The following story first appeared in the August/September issue of Gripped magazine and was written by Tom Wright.
Looking down between his legs, Greg Foweraker felt dizzy. Sixteen-hundred metres of exposure made his stomach churn. With only his ice tools and crampons, a lapse of concentration would condemn him to the glacier far below. It was July 1985, Peter Croft, Don Serl and Foweraker were climbing unroped toward the summit of Mt. Waddington; peak one of nine on way to the first traverse of arguably the finest massif in the Coast Range.
“This trip really opened my eyes to what was possible when you combined clear thinking, lots of effort, technique and fitness,” Foweraker reflected in a recent interview. It was one of his first major alpine outings and it didn’t all go according to plan. As sun dawned on the fourth morning of the climb, the stable weather window seemed to be coming to an end, the stove was malfunctioning, and Foweraker had fallen ill. Stomach retching, they were halfway through the traverse on Tiedemann’s East Ridge. With tremendous exposure either side of them, retreat would be highly problematic.
Fully committed, the team pressed on, encountering spectacular climbing, sketchy rappels and a very close call with Croft narrowly dodging rock fall. Yet after five days, the team snagged one of the prizes of Canadian mountaineering – the first successful traverse of the rarely repeated Waddington range.
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Greg Foweraker was born in 1961 to a Kiwi father and Australian mother, in St. Louis, Missouri. Driving up to Canada every summer for work, the family eventually settled in Victoria, B.C. Family camping and ski trips gave Greg a natural love for the outdoors and he began climbing with the Scouts in his early teens. His first memorable climbing trip came when he was 14 years old on a trip to the Rockies with three friends.
The trip culminated with the four young boys hiking up Abbot Pass to attempt Mount Victoria. After one friend became justifiably terrified, Foweraker and the others found a fixed piton and lashed him in since they were short on biners; they left him for six hours while they continued to the summit.
As the climbing bug grew, Foweraker honed his technique and bouldering skills at Flemming Beach near Victoria B.C. There was a strong climbing scene developing on the island with the likes of Hamish Fraser, Croft and later Jim Sandford, all extremely motivated to save money and train for trips across the water to Squamish.
When asked about his early influences, Foweraker insists it was climbing literature such as the classic Yosemite Climber that shaped his view of the climbing world. He admired the big-wall and free climbing revolution that was happening down in California.
In the late 1970s and early 80s, the coastal climbing community was coming into its own. With so much unclimbed rock around Squamish, the possibilities were endless. “I was essentially a college boy from Victoria who would parachute in for short intense periods of climbing. My best memories are of the sense of mental and physical creativity, with the enormous level of fun that climbing gave us.”
He found himself surrounded by world class climbers, whether they knew it at the time or not. Forming what has become a lifelong friendship with Croft naturally led to Foweraker pushing his free climbing standards and seeing the effects of dedicated training. This led to climbs such as the first free ascent of University Wall 5.12a in 1982, a climb that remains a test-piece to this day.
With Don Serl, Foweraker acquired the acumen for committing alpine climbing and gathered the skills and intuition that only time in the mountains can teach you. “Don really influenced me in terms of taking on mountains in their own terms. There were lots of character building adventures and sometimes failure wasn’t an option.”
It was Daryl Hatten who turned Foweraker from an aspiring big-wall climber into a talented aid-climber with a strong respect for the rock. Hatten became a sort of mentor for Foweraker, “I’ve done my share of bolt clipping, but I learned a lot from Hatten about climbing being a calling with soul. In addition, I’ve always agreed with my friend Hamish Fraser that in places like Squamish the rock loans itself well to climbing from the ground up where the mental game is more important than the physical culture. This is the crucible where adventure and athleticism meet and the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.”
Foweraker is an entrepreneur at heart and this demonstrated itself in some of his early climbing adventures. With Fraser, they built themselves a homemade portaledge, joining the aluminium rods with wooden dowels from the local lumber yard. Foweraker took it out with Croft for its inaugural voyage on The Chief. After completing a dicey pitch of 5.11 A4, Foweraker slid down the lines, bragging about his plush accommodations for the night, only for the dowels to snap immediately. He spent the night crumpled in a nylon sandwich.
Foweraker began his career in the outdoor industry as one of the founders of Island Alpine, two gear stores in Victoria and Prince George. The climbers ran the business like a club and knew all their customers personally. “Too bad we were 5.2 businessmen though,” he chuckled.
Later, he was hired at MEC to help with the purchasing in the climbing department, and then went on to work on the Asian sourcing side of the company, writing vendor manuals and draft legal agreements. It was a mutually beneficial relationship that lasted 15 years.
In 2008, he was consulting for a company that had a well designed stainless steel water bottle and Innate was born. “I had an idea that there was a real need to offer a collection of cleanly designed essentials suitable for active outdoor oriented users. We’ve created a well-regarded collection of smart looking, functional products that adhere to our design philosophy of leaner cleaner greener. Innate isn’t a green company per se, but we are a conscious company that brings a dirt-under-the-finger-nails approach to just about everything we do.”
Foweraker views establishing Innate as alpine style capitalism. “Retreat is essentially not an option. I really find climbing big routes prepared me well for business. It can look pretty intimidating from the base but if you’ve got a plan, don’t get freaked out when you get a curve ball and be flexible around tactics then you can pretty much do anything you want.”
These days, Foweraker is happy on the classic sea cliff traverses near his home in North Vancouver. He enjoys mountain biking and ski touring in the Sea-to-Sky corridor and getting his ass handed to him on a surf board by his 13-year-old daughter.
Foweraker’s Favourite First Ascents
1979 Sultans of Swing on Mount Wells in Victoria A3 with Blair Munro
1982 first free ascent of University Wall on The Chief 5.12a with Peter Croft and Hamish Fraser
1982 Son of Pan on The Chief 5.9 A4 with Daryl Hatten
1985 Waddington Traverse with Peter Croft and Don Serl
1986 West face Mt Bute 5.11a A2 with Don Serl
1987 Mount Augusta North Face with Mike Carlson, Jeff Marshall and Don Serl
1988 Tantalus Range first winter traverse with Perry Beckham and Don Serl
1995 Burkett Needle West face 5.11 A3 in Alaska with Dan Cauthorn and Greg Collum
1996 Baltese Falcon 5.11 A4 on the Shipton Spire, Pakistan with Chuck Boyd, Greg Child and Greg Collum
1999 Yes Please Spire 5.11 in the Selkirks with Tim McAllister