Christopher Brooke Barner
Christopher (Chris) Barner was born in Vancouver on July 10, 1959, but grew up on Galiano Island near Nanaimo with his mother. During that period Chris also spent much time with his grandparents in Nanaimo and it was with his grandfather, who was a climbing enthusiast, where Chris first got the rock climbing bug. Then at the age of eleven he moved to Campbell River to be with his mother and his stepfather Frank Somner. Frank had a military background and knew basic climbing and alpinism skills so when he saw Chris' interest in rock climbing he started taking him on trips and showing him the ropes. In the summer of 1976 Chris and Frank traversed Mount Colonel Foster which at the time had seen only a few ascents of the Main Summit. It wasn't long before Chris was comfortable leading on local crags and boulders. Around this time Chris met Doug Lee who became his regular climbing partner. Together they made a number of challenging climbs until Doug died prematurely in 1985.
As a school student Chris was rebellious and it reflected his home-life at the time, however, an Environmental Studies class and several of the teachers at Karihi High School had a profound effect on Chris. The class went on various field trips that weren't part of the "normal" school curriculum. One of the instructors was Jim Allen who saw the potential in the unruly young Chris and the love he exhibited for the mountains. Jim was an avid outdoorsman who started the adventure tour company Ecosummer who Chris later went on to guide for. Another role-model was Jim Boulding, the owner/operator of the nearby outdoor education centre Strathcona Park Lodge. Chris loved the stories and the non-conventionalism that Jim and the lodge offered at the time. At the age of fourteen, Chris spent the summer with relatives in Europe and climbing with a mountain guide from Courmayeur, summited five peaks over 4,000 metres, including the highest Mont Blanc.
Chris dropped out of school in grade 10 and at the same time began fending for himself. He took odd jobs in silverculture and the forestry industry and lived in friend's living rooms and other less conventional abodes. However, this life set Chris on a path that has ruled his life ever since. Chris never dwelt for too long on the up's and down's of his life but thought it more like climbing a multi-pitch route: to get up the route involved climbing both easy pitches and hard or difficult pitches. He learned to survive on his own but at the same time follow his passions: mountaineering, soccer and volleyball. Chris went on to have a professional career in soccer for a period in the late 1970's and early 1980's, and in 1993 he was included on a National Pool Alumni Soccer trip to India where he played three tournaments and several exhibition games.
Around 1975 Chris became involved with the "Squamish Hard Core," a group of committed rock climbers and steadily worked his way up to harder grades on the huge monolith above Squamish. Then at the age of eighteen Chris moved to Edmonton to work but after a few months realized that the mountains were too far away and he didn't like the big city life. Chris decided to return to Campbell River but before he did he made a solo ascent of the North Face of Mount Edith Cavell near Jasper in the Canadian Rockies. Once back on the west coast, Chris Barner fell in again with the Squamish Crowd.
In 1977 Chris met Paul Rydeen through soccer and they formed a close friendship. Together they have bonded into a climbing partnership that is one of the most successful on the island and they are stilling climbing together today. In 1989 Chris and Paul decided to take a month long climbing trip to the Yosemite Valley in California. The only means of transportation that they had was Paul's motorbike, however, they had too much equipment to carry on the bike and they were too poor to buy a vehicle so they made arrangements with a friend in the airline industry for him to fly their gear across the border and then put it on a bus to California. In the meantime they made their way down to the valley on the bike. It was a successful trip and they climbed some of the traditional routes on the big walls. The following year they did a two month road trip to Zion, Canyonlands, Yosemite, City of Rocks, Moab, Tuolomme Meadows and the Arches.
Barner continued to climb on Vancouver Island and his circle of partners widened until he had a close knit group of friends with similar attitudes. In 1988 he formed a mountaineering group called The Heathens. Although the dictionary describes a heathen as being "irreligious, uncivilized and unenlightened," Barner chose the name from the heather dwellers living outside the walls of the village during the Roman times in Britain. The fifty initial members were young, adventurous climbers willing to push the limits of traditional mountain craft and the structure of established clubs. Fees were voluntary and no schedule of climbs was published. However, the club flourished and continues to grow and attract young members.
Although it was the brothers John and Fred Put who initially began exploring the climbing potential at Crest Creek Crags and setting the standard for route and trail development in the 1980's, it was The Heathens who began developing the crags in earnest: cleaning the walls, bolting routes, accessing funds and building trails to all the walls. However, John Put has continued to be the person who primarily liaisons with BC Parks over crag issues. Every year The Heathens have a two week annual summer camp at the crags where maintenance work is done on the rock walls and trails as well as alpine climbs of the surrounding mountains. Barner teaches the climbing skills to the new club members as well as rock rescue courses for those climbers who want to upgrade their rescue skills.
Although Barner is very much at home on hard rock either teaching others or putting up challenging routes, he is also extremely confident, and competent, on steep snow and alpine routes. He has made numerous ascents of Washington States volcanoes: Mount Baker and Mount Rainer, and in 1988 Paul Rydeen, Scott Isbister, Doug Wale and Chris travelled to Mexico and climbed the 5,000+ metre peaks of Popocatepetl, Iztaccihuatl and Citlaltepetl (Pico de Orizaba), the three highest mountains which form part of the chain of volcanoes known as the Pacific Ring of Fire.
During his early days of climbing in Squamish he had made a few forays into the Coast Mountains around the Lillooet Icecap, Pemberton Icecap and Garabaldi Park, however, it was the wild and rugged Coast Mountain Range that Chris could see from his home in Campbell River every day that soon became the focus of his attention. One trip of note in 1978 was into The Tahumming/Tavistock area north of Toba Inlet where long ridge systems are bounded by immense granite walls and peaks. This was the first time Chris used air access/support. In 1992, with Paul Rydeen, Bill Nelson and Brian Cole, he summited the spectacular Mount Waddington via the route that Roger and Ferris Neave had attempted (and almost succeeded on) in 1934. Ever since that trip, Barner and Rydeen have returned almost every summer to the Coast Mountains climbing many of the remote and beautiful peak's including Mount Queen Bess in 2001 with Jim Tansky. However, not all trips are successful and Barner has learned that one needs to be humble in the mountains as it is the fickle and ever changing weather in these rugged ranges that rules the climbing scene. Some of the wildest storms he has ever been tent bound in have unleashed their fury in the Coast Range.
On his home turf, Barner has an impressive resume of peaks and traverses that he has made on the mountains of Vancouver Island. In 1990 Barner and Rydeen climbed the West Buttress, or Surrealistic Pillar, as they initially called it, on Rambler Peak. Expecting hard aid climbing they started the climb with a rack of climbing-pro usually seen on the walls of Squamish but the climbing proved to be technically easier and all their gear (including their rope) remained in their packs. Chris often refers to this trip as their "dumb ass day." However, because of its aesthetic line it has become a classic climb on the island and Chris has returned several times to climb the buttress including a solo ascent of it. Two years later (1992) Barner and Rydeen started from the Bedwell trailhead at midnight, climbed and traversed Big Interior Mountain to Nine Peaks, re-traversed Big Interior to Cream Lake then ascended Mount Septimus via the West Face and finally back to the Bedwell traihead in a grueling twenty-three hours. In Febraury 1993, Chris along with Robin Slieker and Phil Stone made the first winter ascent of The Golden Hinde - a coveted prize on the island. And on Mount Colonel Foster, Chris has summited the mountain twice and both times he has traversed the summits: once north to south and the other in the opposite direction. In 2001 Barner, Rydeen, Nick Elson and Darren Wilman made the first complete traverse of all the summits of Nine Peaks.
One peak that Barner has had a special relationship with is King's Peak. This was the first mountain that Chris climbed with his stepfather in February 1973 and in May 2008 he made his one hundredth ascent of the peak. Although a climbers trail has existed for many years, in 1992 The Heathens adopted the King's Peak trail as a maintenance project and re-routed the beginning of the trail and cleared a path to the alpine meadows below the snow-fields. However, there are other peaks in Strathcona Park that Chris has a strong affiliation with and has made numerous ascents of including: Mount Septimus 36 times, Big Interior Mountain 27 times, both Mount Myra and Mount Tom Taylor 25 times, Alexandra Peak 12 times, and Elkhorn 10 times.
Chris Barner is passionate when it comes to the preservation and protection of Strathcona Park and can write with emotional zeal when it is needed. "There are some magical places on Vancouver Island, where turquoise tarns nestle between multi-coloured rock buttresses, and gnarled juniper and cypress endure winters of excessive snowfall. The water is as clear as a simple idea." Barner also adds that: "we need to protect our mountains and not just believe in environmental ethics, but practice them religiously." He has embraced every facet of climbing: single and multi-pitch rock climbing, alpine mountaineering, ice climbing and aid climbing, and for many he is someone they admire through his informal approach. Barner is not a quiet person who will sit back and watch events unfold, but is a contemplative individual who eventually speaks his mind to get his point and ideas across.
Chris's non-conformity has raised a few eyebrows in his community but he has analyzed his values and what is important to him and his life and believes everyone deserves the same respect regardless of the minor details of their lives. He bases his opinions of others by their accomplishments rather than their shortcoming and would hopes others see him the same way.
synopsis of Chris Barner's Coast Mountain expeditions:
Plummer Hut area with Paul Rydeen, and Dave and Alex Ratson.
Plummer Hut area with Paul Rydeen, Paul Kendrick, Brad Thomas, Willy Pakosz,
Donna Hartford and Gerald Cobbold.
Homathko Icefield with Paul Rydeen and Jim Tansky.
Range with Paul Rydeen, Darren Wilman and Alana Theoret.
Reliance Glacier area with Paul Rydeen.
Hut area with Paul Rydeen, Darren Wilman and Alana Theoret.
Royal Glacier with Paul Rydeen.
The Witches Hat Area with Paul Rydeen.
area with Paul Rydeen, James Read, Darren Wilman, Alana Theoret and Nick
The Dent Rouge Glacier with Paul Rydeen, Ahren Rankin, Darren Wilman,
Alana Theoret and James Read.
Glacier area with Paul Rydeen.
The Un-Klattasine Area with Paul Rydeen.
area with Paul Rydeen.
Silent Towers with Paul Rydeen.
2008 Reliance Glacier area with Paul Rydeen, Sean Sears, Karen Hutton, Fred Stanley, Robin Le Pas, Mike Rankin, Gerald Cobbold and Heather McDonald.
- No Technical Difficulty, NR - New Route,
FA - First Ascent.
Parker, Gil. "This Heathen is a Believer." Times Colonist: Island Magazine. [Victoria, B.C.] (February 9, 1997.) p. C8.
Parker, Gil. Coast Mountain Men. Aware Publishing. Victoria, B.C. 2007.
Barner, Chris. "The Heathens." Canadian Alpine Journal. Vol. 91. The Alpine Club of Canada. Banff, Alberta. 2008. p. 93-95.
"Silent Towers Again." Canadian Alpine Journal. Vol.
93. The Alpine Club of Canada. Banff, Alberta. 2010. p. 98-99.