Okay, maybe not more important than boobs, but it is the real deal. And this is a story about two people who not only post here on Supertopo, but who also use their climbing skills to save the world!
Those of you who’ve come to know Ghost and Tami through this forum probably don’t see much more than a couple of old folks who used to climb. Some of you may have done a few of our routes, and maybe you remember the cartoons and the novels. But mostly, if you think of us at all, it’s as oldsters to be humored. Mostly harmless, and good for a laugh now and then, but not all that exciting or important in the grand scheme of climbing. You probably have a mental image of us as something like this:
And that’s fair enough. You have your climbing heroes. Supertopo gives you the opportunity to genuflect in front of your monitor when it displays stories of climbing gods like Largo with his muscles, and Mark being as free as he could be, and others whose photographs appeared on magazine covers a long time ago. But before you write Tami and I off as underachievers, as people who wasted their immense potential by getting wasted, people who did mediocre climbs and wrote silly stories, consider that those modest achievements you know us for were products of the limited time available to us in our public lives. You have to understand that the bulk of our time and energy was spent saving the world in our secret roles as superheroes.
Yes, it’s true. In the pantheon of Superheroes, we stand tall.
Well, actually we’re both kind of short, but to say “In the pantheon of Superheroes we stand short” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it? In Canada, there are even statues of us in the Parliament Building in Ottawa.
Don’t believe me? Think about it this way: How many 5.12s would JB have soloed if he'd had to spend eighteen hours a day fighting the forces of evil? Yeah, that’s right, exactly as many as we did. He’d have been lucky to get up 5.11 on a toprope. And as for the oh-so-intriguing dark side of the Superhero… F*#k that. You all watch movies about Batman or Wolverine and think “Ooohhhhh! He’s so angst-ridden!” Give me a break. Those are movie stars. The stories those guys act in are fiction, and the only angst afflicting them is whether they make twenty-three million per picture or just twenty-two. We, on the other hand, actually suffered. Here’s just one story…
You could say it really started in 1759 on the Plains of Abraham, just outside what is now Quebec City. But for us it started when the phone rang in the climbing store I was pretending to work in back in 1980. Some guy in Toronto wanted to know if anybody working there knew anything about climbing. I thought about hanging up. I mean, what kind of sane person in Toronto would call a climbing store in Vancouver and ask if someone there knew anything about climbing? But the alternative was to stock shelves or deal with customers, so I said I was the guy, and how could I help.
What followed was a bunch of bullshit about shooting a film, and needing to know if there were any mountains in BC that would make a stunning backdrop for a commercial, and… Mostly I tuned it out. BC is covered with mountains the way a rat is covered in fur – what kind of idiot was I talking to that didn’t know that? But then, in the middle of all the drivel I heard the words, “Canadians must understand the need to keep their country from fragmenting.”
Well, why hadn’t he said so at the start? Superheroes need meaningful projects every bit as much as Alex Honnold does. And what could be more meaningful than saving my country from disintegration at the hands of French separatists?
It appeared that I was being offered a chance to conquer the French Menace and get in some climbing all on the same day. And to top it off, there was money to be had. In all those movies and comics about superheroes, the subject of money somehow never comes up, does it? But in the real world, superheroes make dirtbag climbers look successful and wealthy.
Since this was beginning to sound good, I called my friend Tami, who, like me, was pretending to be a dirtbag climber while in fact living a secret life as a superhero. For those of you who don’t know her, I should point out that she was often not operating entirely on natural neurotransmitters, and therefore talking to her about specifics could be difficult. I, however, knew her well, and knew exactly how to catch her interest. “Hey Tami, you wanna make a bunch of money?”
Altruism is a worthy goal. Both of us aspired to it. In the next life perhaps we will even achieve it. But in this life we still had to deal with the reality of putting food on our plates and keeping the sleeping bags patched. Gold spoke to us in a loud voice.
And so, with gold-clouded vision, we became the stars in a movie that was pivotal in saving our country. It wasn’t a long movie. Just 30 seconds. But it was shown over and over on every TV station in Canada, and since most of the country still speaks English, it must have been the key to saving the country. Right?
Tami wrote up some of what happened in her diary, and posted it here on Supertopo a while back. It’s a fun read, and some of it is even true. As for the parts that aren’t true, well, they’re all fine with me. Superheroes are kind of like priests, you know. Okay, superheroes mostly aren’t interested in molesting children, but they do see and hear a lot of things that have to remain confidential, so Tami’s tale of what happened is as good as any – If I had written it, it would be different, but it wouldn’t be any closer to the truth.
Words, though, only go so far. Anybody can write anything. But pictures… Ah, pictures provide some evidence that words speak truth. Well, okay, pictures did provide evidence once upon a time. Like when dinosaurs walked the earth with Sarah Palin’s grandfather six thousand years ago. Now, however, in the age of digital everything, pictures are meaningless.
Or maybe not. You decide…
First things first, right? You want to know about the cast. Who starred in this epic adventure? Let’s start with Tami. To the world, she was just one more lame little hippie climbing chick.
As for me, well, to the world at large I was just another piece of human garbage, rotting in the back alleys of Needle City.
But as her companion on countless death-defying adventures over the centuries, I knew Tami as something else entirely.
And, like Tami, when the call came from a troubled world, I answered.
In a sane world, the story would end here. Tami and I heard the call, and would answer it. Separatism would get kicked into the next dimension, and the good folks in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan could get their morning coffee and donuts at the local Tim Horton’s and never know they’d come within a whisker of losing their empty lifestyles. But this is not a sane world. This was to be a movie. And to make a true Superhero Movie, you need sidekicks, right?
All Superheroes have sidekicks. Batman and Catwoman have Robin and… Who does Catwoman have? The Green Hornet had Kato. Dick Cheney had that talking chimp. So, we dangled dollar bills in front of some of the dirtbags we pretended to be friends with back then, and sure enough, a bunch of them showed up for a casting call. There was food, an open bar tab, and the director’s wife to fantasize about. In the end, although many were called, only three were chosen.
But, dirtbags or not, they were a manly bunch. There was Peter. The World’s Greatest Rock Climber. A fitting choice for a parable based on rock climbing.
And John, a fine climber and all-round great guy. But a great guy who didn’t understand what usually happens to Sidekick #2 in Superhero movies.
And Ryan, a climber who, although unknown to the world at large, operated at a level achieved only by one other – the legendary Tronc Feillu. If you have to ask about Tronc Feillu, you wouldn’t understand the answer, so don’t ask.
(And before you ask why Tami got all these Manly Men to play with, while I didn’t get nothin’, just remember that director’s wife…)
So. With heroes ready to rumble, and sidekicks on standby, the show was about to get on the road. At which point Superhero #1 said: “Uh, hang on a minute.”
You see, while normally any gig with Tami was cool – who better to watch my back while I watched her back (well, more often her front) – she was going to be fully occupied. Preening for the camera, right? And trying to avoid stepping in the puddles of drool from the men on the film crew.
Time for something beyond a sidekick. Time for someone who could deal with the copious quantities of herb that were sure to be involved (this was Canada, remember), yet able keep it together enough to make sure I was still around to walk into the sunset with Tami after saving the country. That is, someone who could set a trustworthy belay no matter how f*#ked up he got. So I sat the director down and said “Hire this man, or the show’s over.”
You can’t make a Superhero movie without Superheroes, and if the Superhero says “Hire Peder, or else,” then you swallow your objections and hire Peder. From your perspective it’s only money. And someone else’s money, at that.
With Peder in, the show could finally hit the road. Of course, the road ended after a couple of hours and then it was time to hit the trail. But nobody worth his entry in "Who’s Nobody" hits the trail without the right tunes. So we took a time-out to debate exactly what constituted the “right tunes.”
With tunes chosen, we were ready to hit the trail for real. But we knew that our sidekicks, stalwart mountaineers though they were, would never make it to the summit for the filming without some inspiration. As we debated what might inspire our crew of manly men, Tami realized her shoe had come untied.
Thus inspired, the crew was ready to go, and we headed into the wilderness. It was tough going. But we were tough climbers, and we simply put the pain out of our minds and got on with it. After pushing our bodies to the limit for almost five minutes, some in the crew were starting to fade, so we gave them a break.
The break dragged on a bit as the crew prepared for the filming by practicing manly poses.
Of course Tami and I were above this worldliness. We didn’t really need a break, nor any artificial aids. Tami satisfied herself with a simple drink of clear water from a mountain stream, while I satisfied myself with the view of Tami satisfying herself.
Thus refreshed, we continued upward. Some seeking the summit, some seeking wealth and fame, some seeking only to serve the common good, and some simply content with the view of their favorite superhero partner’s butt.
Up and up we toiled
And yet further
Till, at day’s end we reached the summit
Knowing that there would be a hard day of celluloid fame ahead, we settled in for the evening. Some, not worried about anything more serious than what they would spend their ridiculous paychecks on, chose to smoke vast quantities of dope and listen to Pink Floyd on the boom box. One, however, knowing that he’d actually have to earn his paycheck by taking repeated falls for the camera, chose to simply watch the sun go down for what he hoped was not the last time.
Morning found the team alert and ready to save their country.
Now, given that it is going to take some time for the team to get its collective sh#t together enough to boil water for coffee, this may be a good point to take a break and go over just what the whole deal was really about. As noted at the very beginning, this all happened back in the dark ages, when evil people from Quebec were attempting to… Well, whatever it was they were attempting to do, it was evil. And would surely have prevented ordinary Canadians from ever having coffee and donuts at Tim Horton’s ever again. So the country’s leaders decided that the only answer was to blow trumpets from the heights and stir the blood of those ordinary Canadians and make them hate the French.
But how to stir the blood of these people? Speeches from the steps of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa? Leaflet campaigns in Safeway parking lots? Sunday sermons? Clearly, none of that would work with the coffee-swilling hordes, and the only answer was to have Tim Horton himself speak out. But, given that he’d died six years earlier, that was going to be tough. So, with no rational plan available, the decision was made to make a series of short films that could be aired as “TV commercials.” The logic was that the average Canadian, watching TV in the evening after downing the usual six or eight beers, would not notice that these were not advertisements for automobiles or laundry detergent, and that the message would pass subliminally into his/her subconscious, to resurface months later at the ballot box.
So, a hotshot crew of writers and directors was hired, and a half dozen 30-second films were planned around the theme of “One person can’t do it alone, but working together we’ll get the job done.”
Despite my Superhero-level intellect, it was never clear to me how this was going to convince anyone to vote for “the repatriation of the constitution.” Or, for that matter, how repatriating the constitution would save the country from the Quebec menace. But “understanding” isn’t really part of the superhero job description. Your country calls, you answer. No understanding needed. Particularly when large amounts of cash are involved.
Okay, background story over. We were awake, and there was a film to be made. Studly mountain climber pulls for the summit, but, in his hubris, forgets that he can’t do it alone, and falls into the void. Since he’s Canadian, his team comes to the rescue and together they all stand victorious on the summit – speaking English. Yeah, I know, it’s a crock of sh#t, but wtf, the money would make the next season’s dirtbagging a whole lot easier. So we all swallowed our nausea and gathered round to set up the falling-from-the-last-move shot
The guy on the right is Mike. A cameraman. According to the folks we were working for, he was not just a cameraman, but Jesus, Thor, and Buddha rolled up into one body and reincarnated as a cameraman. Which we didn’t doubt, but even if you’re the greatest cameraman in the history of film, it’s hard to step out of a helicopter onto a tiny summit and do your Oscar-worthy thing if you’re totally f*#king terrified of heights. Especially when you realize that what you’re being asked to do is to place you lens squarely into the superhero’s chest then tumble over the edge with him. We all figured it would look really cool to have the falling climber appear into the frame that way. Mike figured he was doomed. But, doomed or not, the guy was a pro. We lashed him down on a three-foot leash, told him that it was totally safe for him to let go of his sanity, and the man just buckled down and over-rode his fear. Stone professional.
Action time. John raps down to set pro in a crack about fifteen feet below the edge, then on down to set a belay a ways below that.
Then Superhero #1 fakes a slip on the last move and hurtles into the void
And it was a total f*#king void. The drop was about 3,500 feet. 1,000 vertical, then another 2,500 of slightly less-than-vertical to where the angle eased and the forest started. Not much different than popping off the top of El Cap. Absolutely stunning place to stage the world’s most spectacular fall. Which we did. Several times. It was just a thirty-footer, but like I said, it was a thirty-footer into over 3,000 feet of air. Exhilarating. To say the least.
At this point, with the team together on top, a helicopter with the door removed and a camera platform installed was supposed to show up to film the summit celebration. But nothing happened. We sat around on the summit telling terrified Mike that if he’d just get wasted he’d feel fine, but after a while we all started to wonder if maybe the French hadn’t advanced their takeover timetable and somehow taken over the helicopter as well as the country. About an hour later we heard the Whup-whup-whup, and then a voice on the radio saying “There you are! We’ve been looking on the wrong f*#king mountain.”
So, with Mike now in the helo to shoot from above, we threw our arms around each others’ shoulders, and waited for the filming to start, but what we got instead was a voice on the radio again: “For Christ’s sake, get the f*#k out of view.” Presumably a reference to the support crew of Peter and Peder, who were lounging around on top with us. “And kill that f*#king joint.”
Apparently they thought the smoke would interfere with the purity of the shot. Or something.
A couple more circles, and the call came to roll camera. Then the radio again: “Jesus Christ! You people look like you’re having a stand-up f*#k. Let’s get some separation here.”
So we gave the camera a bit of separation, the helicopter circled a couple more times, and we finally heard: “Great. We got it.” So Peter, and Peder came out of hiding, the chopper headed off to wherever, and us action-hero types scrambled down to where we’d left our packs and prepared to start the 6,000 foot descent to the car. But we’d only dropped down a few hundred feet when we heard the whup-whup-whup again.
WTF? Do they want to re-shoot something?
No, they’re coming right down to where we are. I mean right down.
No one aboard but the pilot, who points at his mic and then at us until we realize he wants us to turn on our radio. “Which one is David Harris?” We look at one another, then five people point at me. “They want you to look at the rushes.” Now the pilot is pointing at me, then at the skid which is touching a rock on the 45-degree slope.
So, okay, I’m a superhero. I’ve rescued terrified people from rabid badgers, helped old ladies to cross the street, and generally been saving the universe since the dawn of time. But I know f*#k-all about film. Getting me down to Vancouver at helicopter speed to view the rushes is not going to make one damn bit of difference to this film. I am thinking about pointing this out when I also start thinking that wherever these people are likely to hold their “viewing the rushes” ceremony, there will be a bar. And serious catering. And the director’s wife will probably be there. Oddly enough, this seems more attractive than hiking five hours down to the car.
So I step on the skid, grab doorframe, and pull myself into the helo. Before I have time to say “Hey, there’s no seat back here.” Or “Hey, there’s no seatbelt back here.” Or “Hey, there’s no door back here.” My five mates are hurling their packs through the door and saying “Hey, take care of this sh#t for us.”
And then the pilot lifts off and immediately banks his machine hard to port so that the door hole is directly below me and 3,000 feet of space are directly below that. I spreadeagle myself across the empty door hole with all the packs on top of me, hoping that I will live long enough to strangle the f*#king pilot who forgot about the fact that with no seat, no seatbelt, and no door, his passenger was pretty much going to fall out of his helicopter when he banked it so steeply. Thank god I’m a superhero.
After a quick stop down at the highway to pick up the director and cameraman, we’re whup-whup-whupping back to the coast, and then to the hotel bar where we drink and wait for the film to be rushed through development and brought to us for viewing. It looks pretty cool to me, but the director is cursing. Seriously cursing. Because my fall into 3,500 feet of space doesn’t look rad enough. Doesn’t look rad at all. “Looks like you’re falling three feet into a f*#king sandbox!” More drinking. “We’ve got to re-do this.” More drinking. “I sure as hell hope this place you’ve got picked out for tomorrow is going to work out. We need a location where you can do some more falling with a cameraman directly beneath you. We can cut that into the shitty stuff we’ve already got and maybe it’ll work. Can you take us somewhere we can do that?”
More drinking. I had no idea what he was talking about, and no idea what we would do about it. but Squamish was just 45 minutes up the road, and whatever falling he wanted done, I was pretty sure there was some place at Squamish we could arrange it.
And arrange it we did. Picture this: One superhero babe supervising four young climbers on a ledge with a tight rope running diagonally up from them. Tami is the one in front — the one who is laughing so hard at something that has just happened to the guy at the other end of the rope that she looks like she might lose control completely and either pee her pants, or tumble off the ledge. What was she laughing at?
They’d set up a bombproof belay, plus triply redundant protection at the high point, and then let out a measured thirty feet of slack so that when I faked my fall I’d plummet spectacularly toward the camera — far enough to make it look good in the film, but not really all that far.
But as the milliseconds of the fall stretched out longer and longer, and the rock kept flying upward past me I realized that the belay had failed.
Then TWANG, and I was hanging about one foot above the terrified cameraman, looking across at my superhero companion on the ledge, and knowing from her crazed laughter that it had been her idea to give me the extra twenty feet of slack.
The director thought it was sort of okay, but demanded that we do it again. So I jugged up, and plummeted one more time. I think we’d still be up there, shooting take after take, but the cameraman (not Mike this time) kind of didn’t like the idea of me plummeting fifty feet and coming to a stop so close above his nose that he had to put on fresh underwear after every shot.
So that’s it, right? Climbing shots in the bag. Falling shots in the bag. Time for the hotshot director to hand out a few checks, and then jet back to Toronto to turn our little adventure into celluloid gold. But no. In his mind, the image of me falling into the void still sucked. He might have footage of me plummeting toward the camera, but he wanted a better shot of me falling away from the camera. And if a real mountain top with a real 3,500 foot void wasn’t good enough, then By God a parking lot a few miles south of Squamish would be perfect.
He and his crew scoped it out.
Everything was perfect in his mind. The climber would stand on the dolly, which would get pulled along the tracks away from the camera, and…
…and this would somehow look like a plunge into a 3,500 foot void?
No problem, sez he. “The green trees and gray cliffs across the road will be out of focus, and will look totally void-like.” Yeah, but what about the foreground? What about the mountaintop the hero is supposed to be pulling onto when he slips? “Forget it. We’ll make some rocks and it’ll be perfect.”
Make some rocks? But sure enough, the next morning there were rocks. Nothing you’d mistake for Baffin Island or Patagonia, but sort of the same color as Squamish granite.
And the whole “How do you fall horizontally, in a parking lot?” question was soon answered. “We’ll just tie the dolly handle to your ass and then haul you backwards.”
Which they did. Again, and again, and again. With a bit of artfully arranged sand blowing out from under my fingers as I “fell” from the styrofoam summit.
But of course even this wasn’t enough, and as the afternoon wore into evening, and the mountains to the east drained from view, I was driven to where they’d set up a trampoline in front of the setting sun. “Get up on that thing and bounce. Your hair will fly around, and so will all that junk you’ve got dangling off you. It’ll look great.”
And I’m sure it did look great, but on about the fourth or fifth bounce the #4 Friend that was flying up and down with me changed course and flew straight into my crotch and, for me, the party abruptly ended. Everyone else thought it was hilarious. I just curled up into a fetal ball and moaned.
But that’s life for a superhero. If you’re not prepared to take it in the balls for your country, you might as well just go get a college degree and become an accountant or a lawyer.
Me and Tami? We could take it.