Recently I talked about our summer fun in Squamish, and hinted at a Highball Day video. Well, here it is, as promised!
Some San Franciscans came up to Squamish in early August. We’ve seen many of these fine folks in various places on our roadtrip, and it’s always a pleasure to climb with our former gym buddies/weekend trip companions. Anyway, there’s this thing that happens when you run into someone in the parking lot at the Squamish campground:
“[pleasantries, weather conditions, level of psyche]”
“What are you psyched on?”
“[Boulder problem], [boulder problem], or maybe [boulder problem] if [skin/temps/pads] is/are [healed/prime/sufficient]”
“Oh cool! [Boulder problem] is [sick/scary/too hard for me/hard for the grade]. I’d be down to [spot you/try that with you/carry pads/climb with some other folks]”
“Word, well we’re in [camping location]. Stop by [a time in the future]!”
In this case, when encountering these various Californians, the conversation usually included at least one of the classic highballs. We started jokingly throwing around the idea of a “highball day,” and in joking about it, more and more people would perk up and express interest, or offer to bring pads.
Suddenly, we had an all-out event on our hands. People would stop me in the parking lot and ask when Highball Day was going to be…Highball Day had almost taken on a life of its own. On August 12, a huge gang of boulderers headed down the trail to start what would be one of the best days of bouldering I’ve ever witnessed.
The day was overcast and cool, not too bad for mid-August. We began at No Excuse for Porn Hair, the perfect starter problem. The opening moves are around V3, with only one move that could be considered hard and scary, the toss for the lip. Most of us had done it before, and therefore used it as a warmup. The landing zone is flat, and we were able to make good use of the 20-something crash pads that we had. I think we had a footprint that must’ve been 3 pads X 3 pads, and 3 pads deep. It may have been better than a gym floor, since there were actually attentive spotters!
We had to schedule one hour per problem, including moving between boulders and pad setup, or else such a huge group would never be able to move itself. Mark Heal was one of the main organizers, and with the help of Jen Szeto the attentive timekeeper, was able to keep the whole group more or less on track. It’s a funny thing, because of course you want everyone to have a chance to climb each problem, but at the same time we wanted to make sure that everyone got a chance to try all the problems on the list.
After Porn Hair, we went to Funeral Arrangements, then Dynamite, Teenage Lobotomy, Be On Four, Black Slabbath, and Ride the Lightning. There was a moment of panic at the second problem when we got about ten minutes of rain, but thankfully that cleared (though it did make for a few epic sends). The path from problem to problem was pretty direct, starting at one end of the main bouldering area and ending at the other. The grades progressed perfectly: V5, V6, V6, V6, V7, V7, and V8. With out huge crew, we were able to flatten the landings on every problem and make them all about as safe as they will ever be. I would wager that most of those problems saw more attempts that day than the rest of the summer put together.
I know that some of you reading this will bristle. A bouldering session with a schedule? A huge gangbang at every problem? Tens of thousands of dollars worth of foam underneath problems, dumbing them down to virtual top-ropes? Sure, that’s one way to look at it…and yes, it totally sucks to fall off a problem, knowing you won’t get another try for several minutes while everyone else takes their turn.
But the flip side is that when you try hard, succeed or fail, you are encouraged, cheered for, and spotted by a big crowd. Even though we all gave up some of our autonomy to the “Highball Crew,” every person there that day got a moment in the limelight, a chance to put on a show, a turn being the center of attention. When a problem was sent, it didn’t matter if it was easy for them or hard, graceful or thrutchy; everyone applauded. I know that it felt pretty special for me, and I believe others felt the same.
The whole group functioned incredibly well. We had designated media folk (myself and a few others), a rotating crew of spotters (a shout-out to Joel, who is one of the best spotters I’ve ever seen), people to set up the giant pad piles, and of course, people to climb the boulders. We even picked up many other climbers along the way, as our group grew big enough to have its own gravitational pull. The beautiful part is that it was all organic. I don’t think anyone felt like they were sacrificing their good time for the masses. People just stepped up to keep the whole train running smoothly.
A Little Bit of “Behind the Lens”
For my own part, I spent most of the day behind a camera. I would set up at one of the better angles to get the overall shot of the climb, film several attempts, and then try to relocate to get other angles as the area permitted. Máté Mackenzie was also filming for most of the day, and a few others had cameras and/or iPhones going. You can see Máté’s Squamish videos on his YouTube channel, including a nice edit of Highball Day.
I only had two batteries and therefore couldn’t film every moment. A major challenge for me was that each climb would see 50-100 attempts, and I had to guess at which ones would be worth filming. I tried to make sure that everyone present was represented at each problem, skewing a bit toward the “main crew.” Nonetheless, I ran out of battery power at Be On Four, and only filmed two of the several ascents on that problem. Then, with fresh batteries borrowed from Ian Cotter-Brown (and thanks to Vikki for helping me track down the elusive ICB), I was again able to film most of the action at Black Slabbath. Sadly, by the time we got to Ride the Lightning, the sun had gone down and the light was too dim to film much.
I’m also a little bummed that there weren’t more females represented in the video. There are a few reasons for this, one being that this was, as you can see, mostly a Y-chromosome affair. Also, I’m not sure if any women topped out any of the climbs that day, but I wasn’t able to get any of them on camera. Still, it should be mentioned that Kim and Courtney gave Black Slabbath the same hell as anyone else. That beast is a tough number.
Making the transition from behind the camera to in front of the crowd was also an interesting challenge. Anyone who’s tried to do both will tell you that focusing on climbing and focusing on filming or photography are usually mutually exclusive. I certainly feel as though I do a poor job of both if I try to do them on the same day, but this day was different. Maybe the psyche was high enough? In any case, I actually found it quite helpful to be filming, as I was able to see pretty much every possible sequence that people were trying, and choose which one would likely work for my body. After I was sure that I had enough footage of that problem, I would scramble down and throw my shoes on. Maybe it was the group psyche, or maybe the pressure of knowing I’d have few attempts, but something got me clear and focused enough to do each of the first five problems on my first try. Then I’d go back to filming.
Anyway, I spent quite a bit of time on the edit. I wanted it to be short and punchy enough to stay exciting, yet I wanted to present as many sends as possible. Each problem got its own editing style. Máté was kind enough to share some of his footage, and having the second angle helped immensely. I sent to Eric, Josh and Mark for some interviews as well, and that went a long way in helping tell the story of the day. This was a very special, standout day for our summer, and I hope that the video does it some measure of justice.