Skip to content

How I spent my summer vacation: Scaling the Alberta Rockies

August 26, 2014


One of my old art school chums has become a serious rock climber in the years we’ve been away. On a recent trip back home, she invited us to join her climbing buddies for a day at Grassi Lakes, above Canmore AB.



The ladies were doing rapid scrambles up 35 feet of vertical rock faces, taking only five or six minutes top to bottom, testing themselves against different routes and difficulties. Sometimes ‘hang dogging’ or ‘taking a whipper’ – but mostly making it look easy.

My friend led her first 5.10d pitch on that day, which was cool to be there to see. Much appropriate high-fiving and who-hooing all around.

I think this group of climbing vets wouldn’t normally choose this kind of spot. I get the feeling it’s a lot closer to civilization than they prefer. They’d quite generously picked a place I could hike into without raising my heart rate.

We started early, initially having the spot to ourselves, but by mid-day the walls were crawling with climbers.


There are lanes of bolts set in to the walls, every 20 feet or so around the upper lake, making what I can’t help calling a vertical bowling alley out of the box canyon.

Every pitch was in use. There were old pro’s showing new guys the ropes – (hah! Literally!), hard core mountaineers with ratty dreadlocks and well used gear, next to city people in super hero lycra and matching harnesses. At the foot of the wall patient crag dogs waited, people prepped lunch, (we had smoked sausages, that I bet smell *great* to bears), and significant others swam in the lake while their buff-er partners clung to the rocks. Or mostly, swapped stories and waited their turn.

You have to wonder how long the rock faces will stand up to such popular use. But I guess, this is the way of things. I can see the climbers love the mountains, and people try to be responsible. But at the same time, it seems there’s no stopping the growth of sport climbing in the Rockies. Every year it’s just going to get bigger. I suppose it will push the good climbing further out into the parks – and then there will be heli-climbing. You can’t stop people getting at the thing they love. Which I have respect for in its own way, given what I do.


I’m always excited (and a bit nervous) to sketch something like this. Something I haven’t seen before. Doubly so, when it’s something that won’t hold still for you. You never lose the concern you’ll flounder, be unable to capture what’s happening.

But I think the very new-ness of the thing, the fact you’ve never drawn it before, makes you hyper focused. Plus the pressure to live up to the occasion. The drawings might not be as polished as with more familiar, or more standing-still subjects, but they’re always a living record of a new experience.


They climbed and I drew, might have been four hours, maybe more. I think they were surprised I kept at it the whole time – I was impressed with their physical ability, and clear desire to get just one more run in.

Doing something like this, (drawing or climbing) that locks you into the zone – time just flies, and you don’t get tired. That is, Until you’re done for the day and the long walk back to the car happens in a kind of played-out but self-satisfied quiet-time.



9 Comments leave one →
  1. Randall Laue permalink
    August 26, 2014 10:20 AM

    Nicely done!

  2. August 26, 2014 11:25 AM

    I do love your spontaneous style – a joy to look at!

  3. Annie permalink
    August 26, 2014 1:47 PM

    ditto, ditto!!

  4. August 27, 2014 4:27 AM

    I’m an artist and a rock climber. I’ve toyed with trying to capture the peculiar shapes and patterns of climbers on rock… harder when you’re dangling, it has to be said! I think you have caught them brilliantly. Great stuff.

    • September 1, 2014 10:21 PM

      Hey thanks Lars, that’s great to hear it works for someone who knows both sides.

  5. Gina B. permalink
    August 27, 2014 6:48 AM

    Oh, worry not! Capturing it you did–got me totally dizzy!

  6. August 27, 2014 1:13 PM

    I would love to know what tool you are holding by the end and sketching with in the photo.

    • September 1, 2014 10:23 PM

      Hey Sandy – that is a DaVinci travel brush in a #10 sable. It’s a threaded PVC tube that self encloses the brush when it’s in your bag. Indestructible!


  1. Life Sketching vs. Studio Montage | Citizen Sketcher

Leave a Reply to Eileen Thompson Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: