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Ben Harnden is Squamish’s Dark Horse

An unlikely tale, not of redpoints or sends, but of one friend giving a shout out to another

Marek Gomolka wrote this short story about Ben Harnden, who is known as Butters, a few years ago. Harnden is one of Canada’s strongest climbers with repeats of Dreamcatcher 5.14d, Cobra Crack 5.14, The Bull 5.14R and Family Man 5.14b.

A short burst of air fills the humid forest at the base of some giant boulder, “Ha!” The blister rust of the fir bark combines with the moist cold air to fill my senses with familiarity.

There is calm and ease as a silhouette propels itself through what looks like an effortless balance on a featureless face.

In a sport where myths and exaggerations are the fuels that stoke camp fire stories, where self-directed PR allows us to live vicariously through what we read in climbing porn, there is hope.

I first met Ben before he became Butters around 12 years ago at The Next Best Spot. He had just arrived in Squamish sporting the whitest beard I had ever seen.

He was then as he is now, humble, soft spoken, kind and amazingly talented. Now apart from a dreadlocked Spanish left heel-hooking boulderer, it is one of the most unlikely friendships I’ve had.

It has endured frozen winters in Font and Ticino, cramped spaces, gypsy living, snotty rags and a homemade wood burning stove dangerously mounted into a station wagon.

He has never had an 8a card, a sponsor or a full page spread showcasing a talent that keeps surprising even his closest of friends.

He has never looked for the spotlight and keeps going about his life within a framework of principles that are his own. He is still having fun, is fun and has managed to avoid becoming one dementional.

His lack of notoriety hasn’t stopped him from achieving world class standards. He continues to push and redefine a sport with a narcissistic nature. He has become grounded.

Every area has a dark horse, The Welsh have Neil, The boulders have Tim, J. Smith owns the highballs, but Squamish has Butters.

As it’s written, this profile is not meant to celebrate or idolize this man, his myth, or the compass by which he has chosen to pursue his passions.

It has taken a long time to write and a lot of thought went into whether or not this article should even be written. Finally, however, the decision was made. 

Now would be a good time for the part where a climbers profile lists the accomplishments of its subject. Where we list the FA’s, the world class repeats, where we add more fuel to that camp fire.

The truth is, I’m breaking my own rules of conduct, but sometimes those rule need to be broken. So here’s to you my friend, keep living that dream!

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