Back in Canada for the winter with nowhere to sport climb or boulder in sight, Petzl athlete Kevin Wilkinson decided on a whim to try his hand at mixed climbing when some friends invited him to go along.
“They were all making fun of me because I had all the wrong equipment. I was wearing heavy plastic boots, thin sport climbing pants, and the wrong gloves—plus, I packed gummy bears and cookies for lunch,” he comments, recalling his first day out.
The jesting came to an abrupt halt when Wilkinson proceeded to flash two M9+s—one on top rope, and then one on lead. Intrigued, Wilkinson decided to continue mixed climbing—at least for a little while.
The next weekend, he tagged along with Gordon McArthur, one of Canada’s top mixed climbers, as McArthur went to the Cinaplex in Alberta. This time, he borrowed the right equipment from McArthur, including shirts, pants, jackets, gloves, tools, and boots. This made for a definite improvement…even if the boots were two-and-a-half sizes too big.
First stop on this trip—Wilkinson’s second day of mixed climbing—was the Knuckle Basher Winter Climbing Festival's mixed climbing competition, in which Wilkinson finished second in the open category. The next day, McArthur and Wilkinson headed out to try Musashi (M12), one of the hardest mixed climbs in the world, a test piece of the discipline established by the one and only Will Gadd.
“The route is sustained enough that you can’t just do one-arm pull-ups all the way. I had to learn what a figure 9 is, and when to use them with figure 4’s. I always thought figure 4’s were something only the French used,” muses Wilkinson about his first day on the route, during which he realized he was doing it all wrong after observing another climber on the route. “Other than that, mixed climbing is similar to rock climbing, only instead of requiring a lot of finger power, it uses more pulling power….plus there’s a lot of sharp pointy things sticking out everywhere that you have to try not to stab yourself with.”
After a few attempts on the climb that day, Wilkinson headed home to Kimberley, BC to train in McArthur’s backyard bouldering/mixed climbing gym in preparation for the next days of effort on the route.
Wilkinson and McArthur returned a little less than a week later to try Musashi again. Confident that he could now send the route, Wilkinson set off on his way—only to fling an ice axe out of his hand on his first attempt, within two moves of finishing the route. “I just hung out there on one tool, contemplating whether or not there was a way I could keep going,” he laughs. “There definitely wasn’t!”
Supremely confident now, after a good rest, he started up the route again, breezing assertively through the bottom half off the route only to slip out of the resting hold (the biggest hold on the route!) unexpectedly.
On Wilkinson’s final attempt of the day, he managed to tangle his glove in one of the quickdraws low on the route. Mistakenly thinking that he could just flip his hand like a sport climber would to disengage it, he instead tore the finger off of the glove and threaded it through the biner. After messing around unclipping, untangling, retangling, untangling again, and finally reclipping for what felt like umpteen minutes before continuing up the route…needless to say that go didn’t happen for him, either.
“Man, it seems like a lot of s@&# needs to go right on the day in order to send in this sport,” Wilkinson reflected to McArthur as he headed home in defeat.
Next time out at the Cinaplex, Wilkinson sent Musashi on his first attempt.
“The route went fine all the way out the 60-foot horizontal roof, and even onto the free hanging dagger of ice—the scariest thing ever,” he says of his send. “But one thing I should have done was learn how to place an ice screw first…I couldn’t get the d#$* thing started for like five minutes!”
The following day, Wilkinson fell a scant few moves from sending Rocky Horror Picture Show, another M12, on his second attempt on the route…but his interest was already waning with the growing amount of spring sunshine and ever-longer days.
“Time to hang up the tools now, or at least give them back to Gord. It’s rock climbing season,” he comments, looking back fondly on his four-day long mixed climbing career.
When asked if he’s going to continue as a mixed climber next winter, Wilkinson replied: “Only if I have the pleasure of weathering another freezing cold Canadian winter! Then maybe I’ll go back and do the Game (M13)….that is if Gord will again lend me all his gear?”