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The Bold and Cold: Excerpt and Interview with Brandon Pullan

April 28, 2016

THE BOLD AND COLD: EXCERPT AND
INTERVIEW WITH BRANDON PULLAN

By Tera Swanson

Perfect for the armchair traveller or devoted mountaineer, The Bold and Cold: A History of 25 Classic Climbs in the Canadian Rockies has been in the works for decades. It began in the late 60s as a brainchild of Urs Kallen, who later collaborated with Dave Cheesmond to select the 25 routes and compile them into a book. The project was abandoned following Cheesmond’s death on Mt. Logan in 1987, but not before the pair decided to name it ‘The Bold and Cold.’ Here, Tera Swanson interviews Brandon Pullan, who took over the project in 2005 and saw it through to publication with Rocky Mountain Books more than ten years later. 

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TS/ What motivated you to carry on with this project when Urs handed you his notes in 2005? Did you realize the scope of it?

BP/ Urs was very convincing. Other climbers had looked into completing the book, but no one bit. Of course, in 2005, even when I excitedly accepted the task, I would never have guessed it would be printed. That’s because I had a long way to go in the industry to work my way up. The scope was small, but grew over time as I wanted to include more and more detail.

TS/ This book took a decade for you to complete. Why?

BP/ I think the book should have taken 20 years, but publishing schedules rush things up. History books are difficult. To represent everyone fairly, you have to approach things unbiased. That is hard in climbing as everyone has an opinion on how things should be done. I also wanted to climb a number of the routes. Those routes are hard and it took years to complete the few I did.

TS/ Given the advancements in climbing in the past 20 or so years, are there climbs you feel would be more/less appropriate for this list? Why or why not?

BP/ Absolutely. Everyone would select their own routes for a list like this. But that’s the beauty of this list, it was selected in the 1980s by two of the area’s leading climbers.

TS/ This book reads like an alpine journal, history book, memoir and guidebook all-in-one. Was that the goal from the beginning? How or why did it evolve to be so all-encompassing?

BP/ In the end, trying to make it one and not the other would not have done it justice. At the beginning, it was going to be a book with some photos, a bit of history and a lot of words from Urs. Every route included a long description why it was in the book and why Urs selected it. Over time, we were going to make it more of a guidebook and then it settled on what it is, which is mostly a history book.

TS/ In gathering your research to complete this book, what surprised you the most? Were there any particular stories that resonated with you more than others?

BP/ What surprised me the most was that there are so many stories that still have not been told or heard beyond the walls of pubs. Marc Andre-Leclerc’s story about The Wild Thing resonated with me. Being a young climber in the Rockies and experiencing his first big alpine after hearing so many stories and walking away with a great tale is what it’s all about. [See excerpt below.]

TS/ What have you taken away from the process, having finished the project a decade later?

BP/ It’s my first book, so there was a learning curve. Working with Rocky Mountain Books was been a great experience. They were helpful, but gave the space I needed to complete everything. There are some mistakes in the book I would like to change (typos and minor details), but once it goes to the printer there is no going back. It’s a good book and it’s better than Urs or I would have ever dreamed it would be, but it’s not perfect. The book writing process was the fun part; holding the finished product just means I have more time to go climb now.

TS/ What’s your next big objective in the Canadian Rockies?

BP/ When I approached Urs in 2005, it was to ask him about Billy Davidson, who I wanted to write a book about. It was then that he said, “You help me get my project called ‘The Bold and Cold’ on shelves and we can talk about Billy.” Now that The Bold and Cold is finished, I can focus on the book project that started all of this. I will be on the West Coast, retracing the steps and paddle strokes of Billy all summer, and far from the Rockies.

EXCERPT: THE BOLD AND COLD

The following excerpt is provided courtesy Rocky Mountain Books.

WILD THING
By Marc Andre-Leclerc

Along the eastern edge of the Mistaya River, Joshua and I walked briskly so as not to lose time. The great mass of Mount Chephren stood guard above us in the night. The mountain’s first defense, however, is encountered well before reaching its base. There seemed to be no natural bridge by which to cross the cold Mistaya River, and not wanting to spend precious minutes in search of a more comfortable method, we removed our boots and socks, pulled our pants up above our knees, and waded to the other side. As I removed my numb feet from the flowing water, I grimaced in pain and briefly attempted to rub life back into them before fitting the then seemingly dead bundles of flesh back into dry socks and boots; it was a brisk minus 11 degrees.

Josh breaks trail through the woods towards the base of the route, and I glanced upwards now and then to get a bearing on our direction. Although there was no moon, the dark face made itself obvious in the form of an ominous dark wall overhead, as if all the stars had been blotted out by jet black ink. We emerged onto snow slopes below the face, and climbed an iron hard crust on top of an avalanche cone to the base of the first pitch. It looked easily solo-able, and Joshua started up, tied into the middle of our 80-metre half-rope.

About half way up the pitch, as I prepared to solo, Josh called for a belay. As I followed the pitch on a rope I knew why; vertical ice gave way to vertical snice, which was easy to climb, but far from secure. From his belay we moved together up an easy angled couloir punctuated by overhanging snow mushrooms of various sizes. One was too large and steep to be overcome efficiently and I had to climb back to the belay, re-organized the rack, and then probed the wall to the right for mixed options to serve as a bypass. The wall goes, but it is not easy and I apologized to Josh for the lost time in that section.

Marc-Andre Leclerc climbing The Wild Thing. Photo: Josh Lavigne.

Marc-Andre Leclerc climbing The Wild Thing. Photo: Josh Lavigne.

A bit farther up, another difficult snow mushroom blocked the way, but I managed to overcome it directly by trenching through the overhanging snow, arms and legs splayed widely. Shortly before the end of the difficulties, however, the snow gave way and I fell a metre before my legs wedged firmly between snow and rock arresting my fall face out and upside down. An awkward sit-up and a couple more minutes of battle and I am above the mushroom for good. Joshua tackled the next snow mushroom, and then we blasted off moving together up the steep snowfields that lead towards the headwall where most of the difficulties would be found. A couple moderate mixed pitches provided the entertainment, then I kicked steps up the long and exposed slopes towards the base of the crux chimney putting the fall’s training to good use. After building a belay in a nice alcove below the start of the difficulties, we re-sorted some of our gear and Josh took the lead.

It was a brilliant piece of climbing; steep, physical, bold. As I followed Joshua’s lead, I was thoroughly impressed by his effort on the pitch. I grunted and squirmed up the overhanging flare, front points edging on tiny features on the jet black limestone. As I struggled upwards, I was grateful for the security of the rope above, and could only imagine how it had been for Joshua, doing those difficult moves several body lengths above very marginal protection.

When I topped out I saw that Joshua’s belay consisted of a stubby SharpenedKnife, a tied off pin and his ice tool. He took one of my tools and led another pitch of easier climbing to warm himself, and at the base of another steep chimney we turned the headlamps on and I began another block.

I began my crash course in traditional, limestone mixed climbing about a week previous by putting up a new route on the Storm Creek Headwall with Jon Walsh. After that I had done some mixed soloing, another new route with Jon and Josh, and a day out with my friend Ian Strachan. High on The Wild Thing, climbing by headlamp, I was truly putting my new skills to the test. I climbed up the double-grooved chimney, stemming wide and looking for positive edges to hook with my tools. I managed to find just enough protection to move confidently, but dry tooling in the dark was undeniably freaky. “We’re not at the bouldering gym anymore Josh,” I yelled down. He responded with a chuckle.

Read the rest in The Bold and Cold, published by Rocky Mountain Books (2016).

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Whether she’s booting down trail runs, trekking up peaks or travelling the globe, Tera Swanson is never content idling for long. Pairing this with her love for writing came as natural as her Bow Valley backyard.