In the early 1980s, Swiss climber Urs Kallen met South African Dave Cheesmond in Calgary. Kallen asked Cheesmond if he would co-author a book about alpine climbing in the Canadian Rockies, Cheesmond said yes. Less than a decade later, Cheesmond died on Mount Logan and Kallen decided to not write the book. Nearly 20 years after that, Kallen met now-Gripped editor Brandon Pullan and asked him to co-author the book. After Pullan accepted, Kallen stepped back from the project and told Pullan it was his, but that he couldn’t change the name of the book or the list of 25 climbs selected by Kallen or Cheesmond. Editorial director of Gripped Publishing David Chaundy-Smart touched base with Pullan at the Gripped headquarters in Toronto.
Why did you write The Bold and Cold? Kallen handed me a box of notes and slides and told me to climb as many of the routes as I could and to write the book. As a naive young climber I assumed I could climb most of the routes (not knowing their reputation) and that if I wrote something, Kallen would print it at his Kallen Graphics press in Calgary. After I climbed a few of the routes and learned more about the Rockies, I realized that my stories would not do the routes justice. I collected info and stories and Kallen said he would not print the book because of costs. I was too deep into the project to not see it through and pitched it to the publisher Rocky Mountain Books, who said they would take a look. With no template, I did what I could to piece a book together staying true to Kallen’s vision.
What was the history of the project? Before Cheesmond died, he and Kallen published two magazines called Polar Circus. They were about hard rock, ice and alpine routes in Canada. They were “feelers” to see how the community would react to published works about climbs in the Rockies. Backed by Yvon Chouinard and with contributions from climbers across Canada, the magazines were a success and are now considered collector’s items. Kallen got the idea for a book such as this after seeing Im Extremen Fels, which was about 100 hard rock climbs in Switzerland, over 40 years ago. After Cheesmond died and Kallen decided against finishing the book, Sean Dougherty ran with the idea and published the guidebook Selected Alpine Climbs of the Canadian Rockies. Fifteen years later, I met Kallen and started working on his project.
How did the list of routes get put together? Kallen had a short list of routes he wanted for the book before he met Cheesmond, but a number of the biggest walls n the Rockies had not yet been climbed. When Kallen met Cheesmond, he showed him photos of the biggest walls that had to be in the book but weren’t climbed. Cheesmond made it his goal to climb them and he did. A few faces were on Mount Assiniboine and South Goodsir. The final route that had to be climbed was on the east face of Mount Chephren. It was climbed the year Cheesmond died and is called the Wild Thing. It was the last new route climbed in the book.
How many of the routes in the book have you done? Not as many as I would like to, but the ones that I’ve climbed were all memorable. The list is not for everyone and many of the routes are dangerous. It was compiled at a time when the 25 routes in the book were cutting-edge. Many of the big ice faces have now been skied, but no one would imagined that was possible at the time they were first climbed. The 25 routes are not what I would select for a list like this, but that’s what made working on the book fun. I had to learn why Kallen and Cheesmond selected the routes and to put myself in the 1970s and 1980s as a young alpinist looking to climb big Rockies’ routes.
Has anyone done them all? Do you plan to? No one has climbed them all, Cheesmond is the only one who had climbed four of the five “hardest.” I don’t know if anyone will ever climb them all, it’s a great challenge to young alpinists. I believe top climbers out there can, such as Jon Walsh, Marc-Andre Leclerc and Raphael Slawinski. But, climbing these routes depends on so many factors coming together, such as you’re fit and ready, your partner is fit and ready, the route is in condition and the weather is stable. I have approached many climbs in the Rockies and turned around because one of the above factors wasn’t good to go. For me, the list is a lifetime goal, one that I remain optimistic I will complete some day, but I’m not really a list guy. I guess that speaks to the vision Kallen and Cheesmond had for such a collection of routes.
What was the most challenging story to write? The book is divided into 26 parts: the intro and 25 routes. I could jump back and forth from one to the other. Every route has a story that was written by a climber who had an experience on that route. Instead of having only an anthology of stories, I tried to fill in the history of attempts and ascents. The story of the routes will grow forever, but the book’s content ends in the fall of 2015. Already, Marc-Andre Leclerc’s 2015/16 season in the Rockies has added to the story of some of the routes with his solo of the Emperor Face on Mount Robson and addition of new routes to the Valley of the Ten Peaks. The most challenging part was collecting information, as many of the climbers are off-the-grid or unwilling to give up to much of their story.
What’s your next project? The Bold and Cold was my first published book and it’s not perfect. It’s a good book and tells the story that Kallen wanted to be told. It gives a brief glimpse of the golden age of Canadian alpinism and has some of my favourite climbing stories. Why I think it’s not perfect is because I could have done a better and more thorough job with the content. John Porter’s book One Day as a Tiger is simply amazing and took two decades to complete. It tells the story of the bold Alex MacIntyre, who died at 28 years old on Annapurna. My next project is about a climber who was similar to MacIntyre in his bold and revolutionary ascents. I’m working on a book about Billy Davidson, a Calgary climber who moved to the coast and became a kayaker, painter and hermit. I will be spending much of my summer retracing Billy’s journey on the West Coast. I’m lucky that my job as editor of Gripped allows me to work from anywhere. It gives me the freedom to work on projects such as The Bold and Cold and Billy Davidson. After that, I will be teaming up with you [David Chaundy-Smart] for our project about Canadian climbing, which will be an in-depth look at how and why Canadian climbing evolved the way it has.
For more information and to purchase The Bold and Cold, visit Rocky Mountain Books here.