As some places in Canada cycle through hopefully short lockdowns for a second and third time, some climber’s motivation might wane. Finding the required psych for progression can be difficult. But should it be?
It can be easy to forget about the progress that some of Canada’s best climbers made this past bouldering season. Progression was made on both coasts and everywhere in between, including a many first ascents and new V13 climbers.
On routes, Alberta’s Evan Hau became the first Canadian to send 5.15, while Miles Adamson’s Imposter Syndrome would join the ranks of some of Canada’s hardest routes. In some ways, a second lockdown could be used to get stronger than you’ve ever been.
For Ryan Sklenica, 19, this past season proved to be life changing. The Tasmanian rock climber returned to climbing with a stoke unlike anything he’d experienced before. The long-time route-wrangler left the rope behind to have his most inspiring bouldering season yet.
The impressive rock scape of Tasmania, an island in Australia, just over 200 kilometres from the mainland, has impressive sea stacks, daring trad climbing and granite sport climbing. Sklenica grew up and began climbing on the island. He said, “Me and a buddy started climbing through an outdoor-ed class. Before long, we started going to the gym a bit more and it went off from there.”
“At the beginning, I was more involved with the training side of things. I got on the state team, and we would have training sessions every week. Eventually I moved away from that, and just started climbing outside because that was my passion. I did da few local competitions with the training team, but mainly moved to outside.
“Before Australian Youth Nationals, my training was a three-month outdoor road-trip climbing nothing but routes. I travelled in Australia to the Grampians and the Blue Mountain, just climbing outside. I hadn’t touched plastic in months, and I wasn’t going to compete. However, I was already in the Blue Mountains, which is pretty close to where the event was held, so I decided to go down. I ended up winning the lead in Youth, so I qualified for Arco. I was a little unsure if I would go but decided I would and make a trip out of it as well.
“I went there and met a friend. After the comp, we started travelling and climbing for a little over a month. We climbed in Arco for a bit, then new drove across to Céüse to climb there for a couple weeks, and then kept going toward Spain.
So, how did he end up in Canada? According to Sklenica, “I met a girl.”
Though he had been excited to come to Canada for quite some time, routes like Dreamcatcher 5.14d and Cobra Crack 5.14 trad offer some of the best climbing in the world, Sklenica notes that this relationship would bring him to B.C. earlier than he had anticipated.
Arriving on Vancouver Island, the sport climber’s focus was consumed by some of Horne Lake’s most beautiful lines.
He said, “The first time I went to Horne Lake on Vancouver Island, it was like walking up to a European limestone cave. I had just come from Europe, so I felt fit, and I was used to the style. I quickly got into it and quickly became a part of the community. I started climbing with people like Sam and even started developing a new crag. That has been one of the best experiences: putting up hard FA’s with good friends, it’s been great.”
Conventionally, route development might seem opposed to a competitive climbing background, but Sklenica laughed, “I was never much of a competition climber, to be honest. A lot of what I liked was the adventure climbing in Tasmania. Those routes really mean a lot to me, and, I think, the totem pole, for anyone who climbs it, means a lot to them. How often do you get to climb a free-standing sea stack, 60 metres tall?”
With the help of his mentor, Gary Phillips, Sklenica would learn the ropes on bolting, gear placement, and all around route development. Following a strong season on Horne Lake, ticking A.S.D.A.T.O and Lady Chainsaw, both 5.14b, Sklenica said, “I went to Squamish alone on my bike. I was a little unsure of how I would get around, but it ended up being super easy”
“I didn’t really have any plans to start bouldering. I love bouldering, and I had plans to do some, but I didn’t realize how much I would ultimately do. In Squamish, it was just so easy to go out and boulder, everyone was so psyched. The bouldering community is super stoked in Squamish and I ended up bouldering way more than route climbing just because it was so accessible.”
“I was talking to Kim and Graham McGrenere before I even got to Squamish, so when I got there it was super easy to start climbing with them. The community is super tight, and they introduced me to other people that they climbed with. Sometimes, I would just go out by myself and run into people and start climbing with them.”
“At the time I felt fit, but not strong enough to climb Dreamcatcher so I wanted to start with some crimpy powerful boulders. The top of the list was Frontside and Shelter. Shelter I did pretty quickly, within the first few weeks, and Frontside, I tried, but got distracted by everything else.”
Doing Shelter, “was a huge confidence boost. At the time it was probably my second week in Squamish and I was still a little unsure of how I would go bouldering. Shelter was entirely my style, though. It was just a huge confidence boost. I started to get more psyched-on bouldering, I wanted to get stronger, and it took off from there.”
“My bouldering season was a little slow to start, I didn’t feel that strong at the beginning, I ticked off a few boulders to start, but the biggest turning point for me was the Proposal. I never really had any plans to climb that boulder, but I was getting super psyched on it as I was getting more psyched on bouldering. Ticking that off got me even more psyched, and from there, I had this list of boulders, and as I kept ticking them off, I would move on to the next.”
This process would lead to the take down of an impressive list of Squamish classics. Between October 15 and October 23, Sklenica would complete:
Frontside V12, Room Service V12, Squaminard Low, V12/13, The Deputy V12, Cacahuetes V12, and The Existential Detective V12. A week later, he would also tick the famously technical Apron face, The Method V12. An impressive list considering that he had not yet climbed such a difficulty before this summer. Sklenica said, “Squaminard Low, for me, was the next level in my bouldering. It is the boulder that took me the most sessions and probably what I got most psyched on. I had walked past it for days before hand, it doesn’t look that amazing, but Jake Scharfman had convinced me to try it. After one session, I was psyched.
“Then I put five more sessions in, and was feeling close. I got the top dialed on a rope, it was pretty spicy up there, and then when I was actually sending, I had to battle with the rain. The 25+ foot top-out was a little damp. A little extra spicy, but what am I going to do when I am up there? I can’t bail.”
This heady top would pave the way for one of the last, and most righteous, projects of Sklenica’s season. What it would lack in difficulty, though still rated at V10, the massive Straight Outta Squampton would make up for in lethality.
“Eventually toward the end of the trip I was looking at boulders that I wanted to do before we left. Straight Outta Squampton was one of those problems. I didn’t think I was going to do it, but I do like some spicy things every now and again, so it worked out.
“On a weekend we managed to get a pretty big crew together. We managed to drag up over 25 pads, I had it pretty dialed on a rope already, but then finally, trying it from the ground became intimidating. I was in cruise control the whole way, stuck the dyno and then mantled. Stepping on top of it was a little anticlimactic, but it was a great feeling walking down the back.
“Having those people there was amazing. The whole Victoria crew was there, there was a huge Squamish crew, it was really great to have that support.”
Sklenica reflected that it was ultimately one of his best seasons of climbing ever. Today, he is working full time in preparation for next year’s season. He said, “I’m going back to Squamish next season with the single goal of trying Dreamcatcher. That’s kind of top of the life list.”
As one to have exited his last lockdown with the strongest bouldering season of his life, it’s perhaps reasonable to assume that his results, in terms of general progression, are equally replicable.
Stay psyched this winter and train hard, rock season is just around the corner.