Weekend Warm-Up: ‘Does Climbing Matter?’ Quebec Edition

Leave it to an aid climbing documentary to stake out the difference between “hard” and “exhausting and demanding” right from the get.

You’ll be at home in Le Temps Suspendu if your jam is engineering your way up cliffs on crap gear (trust me) while living a spartan lifestyle where almost no real action ever happens because that’s sorta the point of aid climbing.

But if it’s not, that’s ok, too — because you’ll be voyaging on another planet.

Here, first ascensionists in Quebec (maybe an unlikely location for prime unclimbed rock) live the dream and everything that comes along with it.

“Solo Climbing Between Fjord and Sky” is about as romantic an image as you’re going to get in the world of climbing. Add to that an incredible location and classic descriptors: “The climbing itself is technical. It’s completely vertical, the rock is solid — but sometimes crumbly in certain areas!” 

O, the dance with death! O, death itself! “The nature, where you can literally die,” is another great snippet of dialogue early on.

A boat guide calls the hills that transfix the climbers “some of the world’s oldest mountains,” claiming they once stood an astounding 22km high. She says the climbers are “a bit crazy, I have to admit.”

Revisiting the old ways

Is this resonating for you yet? I’m not aware of a recent climbing documentary that seeks so unabashedly to be cut from the old cloth. If you thought the old ways were gone forever: Nope, they’re all right here. Every single element is at play: communion with nature, high adventure, freedom of choice, and renegades living on the fringes of society.

Sometimes the high art of it all is painful and seems to plead for my derision. But I just can’t make myself do it. Watching the de facto main character, Tom Canac, and reading the subtitles that correspond to his joual French, I keep thinking, “This guy’s onto something.”

Am I missing something, or is he describing something missing in my own life? Yes and yes, probably. You can feel the metered stoke oozing from these climbers’ demeanors and lifestyles. It’s not like they’re totally dirtbagged out. They actually resemble a lot of us, apparently living in apartments and showering regularly. (Canac started climbing in Quebec because he pursued secondary education there.)

What matters and what doesn’t

But there’s some kind of creativity that’s impossible to deny, impossible not to pick up on. Does it matter how hard they are climbing? No. Does it matter how fast they get to the top? No. Does it matter how many emails are piling up in their inboxes?

It’s fully possible to watch Le Temps Suspendu | Solo Climbing Between Fjord and Sky by skipping around, selecting random bits and piecing it together from there. But do yourself the favor of watching the whole 26-minute thing play out, episode by episode.

There’s a lot of us that are so jaded these days (hey-o) that feeling transported or even influenced may seem nigh on impossible.

Can the big wall climbers of Quebec pull off the climb, and in so doing, actually inspire others? I don’t know, sounds hard — or maybe just exhausting and demanding.

Sam Anderson

Sam Anderson takes any writing assignments he can talk his way into while intermittently traveling the American West and Mexico in search of margaritas — er, adventure. He parlayed a decade of roving trade work into a life of fair-weather rock climbing and truck dwelling before (to his parents’ evident relief) finding a way to put his BA in English to use. Sam loves animals, sleeping outdoors, campfire refreshments and a good story.