Barry Blanchard’s mountaineering resume is as impressive as they come. It features a number of first ascents throughout the Canadian Rockies and beyond, and successful (and unsuccessful missions) around the world.
His adventures include the first ascent of the north pillar of North Twin Peak, a 1,200 vertical metre face that abuts the Columbia Icefield, in 1985. His most dramatic was an alpine-style ascent of the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat in 1998; Rupal, at 4,600 vertical metres, is the highest mountain face in the world. His team was a few hundred metres from the summit when they were hit by several avalanches, lost their ropes, but amazingly survived and were able to downclimb back to camp.
“It’s all in the book. It’s quite a harrowing story,” Blanchard told me over the phone last week.
The book is The Calling: A Life Rocked by the Mountains, which was released earlier this month by Patagonia. It chronicles his early life growing up poor, to his first climbs in the Rockies, his baptism in the mountains in Chamonix, France, and culminates with the failed attempt on Nanga Parbat. He will be giving a talk about his book at the Revelstoke Performing Arts Centre this Friday, Oct. 17, at 7:30 p.m., as part of the Mountain Musings series.
Blanchard specializes in alpine-style mountaineering — that is climbing mountains without setting up any camps along the way. You go from the bottom to the top without fixed ropes or porters or set camps along the way.
“What I do is I try to climb these large glaciated peaks by their steepest aspects or their steepest flanks, so technical mountaineering alpinism,” he said.
He started climbing in the Rocky Mountains, but it was the trip to Chamonix in 1980 that really turned him onto the sport. “We stayed there for five months and when we came back I knew what I wanted to do with my life,” he said.
Blanchard became a guide in 1981 and has been doing that ever since, between his big alpine missions. He is the senior guide with Yamnuska Mountain Adventures in Canmore.
The Rockies have always been, and continue to be his playground. “The Rockies have defined me, they created the person that I am and provided me with a calling and a path and a career,” he said. “They’re the crucible.”
What is Mountain Musings?
Mountain Musings is a series of talks conceived by Alistair Taylor and Alan Dennis over coffee. Dennis is the former manager of the Canadian Avalanche Association and Taylor used to guide people in the Arctic and Antarctica.
They thought it would be a good idea to bring in prominent mountaineers to speak about their adventures.
The first edition is this Friday, Oct. 17, when Barry Blanchard will give a talk about his memoir The Calling: A Life Rocked by the Mountains. Taylor will speak about his Antarctic adventures; he said he is working on a book of his own tentatively titled Barefoot to the Pole.
The series will continue in November, with two days of speakers including local ski mountaineer Greg Hill; photographer and climber Pat Morrow; Cathy English, and more.
Taylor hopes that if it goes well, Mountain Musings will continue as a monthly series throughout the winter.
“It would be nice to pull someone in and give some thought provoking talks that people will support,” he said. “I’m really excited that Barry Blanchard is coming. I’m really excited Pat Morrow is coming to talk. I’m hoping there will be good community support there.”
Admission for this Friday’s show is $10, with all proceeds going to the food bank.