Before arriving in Vancouver, everyone who’d been there told me how amazing it was. How it was a place that they’d only visited once but could easily move there given the opportunity. Well, I have to say that I was thoroughly unimpressed. Vancouver is basically just another city, fairly large, with a low population density (or so it seems from roaming the streets) and a huge amount of apartment blocks penetrating 30 stories into the sky (the two of which don’t go together in any sensible way). I’m not a fan of apartment blocks.

Drive north from central London for 45 minutes and you’ll be lucky to have left the clutches of the m25. Drive north from Vancouver for the same amount of time and before you stands the mighty granite dome of the The Chief. Around you are dense forests, rolling hills, and outcrops of rock in almost every direction. It’s pretty incredible and it certainly makes me realise why living in Vancouver would be most acceptable.

I’ve never been to Canada before and thus I’ve never been to Squamish, but arriving here felt like coming home. Being amongst the rocks feels so natural to me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been climbing so long now that is genuinely feels natural to me (although those who witness me climbing might disagree) or perhaps it’s because I’m most comfortable in nature (once again – a surprise to some people who consider me a townie). Walking amongst the boulders, all memories of Maslow’s hierarchy or needs or derivatives pricing instantly vanishes. It’s as if I revert to some more basic human instant, that of running around a forest climbing rocks. It’s amazing how far away these two parts of my life are, climbing and business (school). Perhaps they’re not so distinct, but my social circles (in the sense of google+ circles) are absolutely mutually exclusive. I’ve just spent a year in London, in lectures, seminars, and the library, yet none of it felt as good as this. There were moments of which made me think “wow, that’s interesting” and moments which were exciting because I discovered the mechanism behind something previously mysterious, but none of it compares to feeling in control of your body as it glides over wonderful rock. The reason I went back to school was because I began to find climbing all the time somewhat unfulfilling. But having been away from climbing it now feels like the greatest thing ever. A case of the grass always being greener on the other side? I’m not sure, but I don’t think so. It’s about finding the balance and the correct ratio so that the grass is always greener as you flip flop between diametrically opposed parts of your life. Every flip (or flop) is better BECAUSE you’ve arrived from such a distant point on the scale.

The challenge of climbing is great again, and that is a very strong attraction for me. In fact, it’s greater than expected. I’m actually quite a punter now. Everything feels hard. It’s wonderful!

Some things don’t change though. Namely having woefully weak skin. Alex Savage was good enough to not only offer me a tour of the bouldering, but also loan Emily and I some pads, so on our first day we went out to find dry rock. We warmed up on a juggy roof (gibbs cave?) and then moved straight onto a v9 called Defenders of the Faith. 4 moves, crimps, power. I figured out the moves quickly, although this didn’t require a lot of brainpower, and then I tried to do it. I’d like to blame my old (but faithful) Anasazi velcro’s for not being precise or downturned enough, but I know this problem could probably be done in trainers. Five tries later I had my first split tip. My left index finger was bleeding and day 1 was over. Well, I thought it was over.

As we hung out at the campsite I saw a man bouncing impressively on the slack line. As soon as he jumped off, his unconscious hand movements gave him away. Toby Benham!!! Although now he is officially Lucky Chance, so I’ll stick with his new name from now. Lucky is the same as ever, all smiles, full of good energy, and keener than [insert the keenest thing you can thing of squared]. He immediately suggested that Emily and I go climbing with him and within 10 minutes we were hiking up to the base of the Apron. Lucky, Emily, and I arrived to find people on the route we wanted to do so we embraced the spirit of adventure and Lucky set off, meandering a way up the cliff taking in cool features and using no gear. 5 minutes and 50 metres later pitch 1 was done. Emily and I were seconding (and thirding?) up at the same time, half running and half climbing. I’d decided to do this easy first section in my trainers as they were soled in stealth anyway, but had my climbing shoes on my harness just in case. Pitches 2 and 3 went down in similar style, with lucky placing approximately 1 bit of gear per pitch. Still brave as ever. Soon enough we were at Memorial ledge, having done nothing harder than some 5.9 sections of slab climbing. I’d managed to stay in trainers the whole time, which was a relief as my feet are in huge amounts of pain at the moment. Not sure as to the cause but my arches are on fire, every step bringing quite a bit of pain. Anyway, the view from memorial ledge is absolutely amazing. I looked around, tried to soak it all up, closed my eyes and tried to etch it into my brain. Taking note of the Ocean coming in down below, the forested hills above, and the snow capped mountains above them. The valley unfurled northwards, with the highway meandering a path through it, and there is rock all around. Above us was more climbing, below us was climbing, and the same on both our left and right. It is an amazing vista. My cheeks probably got a little sore from the grin on my face.

From Memorial ledge toby led up Memorial Crack, a 5.9 or 5.10 single pitch layback crack. He placed a surprising 3 bits of gear and Emily and I both followed him up. It felt great to reach the top of the Apron, but looking up only made us all realise we were on the kids stuff. There were many more pitches to go towards the top of the chief. The sun was beginning to drop behind the mountains and so that adventure would have to wait for another day, but it felt absolutely amazing to be stood up there watching the world go by. I’d managed to stay in my trainers all afternoon, had a genuinely fun time, and stood looking out over the valley with jaw agape at not only how much there was to do but at how good it all was too.

Day 1 had offered me a 4 move boulder problem and 4 pitches of adventurous trad. Amazing. Very amazing. Squamish is an incredible place. After our first day here I am already feeling sad about our departure in 12 days time.