Barry “Bubba” Blanchard is considered one of the best Canadian alpine climbers ever, he turned 60 on March 29. “I grew up in poverty hard against the railway tracks in Calgary in the 1960s, the eldest of five half-breed kids,” Blanchard wrote in a story called The Calling in Alpinist back in 2006.

“As it did for a lot of the guys I ran with, crime seemed a more viable career option for me than medicine or law. I now see that futurelessness as liberating: juvenile delinquency meant no expectations. With it came a freedom to dream. I fantasized about becoming something absolutely exotic — a mountain climber. The first hints of a vocation came through words: when I was 10 years old, riding the Greyhound by myself after a visit to my grandmother, a woman read aloud to me from The White Spider.”

Since starting to climb with the Calgary Mountain Club in the late 1970s, he’s gone on to make many bold first ascents, is a leading IFMGA mountain guide who works primarily with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures, and has worked on a number of Hollywood films.

Using his article from Alpinist as an inspiration, Blanchard went on to write The Calling, a Life Rocked by Mountains, which won the 2015 Boardman Tasker Prize for mountain literature. “I don’t know how many Boardman Tasker winners cry, but I am,” Blanchard said to the audience after receiving the prize. “Thank you so very, very much.”

This is what ice climbers used to look like. Top shot by @fotoscoolgram of Barry Blanchard sans helmet on ice. This decades-old image displays the fine outerwear that was Sunice! #banff #badass #legend #canada #climbing #fashion

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Blanchard has been writing about climbing for pretty much as long as he’s have been doing it. The following in an excerpt from 10 Years After, a story Blanchard wrote about the first ascent of The North Pillar VI 5.10d A3 on the north face of the North Twin with Dave Cheesmond in 1985: Aug. 3: Today is day five and we’re out of food as of now. Things have been going according to plan, but we have to get off soon. It’s not hard to leave our slim bivi. I’ve spent the entire night trying to wedge my left cheek into a crack, my feet suspended in a sling and a light drizzle making my bag wet. Dave admits he hasn’t slept much either, for fear of falling off.

One pitch takes us to a good ledge beside a detached pinnacle. This flake is the last feature that we could make out when studying the face with binoculars from the meadows. The big question remains – is there a way out of here? Dave disappears around a corner to the right. Slowly the rope goes out. I wait anxiously when he warns me he is about to come off, but finally the last few feet are paid out. A burst of yips, yaps and yahoos let me know he is off the headwall. As I jumar, a foray of rockfall scares me breathless. Ah, man, not now when we’re so close. I reach the belay stern faced and nervous. How was it? I ask. Not too bad, he replies, but I sense we are both relieved to be at last onto relatively easy ground.

I lead two quick pitches up shallow and loose rock, Dave follows on towards the ridge. As he hacks ice off the rock the mist makes a surrealistic scene of the surroundings. Dave’s yellow jacket seems to glow, a sundog surrounds him, and every time his axe strikes the slope a shower of ice crystals fan out into the beams of sunlight breaking through the cloud. It looks like a starburst, the sight is incredible, it’s wild. Dave is there, the apex of the ridge, the face is behind us. I scream out with joy.

Getting to the summit is an Alpine route in itself. Several pitches of fifty-degree ice and some fourth classing take us to a step in the ridge. An intimidating corner provides our passage. Abrons and friends must have first climbed this section when they did the northwest ridge twenty years ago. I feel as if I know all these people who have come this way before. Collecting drips from rocks near the summit, I have time to rest and appreciate this route and my friend with whom I shared it. The climb has been totally awesome. And Dave has climbed with genius. I’m a lucky man to have both.

Blanchard has worked on a number of Hollywood films over the years, including K2, Cliffhanger, The Edge and Vertical Limit. Just this winter, he was working on a film in Alberta with Willem Dafoe.

While his first book was about his early epic climbs, Blanchard’s follow-up book to The Calling, which is nearly complete, focuses on the past few decades. Watch Blanchard in action below.

The Calling


Ice Climbing

Blanchard’s Top Climbs

1983: The Andromeda Strain VI on Mount Andromeda with Dave Cheesmond and Tim Friesen
1984: North Ridge of Rakaposhi in Pakistan, first alpine ascent with David Cheesmond and Kevin Doyle
1984: East Face V/VI 5.8 WI5 of Mount Fay in Rockies with Dave Cheesmond and Carl Tobin
1985: North Pillar VI 5.10d A3 of North Twin with David Cheesmond
1991: North Face of Kusum Kanguru in Nepal
1991: The Blanchard/Twight V on Les Droites in Alps with Mark Twight
1999: M-16 VI on East Face of Howse Peak with Steve House and Scott Backes
1999: Pugilist at Rest VI 5.10 A3 M5 1,000m on Mount Alverstone in Saint Elias Mountains with Mark Wilford
2000: Infinite Spur on Mount Foraker, Alaska – third ascent with Carl Tobin
2002: Infinite Patience VI 5.9 M5 WI5 2,200m on Robson with Eric Dumerac and Philipe Pellet

Happy 60th birthday to Barry Blanchard!

Blanchard on the third ascent of the Infinte Spur VI 5.8 WI3 on Mount Foraker, Alaska. Blanchard was 41. Photo Carl Tobin