Saturday, September 5, 2015

Climber Profile: The Enigmatic Josh Bylsma!

Last spring, I received an unexpected email.  It began "My name is Josh Bylsma.  I am a climber from Red Deer."  Until that moment, I had never heard of Josh, but he went to write that he had read my blog, and he was curious about the potential for hard boulder problems at The Slide.

I replied to the message, encouraged him to come down for a visit, and expressed my hope that we could get together and do some climbing.  I wasn't sure if I would ever hear from Josh again, but was relatively certain that a visiting climber from Red Deer would be unlikely to crack open any of the technical and cryptic projects at The Slide.

Needless to say, I couldn't have been more wrong.  Josh absolutely tore through the Slide that summer, devouring open projects like a hot mid-winter chinook eats snow drifts.  His rampage continued well into the winter and through to the spring, and when the dust had settled Josh had essentially quadrupled the number of hard problems at The Slide.  Among the testpieces established by Josh are Shelley Was A Doctor First Extension (V11), Apollo 11 (V10), Derailed (V10), and The Shield (V10), as well as repeats of other difficult lines such as Chain Gang (V11, second ascent; first ascent after a key hold broke) and Cognitive Dissonance (V10, second ascent).  He is currently climbing in Canmore, but when the weather cools off, I'm sure he'll be back at the Slide, making progress on what will be Alberta's hardest problems.

Josh is a boulderer's boulderer; tall, strong, shabbily dressed, sporting questionable facial hair, and with a back shaped like an inverted equilateral triangle.  His height allows him to carry the stacks of pads one needs to climb solo in the Slide, and his ruthless dedication to training allows him to squeeze the smooth sloping edges of the Slide into submission.  Josh is also eternally amiable, and is always willing to share pads, provide beta, or to spot diligently without comment.  

Josh has graciously agreed to answer the grueling questions of my infamous "Top Three" Questionnaire.  Read on!

The engmatic Josh B. on his gold-streaked testpiece The Shield (V10), City of Giants Sector.

1. Full name? Joshua Alexander Bylsma

2. Where from? Pine Lake and Red Deer, Alberta.

3. Top three favorite climbing areas?
1. Frank Slide
2. Acephale
3. My basement, aka The Dungeon, aka The Temple of Doom 

4. What do you consider to be your top three important and significant climbing accomplishments?

Well, I don’t think I’ve really “accomplished” anything, but I can think of at least three significant “things” I’ve gotten out of climbing:

First, experiences like entering my first climbing competition a few weeks after I started climbing, or the day (3 seasons ago, now) that I started my current sport-climbing project.  Those were times that I really had no idea what I was getting myself into and I just jumped in with both feet, got in over my head, felt nervous and embarrassed, but ultimately got really hooked.  These experiences really galvanized and accelerated my growth in climbing.  Anytime I’ve gone against the grain of working up to something in the proper fashion or of doing something sensibly, I’ve generally been rewarded with a rude-yet-inspiring awakening.

Second, experiences like the spring of 2011, when I completed my two biggest boulder projects at the time.  They both had really condition-dependent cruxes, for me.  One day, I just decided to pack my car the night before and wake up at 3:00am, so I could get to the first project by 5:00am, when it would be just light enough to see, giving me the maximum window of opportunity to warm-up and give redpoint attempts before the sun hit the holds.  I applied this strategy every week for a month or so, ultimately sending the problem.  I used the same strategy to complete the second project.  This has become quite characteristic of my climbing ever since:  a simple willingness, turned into an embracement, and eventually turned into a relishment of going to minor extremes to get things done - including, of course, the endless (at times monotonous, at time ludicrous, at times hilarious, but always ultimately productive) hours of mad-scientist effort and experimentation in the torture chamber that is my basement.  A “Truman Show”esque broadcast from my basement would be one of the most entertaining and disturbing reality-shows I can imagine!  On a side note, because of the early morning tactic, I’ve enjoyed many moments of sitting on top of a finished boulder project, under sunrise and foggy breath, in a perfectly still, quiet world of my own.     

Third, the process of gradually narrowing down what it is I’m looking for and trying to get out of climbing - which, I think, is simply having a project of inspiring quality and difficulty.  That’s not to say this can’t change eventually, or that it’s not reinvigorating to have a change of pace or scenery once in a while.  But, for now, I have all the training resources I need, a great climbing scene and community to be part of, and I have 5.14+ and V13+ in my “backyard”.  Realizing these things has allowed me to let go of a lot of extraneous things, and just enjoy the fact that I have no excuses, I have no complaints, and I have a long ways to go before anything other than my own volition and gumption are holding me back.

4. What do you consider to be your top three most important and significant non-climbing accomplishments?

Okay, now it’s just getting sad and embarrassing to look back and realize how utterly unaccomplished I am.  Mostly I just feel really lucky about the hand I was dealt in life:  I had a great family, great friends, a great upbringing, and wide-open opportunities.  I guess a person just keeps working towards being somebody those things weren’t wasted on.  Three things I feel good about, though, are:

1. I get to go put in an honest day’s work at a job that’s challenging, interesting, and feels worth doing (although it is a job that you always feel hopelessly incompetent at!).  2. I have things in my life that I’m passionate about and feel energized about.
3. I think I’ve been able to help out and make a positive impact on a few people, here and there.

5. Top three favorite routes?

I’m not exactly a route connoisseur . . . if anything, I’ve tended to go for the more neglected, or obscure routes.  And, I prefer routes that are short, steep, straightforward, power-endurance climbing (with maybe a nasty crux thrown in somewhere).  So, a lot of my favorite routes (especially my current/all-time favorite) are not necessarily routes I’d recommend.  Three routes that immediately come to mind, though, and I would recommend are:

1. Pandora (.13b) at Acephale (Lower Wall).  It’s a pain to get to the good climbing, but . . . come on! Punchy, flowing, STEEP climbing, culminating in an all-points off, double-clutch dyno at thirty meters. You’ll never forget it!  
 2. Cup O’ Joe (.13b) at Carrot Creek (Raven’s Nest Buttress) has a super cool crux sequence through a roof.  If I recall correctly:  a big crossover to a sloper, a toe-hook hand-foot match, unwind, bicycle...something awesome like that.  
 3. Old Timer (.13c) at Heart Creek (Bayon).  There’s no wasted rock on that thing!  It’s fingery, it’s technical, it’s burly, it’s “old-school”.  Basically, double-stacked power-endurance boulder problems with not one millimeter of fluff or bad climbing.  Every single move feels hard in sequence.   

I better mention Beam Me Up Scotty (.13c) at Acephale (Upper Wall).  That thing has a wild, one-of-a-kind crux on it.  Maybe not a classic route-climber’s route, but a must-do. 

(Ed. I added the grades.  Josh is always reluctant to spray...)

 
Josh about to shoulder his 'XL pad - Jacket - XL pad - Backpack' stack. Ergh.

6. Top three boulder problems?

Boulder problems are simple.  First:  tall, proud, beckoning to be climbed.  Second:  holds and moves that deliver on that visual promise  It took no time to think of these:

1. Fear of a Black Hat (V9) in Red Rocks (Kraft Boulders).
2. The King in the North (V8) in Frank Slide (Karst Valley).
3. Little Hulkamaniac (V2) in Frank Slide (Hulkamaniac).

I’m not saying these are “the best” problems.  There’re hundreds of problems I would rave about.  But these three were such striking, alluring, compelling lines.  I can think of other problems I would rate as good as these, but I can’t think of any I could definitively say are better.  And these all had a little something extra or special about them at the time.  

(Ed. All three of these problems are well into the spooky-highball territory.)

...and finally, a pithy quote from Josh, giving us a little insight into the mystery behind the man.

"Well, a student gave me a caricature they drew of me once, and my catch phrase was, “Don’t be stupid . . . ”  That brought a tear to my eye!"

Even from the beginning, Josh had a keen eye for fashion...



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