The Oracle

This is a just another story about a climber’s quest: A quest for greatness in the daily routine of failures and proud moments.

Tim and I arrived in Squamish with an agenda. We had a week to fulfill our dreams. I felt overwhelmed with my goals and desires. I was still reeling with the traumatic memories of Lucy’s recent bear attack. We felt off balance arriving to our new environment after a big day of driving and getting into the car camping routine. Choosing our objectives seemed troublesome. Where to start? And how to best take care of Lucy each day?

Finally, we chose the Quercus (cacous) cliff at Murrin to help us manage the heat of the day. This is also where we finished our trip. I love the full circle, especially when you don’t see it coming.

Tim McAllister photo

Tim McAllister photo

This story is about a climb called The Oracle, a beautiful trad line put up by Colin Moorhead in 2011, rated 12a in the guidebook. It’s a face climb protected by discontinuous cracks. Not super sustained as it has a couple no hands rests, but with two powerful cruxes and some thin gear placements, the lead feels like a grand accomplishment.


I am guilty of having high expectations for my trip to Squamish. Despite not having climbed much granite or cracks for a couple years, I felt like I had put my time in earlier in my career and I had hoped for just a couple climbs to make me feel like I was back in the granite saddle.


But this was not so. After attempting a couple 5.12’s, including an old project, I realized that I would be lucky to enjoy sending 5.11. In fact, 10c felt like my onsite grade. This seemed crazy to me having recently climbed harder grades on limestone and quartzite. I also decided I wasn’t mentally strong enough to re-send a classic multi-pitch climb of heady 5.11, so we backed off and headed over to a new multi-pitch route that had bolt-protected cruxes.


We enjoyed the adventure and cruxes of the new route, but we didn’t finish it because we didn’t move fast enough and I got spit off a tricky dihedral move and couldn’t figure it out. We rappelled with our heads hung low.

Meanwhile, Lucy was at a great dogcare home — we needed to get her before too late. So after a healthy dose of self-loathing and a partner pep talk we turned our focus to our rest day and the last two days of our holiday.

On our rest day we thoroughly enjoyed some seaside bouldering with Tim’s good friend, Greg.


The next day, we met up with my good friends, Katy and Katherine in the morning for a mom’s climb at the Quercus cliff. There is nothing better than enjoying your passion with loved ones.


We quickly fell in love with The Oracle. We all top-roped the route. I figured out the gear and cruxes with help from Katy who had sent the climb previously. On my second go, I managed to top-rope the route without a hang. This act shone a ray of light onto my humbled ego. However, leading The Oracle is another feat all together.

The next day, we forego our crack climbing goals and turn our focus to The Oracle. We started our morning with an amazing SUP on Howe Sound. I loved mingling with the harbor seals, smelling sea salts and dancing with seagulls. I found anxiety and adventure in the ebbing tides, the Squamish River outflow and the off-shore breeze. My eyes delighted in the vibrant yellows of marine algae, kelp and intertidal lines on platinum granite cliffs plunging into sapphire waters.


We made our way to our ‘proj’ after swimming with Lucy in Murrin Lake.


Today was lead day. I chose to simulate a lead of the route first. I tied into both ends of the rope and racked up. I had one hang. The comfort of the top rope was like a warm hug floating me up to the chains.


I pulled the rope; I had contingency plans for freaking out. I visualized the consequences of falling. I reassured myself in the worthiness of my gear, and in my ability to climb under pressure.

I centered my energy, re-racked methodically and attended to my pre-send rituals like making sure my helmet is secure.

I visualized the moves of the climb, including the clipping holds and gear placements.

I started up. I arrived at the first crux. I felt a little bit powered down on the small side pulls and my mind wandered to how far it was until the next rest, I got scared, yelled ‘take’, and hung on the rope. I felt so insecure on the sharp end. The transition in head-pointing from top-roping to lead-climbing is a mental game.

I managed to lead the rest of the route without hanging. It felt very rewarding to lead The Oracle. I asked myself AM I CRAZY? Why is this important to me? Is this a reasonable amount of risk?


After some contemplation I decided that the rewards were greater than the risk. In the style I chose to learn the route and lead it, there was greater perceived risk than actual risk. That’s the game I like to play.

Tim also top-roped the route without a hang. He sussed out my gear and boldly took the sharp end. He also, one-hung the route. I am so grateful to have Tim join me on the journey of this climb. He often has lower expectations and likes to take a supportive role, which allows him to escape the pressures of performance. But The Oracle spiked Tim’s desire and curiosity. I was impressed by his ability to giv’er despite being pumped or not completely in control. These are things I can learn from him.


We stayed an extra night to give the route one more attempt. On my second lead and fourth burn, I managed to put it all together. I had to fight for it. I had to push through the cruxes feeling weak or pumped, making mistakes, and correcting. I squeaked through on the red/head-point in the nick of time on our one-week holiday to Squampton.

@wholesome71 delicately stomping The Oracle in Squamish. Proud send.#grippedmagazine

A photo posted by Tim McAllister (@timgmcallister) on

My ego appreciates the send. My heart appreciates my boyfriend Tim for being a great climbing partner and Our coastal family for opening their homes and their lives to share in our holiday adventures.


Tim McAllister Photo

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Losing Lucy

The third great trauma of my life happened last week.

I watched an unhealthy black bear attack our lover pup, twice. Both times I prepared myself for another tragic loss.


Lucy the Lover Pup, photo by Tim McAllister

For a few weeks, we have had several black bears visiting the property where we live. There are two houses at this idyllic warden station in a wildlife corridor near the Athabasca River, twenty kilometers south of Jasper in the national park. It’s been a treat to see mamma and baby bears playing around our yard when we come home from work in the evening.

Welcome home!

Welcome home!

There have been no negative encounters between the bears and our neighbors, our Lucy or us.

Lucy was lounging in the back seat of my station wagon with the doors open. I was about to go out and get her when I saw the small mangy black bear approach the car. He wasn’t passing through; he was sniffing and lolling about the car. His fur was patchy and he had a snout full of drool.


I opened the front door of the cabin and started yelling. The bear ignored me and grabbed Lucy from behind, threw her on the ground and attacked her. Lucy yelped out, but was helpless under the claws and teeth of the hungry muscles that pinned her to the ground. She passed out, stopped fighting, and I thought it was over. I just watched our fourteen-year-old Akita meet her death.


The bear lost interest and moved five meters away to eat grass and bushes. I was about five meters away in the cabin watching Lucy’s chest rise and fall. Her eyes were closed. I thought; this is a slow and painful death. After several minutes, Lucy jumped up and started running away from the bear. The bear ensued, chasing her. I felt mortified. They went out of sight. I didn’t want to see her gruesome death. There was barking, yelping, and a kafuffle. Next thing I know, Lucy is on the front porch barking. The bear is gone.

I let her in. She can barely walk. She is bleeding from the neck. She is a mess. I am shocked and baffled, but grateful. I wonder if she needs to be put down. I call Tim. I call the vet. I decide to take her into town to the vet. I couldn’t get a hold of Tim, in retrospect; I learn that Tim’s phone died.


I get in my car and drive around the property, I honk and chase off a healthy bigger black bear. As I round the corner back to the cabin, I see the sick predacious bear. I also drive towards it honking. It doesn’t scare as easily as the healthy bear. But, I feel I have gained enough space to get Lucy in the car.

Lucy doesn’t want to leave the cabin. I carry her seventy-five pounds of life into my car. I get her blood on my hands; I will never forget this moment. We safely load into the car and I drive as fast as I can. This is one of the few times in my life where speeding feels like a vital act.

I watch Lucy carefully; I cannot believe she is alive. I constantly look over my shoulder, is she still conscious?

The vet palpates Lucy’s chest and belly and determines there are no obvious internal injuries. She shaves the neck where the puncture wounds are. She puts Lucy on pain relief and antibiotics. We are sent on our way shortly after. I cannot wait to find Tim and reunite our small family.


Since, this incident, I have witnessed myself and Lucy experience PTSD symptoms. I have seen Lucy recoil from me as if I am an attacking bear when I touch her in the wrong way. I have had bears wandering through my dreams. On our property, I startle at shadows.


Our week away to Squamish has been healing. The coastal air and warm waters have protected us from mad bears and dark shadows.


Tim McAllister photo


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