The Game was the first climb in Canada to be given and M13 grade and this winter it turns 14 years old.
Ben Firth’s first ascent was a bookend to the decade or so of the first generation of hard mixed climbs to be established in the Canadian Rockies.
The Game climbs a long roof at the Cineplex Crag behind Panther Falls on the Icefields Parkway in Alberta. It’s parallel to Musashi, Canada’s first M12.
Musashi was first climbed by Will Gadd, but was established by Gadd and Firth in late 2001. “Its girth is that of Musashi, but what makes The Game more difficult is the large pulls, one being roughly eight and a half feet,” Firth said.
“That, combined with the pump required for all difficult mixed routes, made The Game quite a bit harder for me than any other sport mixed line, including Musashi.”
Firth was one of the first to repeat Musashi shortly after Gadd’s first ascent. Firth was is climbing as well as he ever had.
He’d just returned from Ouray, where he competed in the ice festival. He only fell once, when a hold broke low on a competition route. He flashed everything he tried, including Fist Full of Steel M10+.
Earlier that year, Firth made the second ascent of Rights of Passage, a 1,000-metre IV M5 WI8 on Mount Kitchener with Eamonn Walsh and Greg Thaczuk. The first ascent was by Canadian Eric Dumerac and Frenchman Philippe Pellet in October 2002, the same month they climbed Infinite Patience VI on Mount Robson with Barry Blanchard.
After his ascent of Rights of Passage, Firth said: “I reached a belay ledge with the appetizing combination of a rock-hard pump in the forearms and a wrist-to-fingertip set of screaming barfies.
“Surprisingly, I had linked both crux pitches without having known better. This was unlike any other pure water-ice line we had climbed. This begs the question if ice lines are or should be graded according to the physical ability required to climb them or the capacity to deal with minimal pro with insecure sticks. I would propose that the latter be more difficult.”
Back in 2004, there were fewer climbers to head out with. Firth couldn’t find anyone to go climb at the Cineplex, so he offered $50 to anyone who would go.
In the end, Firth rounded up some new climbers to belay him. He gave them a GriGri tutorial and attempted The Game. The first time he sent the roof, the new belayer stopped feeding slack and pulled Firth off. But he sent it on his fifth try that day.
The climb was repeated by Will Gadd and quickly gained international attention. Many climbers travelled to Canada for the route. It was later climbed by Mauro Bubu Bole, Isreal Blanco and Evgeny Kryvosheytsev to name a few.
Despite turning 14 this January, The Game is still considered a benchmark M13 in North America. Along with Gadd’s Steel Koan, it was considered one of the most difficult winter lines for nearly a decade.
A chapter was added to The Game’s place in history in 2012 when Gadd climbed it without heel spurs or mixed trickery (hanging from your tools by anything but your arms).
For over a decade, heel spurs were a standard part of the crampon, but you could use them to hang off of ice tools. Firth once hung a lawn chair from a tool and relaxed in it.
In 2011, visiting Ukrainian Evgeny Krivosheytsev climbed Musashi M12 without heel spurs, motivating Gadd to do the same shortly after.
Gadd then said “spurs are for horses” and began to work on The Game in what he called “bareback style,” which meant no hooking the tools with one’s feet, legs or ass, in the spring of 2012.
He later sent it in December and called it The Game Reloaded.