My First Climbing Days by François Côté

My First Climbing Days

by François Côté

I had been climbing in our local bouldering gym for about 6 months when I first met Eric Fox. We climbed a few boulder problems together, chatted a bit and then he proceeded to ask me if I had ever climbed outdoors. “I’d love to try it,” I said, “but I don’t have any gear, any knowledge… I wouldn’t know where to start.” He told me that if I had shoes, a chalk bag, and could give him a drive to the crags, he would take care of the rest. Just like that, a complete stranger. Seeing this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I was all for it. Summer had already drawn to an end and the leaves were starting to turn. I knew we didn’t have much time before the snow would start blowing and winter would be upon us.

About a week later, I picked him up at his place and we set out for the crag. It had rained all night and was looking pretty foggy but Eric was optimistic and turning back didn’t seem like an option. He took us to Cochrane Lane cliffs, the biggest and arguably best crag in NB, which hosts about 400 routes, mostly trad. We parked by the farmer’s field and he pointed towards the cliffs. All I could see was fog. We hiked in and he kept pointing out landmarks and talking about how beautiful the area was. I believed him, though I wished I could have seen for myself. Even in the woods, the fog was so thick it was hard to see very far. I didn’t see any rock until I was standing directly below an imposing 30m vertical face littered with cracks. We had just arrived at Minkey wall.  Looking up, I could barely make out the top of the cliff as it was lost in the fog, and having never seen a cliff so big, I began feeling a bit nervous.

Eric led a dirty, scrambly 5.4 gully (which I followed) in order to set up a toprope on a classic 5.9. He set up an anchor and taught me how to rappel. He made me practice setting up my ATC to make sure I knew what I was doing, then rappelled first, saying he would give me a fireman’s belay from the bottom. I saw him go over the edge, seeming as comfortable as though he was taking a walk in the park. I peeked over the edge and soon saw him disappear in the fog. I couldn’t see the ground. He yelled “off rappel” and I knew this was my cue to set up my ATC and rappel into the white abyss below. I was nervous, having never rappelled before, but with his encouraging words, everything went smoothly and I soon found myself standing at the bottom of the cliff next to him.

Now it was time to climb. The rock was soaked. I don’t even think there was a dry inch of rock in all of Cochrane Lane. I dipped my hands in my chalk bag but as soon as I touched the rock, the chalk was soaked up and would run down the wall in white streaks. I gave up on chalk and fought my way up the hand and finger crack, falling a few times. I was soaked and my hands were freezing. I don’t remember if we climbed much else before heading home. I didn’t get to see any scenery and the climbing was cold and uncomfortable. It overall didn’t seem like an overly enjoyable experience.

A few weeks later, Eric asked me again if I wanted to join him at Cochrane Lane. Maybe I had already forgotten how miserable my first experience was, or maybe I just wanted to give it another shot, but for whatever reason, I said yes. This time, the weather was on our side.  The fall colours, famous on the East Coast of Canada, were in their prime and only magnified by the clear blue sky. We went to a sector called Gollum’s cave where we had a great time climbing on the sun-soaked granite. We climbed to the top of the formation, which is capped by what is commonly known as the roadrunner block; a large chunk of granite that looks precariously perched atop a pyramid of rock but so far has proved to be solid. I remember sitting on top of this block with the Welsford valley spread out before me in its full glory. The red, orange, and yellow leaves mixed in with the evergreens, the blue sky streaked with the few wispy clouds, and the beautiful clean granite walls around me, loaded with fun climbs of all difficulties. In that moment I knew I was hooked for life.

I’ve heard people say the best climber is the one having the most fun. If this is true, Eric Fox must be one of the top climbers in the world. He was never the strongest climber, never the one sending the hardest routes, but he didn’t seem to aspire to that anyways. He just loved being outdoors, going on adventures, and especially bringing new people along to introduce to the world of rock climbing, which he is so passionate about. After my second outing, winter hit and I had to wait until the following spring to get out again while my memories haunted me all winter. Come springtime I had bought some gear and was eager to take my then-girlfriend, now-wife out to the cliffs. To this day I can still credit Eric for almost everything I know about climbing: building anchors, trad climbing, multi-pitch, etc. Sadly I haven’t climbed with him in a few years since he moved out west but I am sure we will share a rope again in the future, hopefully the near future.

François Côté

{ Francois’ passion for outdoor climbing continues to thrive 7 years later. He now works as a part-time nurse in order to climb as much as possible with his wife, Emily. Last season, he sent over 30 5.12’s, and his hardest send to date is 5.13a.}