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Excerpt: Up, at Work



By Geoff Powter

Chris Perry doesn’t mind that you’ve never heard of him, but you should. Geoff Powter profiles one of the Rockies’ most prolific routebuilders and discovers what motivates him to set the path for others to follow.

On another mist-draped afternoon of our sodden, sodding summer of 2019, I give up climbing, yet again, but still head to Banff to try to find Chris. It’s cold and damp to be up off the ground, but it’s a pretty safe bet that even in this weather Chris will be plugging away on his latest project. He’s been up there, after all, almost every passable day this season, and more than a few days last summer as well. And, as he’d pointed out with a laugh a few days before, as a faithful Brit he’s not going to let a bit of rain stop him from climbing. 

Sure enough, his lime-green Honda Element is in its usual spot by the trailhead that leads to the climbs on the big northeast wall of Tunnel Mountain, the buffalo-shaped lump of stone that Banff wraps itself around. I’m not entirely sure where his line goes, but after a couple minutes, I spot the string of climbing ropes that Chris has dropped down from the top of the wall to mark the path he’s imagined his route will eventually follow. 

It’s harder to find Chris himself, and that’s a bit of a surprise: at 6’4”, with a snow-white rendition of the Rubber-Soul-Lennon mop and a Tarantino chin, Chris is usually pretty hard to miss. But on this 270-metre-high wall of corners and shadows, it takes a while to spot him. It doesn’t help that he’s not moving. At all. He’s in the middle of a long, arcing crack, and for the entire 30 minutes that I sit in the meadow below the face, he doesn’t seem to do a thing. I hear a couple of gentle taps of a hammer echo around the dish of the wall and guess that he’s testing to see how solid the rock is, but nothing else happens. I shout to him, but there’s no response. I get cold, feel pity for him up there in a rising wind, but I know he’ll tell me later that he was having his own kind of fun that day. I leave him to it.

A few days later, sitting in a Canmore café, Chris anticipates the obvious question before I have a chance to ask it — because, as he explains with a wry laugh and the remnants of a south-of-Manchester accent, he asks it of himself all the time: “Why do all that work, instead of actually going climbing?” 

He laughs again, then settles back in his chair, a bit more philosophical. “It’s the way that I feel closest to the rock. When you climb, it’s too easy to move through the terrain without really seeing it, but when I work on one of these climbs the way I do, I get to know every inch of it, and see everything.” 

He pauses for a second, then puts it in a more compelling way . . .

→ Keep reading this feature in Volume 5 of the Canadian Rockies Annual.

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