who are available, and some from later. Review all journals, magazines, guidebooks, archives, etc. Obtain perspectives from outsiders.
- Given the nature of the project, seek supporting grants from clubs, corporations and others.
- Professionally edited.
- Possibly an "add on" DVD or website, with interviews, extra photos, scanned documents and guidebooks, etc.
- Include things like drawings, cartoons, poetry, and excerpts from older guidebooks.
- Can you help? Interview, photos, stories, all the myriad of things that would need to happen?
- Should it go through to the late 1990s, which seems to me a natural break, or later? If so, to when? Even if it mainly went to say 2000, it would include some subsequent events, and retrospectives, e.g. modern pictures or accounts of "old" routes, "where are they now" tidbits, and recent key events - the gondola battle of 2003, Cobra Crack, Cannabis Wall free... It would be difficult to do a true history for the last ten years or so - not enough time has passed for any real context or perspective. But it would certainly be possible to provide something of a record, with photos.
- Just covering Squamish and its immediate vicinity, or a bit wider in scope, e.g. rock climbing in southwest B.C., at least early on?
- Book format, or larger format? That is, something like "Camp 4" (15 x 23 cm), but with more black and white as well as colour photos, or something like "Yosemite Climber" (22.5 x 28 cm), but with more text? Either way, with lots of pictures, but the latter would feature more large format and colour photos.
- Or a coffee table book - lots of pictures, not much text, oriented to the general and tourist market, of less historical and climber interest?
- How to use technologies - web, DVDs, etc? There will probably be a lot of material that will be interesting and useful, but won't fit in a book. It should be recorded and available somewhere reasonably permanent.
A project like this involves a lot of work, and lots of help. It also involves balancing many factors. Assuming it comes together, it seems unlikely the project will make anyone much money, although one never knows. My share of the proceeds from the 1980 guidebook went to the B.C. Mountaineering Club, and should this project make money, I intend that at least some of the proceeds go to the Climbers' Access Society, to support its work on behalf of B.C.'s climbers.
I look forward to any and all thoughts, suggestions, and contributions regarding this project, and to your help. Thanks!
I thought an update was in order. I have been doing all sort of preliminary and planning activities, the sort that are needed to do a good job of any history project.
- Talking with members of our community, and discussing plans and getting advice. I've gotten some very helpful thoughts from a variety of climbers.
- Compiling a list of names and contact information for people to talk with - well over 200 so far, and that's only through to about 1990.
- Document review - journals, magazines, letters, libraries, archives, etc. Although there are a lot more to do. (Some of the "new route" books, such as those from MEC, seem to be AWOL. Does anyone know where they are?)
- Looking at other climbing histories.
- Planning to videotape interviews, for oral history purposes. With the number of interviews, and how people are spread out, this will take time, but is a key source of information.
- Thinking about what to do with things that are obtained during the project. Photographs, equipment, letters, new route books, and so on. Many of the climbers from the 1960s and 1970s have interesting stuff, which they may be happy to see end up in archives. There is a Squamish historical society, which hopes eventually to have a museum and archives. An alternative is the North Vancouver museum and archives. The NVMA now has the BC Mountaineering Club archives, has the resources to do events and displays, and did an excellent program for the centenary of the BCMC in 2007.
- Considering format, publisher, funders, distribution, possible partners, and such.
- Attending an event in May 2010, where I met several friends of Jim Baldwin's.
- A preliminary outline and plan.
As readers know, I've spent a lot of time over the last year restoring Slab Alley, the first route on the Apron. I've spent about 15 days, plus time ferreting out the history, talking about it with those knowledgeable, reading about it, and so on. One reason for this was that the foundation for a good history will be a good understanding of climbing at Squamish in the 1950s and 1960s, when it got started. There's more to it than meets the eye. It seemed to me that really learning about the history of Slab Alley - what was done, how, and why - was a good start, and would shed much light on that formative period. You can never quite put yourself in the shoes of those from 50 years ago, but you can do your best to be fully informed and come to a reasonable understanding of who they were and what they did. In addition to restoring the route, it was also a foundation piece for the history project.
Over the next months, I expect to work through all the document review, plus get a good start on interviews. It will be interesting to see where it all leads. It's one thing to write up some fun stories and photos on SuperTopo, and in some ways helpful. Getting all the hard information, then digesting it to a 200 page book with photos and perhaps DVD, is quite another. A long time ago I did a guidebook for climbing at Squamish, which perhaps wasn't bad, and may have been about what to expect from a 23 year old. The history project is different, and I'd like to do as good a job as I possibly can.
As always, I welcome comments, criticisms, and suggestions. It could well be two years before something is in print, give life pressures.
I've almost no knowledge of Squamish's history, so I wouldn't be helpful in your research but I'm willing to help out otherwise. I'm very interested in the subject matter. As Squamish' climbing community expands, we need to set some roots as deep as we can. An oral history isn't enough.
This is a great idea!
So far I've interviewed Ed Cooper, Glenn Woodsworth, Tami Knight, Bob Woodsworth, Dick Culbert, Arnold Shives, Alex Bertulis, Hank Mather, Jim Sinclair, Les McDonald, Howard Rode and others, and talked with Chris Jones, Wayne Merry and others about their perspectives on climbing at Squamish. I hope to commit a number of interviews in the next month, including several in California and Nevada, and others in the Kootenays and Okanagan. It's been fascinating, hearing stories of climbing at Squamish in the 1950s and 1960s, and learning a lot of new things. The oldest person I've interviewed is 94 - naturally I started at the beginning, as far as could be determined, and am working my way along. Of course, some climbers are now gone - Leif Patterson, Tony Cousins, Jim Baldwin, and others - while others are hard to contact. So it goes.
I've also put together an archive of magazine and journal articles, including the Varsity Outdoor Club journal, the B.C. Mountaineer, the Canadian Alpine Journal, American Alpine Journal, Mountain, Off Belay, Summit, Climbing, Rock & Ice, Alpinist, and others. Plus a variety of photos, newspaper clippings, equipment, and other memorabilia. Not to mention the fun of exploring South South and North Gullies, and the Slab Alley restoration project, to figure out historical questions.
Clearly it's going to be another year, perhaps a bit more. I want to do as good a job as I can to document climbing at Squamish from the beginnings through the 1990s. I believe now that a natural end-point would be in the 1980s, which was a time when there were many changes - sticky rubber, SLCDs, good harnesses, power drills, commercial climbing schools, sport climbing, etc - and the transition to modern climbing was under weigh.
Some interesting questions, some of which I'm still looking into:
1. Why did Fred call it Goose Rock early on, anyway?
2. Who were the first to climb at Squamish, in the modern sense of the word, and what did they do? (Hint: Not South Gully in 1957.)
3. Why didn’t anyone climb at Squamish before then? There was at least some technical equipment and skill in the Vancouver mountaineering community by the mid-1930s, and climbers often travelled to and through Squamish, en route to Garibaldi Park. The Chief seems to have been an elephant in a closet, and is rarely mentioned even in Squamish papers from that time.
4. What is (probably) the only climb at Squamish to have had its first ascent on December 31st?
5. How did they get from North Gully onto the North Arete (aka Angel’s Crest) in 1962, anyway?
6. How did they start South Arete (aka Squamish Buttress), in 1959? Why didn’t they bivouac?
7. What by modern grading was the first 5.10 at Squamish?
Not to lose sight of the big picture, but this trivia can be quite illuminating. Watch this space!
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