Will Gadd asked me some questions about Barry Blanchard for a profile he was writing. These are some of my answers.
Why has Barry stayed on top of the alpine and specifically Canadian Rockies alpine game for so long? Survived?
Barry takes it seriously each time he leaves the house. He pays closer attention to the details than most other guys in our little group. He knows and loves those mountains, understands and respects all the different ways they can kill him. And they're dangerous mountains, the Canadian Rockies - they should be put back on the bottom of the ocean where they came from.
Barry has gone to the mountains as a warrior to battle. He's climbed them as a knight seeking the Grail. He has been up there as a young brave on a visionquest. He's used them to reinvent himself and to define the new man. He used alpinism as an uncompromising lens through which to view his own strengths and weaknesses. Barry has grown comfortable with the mountains, only his magnificent competence allows this, and they allow him passage - occasionally trying his devotion with events such as the accident on Howse Peak, but these appear rare.
Barry moves like no other man in the mountains. He becomes his animal self instantly, where other men take weeks to achieve a similar state. He's a wolf crossing a meadow: there is purpose yet no purpose, he chooses the most efficient line without consciously thinking about it. Barry looks natural out there while the rest of are trespassing.
Barry's strengths as a partner? Climber? Human being? Weaknesses?
It sounds like a fucking Mutual Admiration Society: Barry is the best because he's spent more time in the mountains than the rest of us. Period. There was a point in my life when I did not want to climb with anyone else besides him - I had so much to learn (from him). I don't think he ever had Kevin Doyle's magic when moving on rock, ice or mixed terrain but the accumulation of experience over the years has made him more efficient and aware than any of his contemporaries. Such a high level of consciousness allows the determination he exhibits.
Determination often translates into being willing to sit it out when weather turns bad. I never had it. I'm a moth, flitting about the mountains in lightweight style, retreating at the first sign of a good burning. Bubba is a bear: when the shit hits he's content to dig in and hibernate, conserving energy and fuel, passing the hours with stories and speculation. When the skies clear, he wakes and continues up.
During our Golden Age, when we went to Everest and Nanga Parbat together, Barry showed incredible determination. Not to be confused with ambition. Even after four attempts on Everest (new route, no rope, no O2 - a shared sleeping bag during a bivy at over 26k') he maintained his drive. I thought we'd die if we tried again, Blanch wasn't as certain of it as I was. He was willing to go back up. I was willing to go home.
I admire most Barry's ability to love without reservation. He and I shared some amazing highs and lows but his love and respect for me never failed. I can't admit the same. I'm ashamed of my inconsistency when compared to his constancy.
Barry has mellowed. When we met on the glacier below Mt Crosson in June (he and Carl Tobin were descending from the Infinite Spur on Foraker) he admitted that he hadn't prayed that much in a long time. The Infinite was "fear and toil", a long route and part of the long path back from his accident on Howse Peak. It also signaled his return to climbing after sucking Hollywood's massive tit during a year-long stint safeguarding actors on the sets and locations of "Vertical Limit". I think Hollywood could destroy Barry. Its power is seductive, and the juvenile delinquent Barry shuttered in when he began climbing may be tempted out of his cell - all that fruit so ripe for the plucking.
Weakness? Barry's an addict like the rest of us. He's a man with an appetite and he likes life whole hog. The substance or subject he uses is often defined as whatever's in front of him. Put him in the mountains and he's one of the greatest climbers to have ever called himself an alpinist. Put him together with a few bottles of wine and he'll be plenty good with them too. Best of all, I used to love eating with Barry; no calories were safe around us. We weren't afraid of pigs or cows or that mystery stuff they served in China, which they claimed "came from the sea." We ate it all in quantities few could comprehend. It's how we went climbing too.
Eat when you are hungry, sleep when you are tired. Climb when necessary.