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The Fourth Annual Buildering Competition

Stewart Hughes

Official disapproval is the sap that gives roof climbing its sweetness...

The Fourth Annual Buildering Competition

The Fourth Annual Buildering Competition

City: Vancouver, Canada
Date: 2006-04-04
Official disapproval is the sap that gives roof climbing its sweetness. Without it, the whole thing would tend to deteriorate into a set of gymnastic exercises. Modesty drives the roof climber to operate by night, the proctorial frown makes him an outlaw. And outlaws keep no histories. limbing its sweetness. Without it, the whole thing would tend to deteriorate into a set of gymnastic exercises. Modesty drives the roof climber to operate by night, the proctorial frown makes him an outlaw. And outlaws keep no histories.
-- The Night Climbers of Cambridge by Whipplesnaith (1953 edition)
The Fourth Annual Buildering Competition, held at a university campus in Vancouver, British Columbia, drew the largest throng of irreverent competitors in the contest's short history. A warm spring evening cajoled an estimated 35 climbers away from typical mid-week doldrums. An air of playful competition rippled through this informal event, though some were Rocky Balboa buoyant and clearly intended to leave satisfied with their performances. Much like conventional modern-day climbing, buildering is less about the pursuit of a summit (the roof) and more about the pursuit of movement over a solid upright form. It is an activity set apart from the mainstream. It is an activity at which Spiderman excels. He, of course, is equipped with the Spidy sense that allows him to keep his shit together when he's standing on a one-inch ledge with 53 floors of death gaping beneath him. The average Peter Parker should not undertake such recklessness. It is probably illegal. The Annual Buildering Competition, then, is an event organised not to ingratiate the cold hand of authority -- basically, the contest ignores laws and will continue until it can continue no longer. It will either finish of its own accord or get cut short by the wagging finger of The Man. In the days of the Night Climbers of Cambridge, Whipplesnaith was probably more Motorhead than Motorhead. But, like Lemmy, he was no jen-u-ine outlaw. No Josie Wales. He was just a bit more rock n' roll than the masses. Likewise, there were few genuine outlaws at the Buildering contest -- just a mix of people out to innocently re-interpret the use of architecture. Each competitor was given a campus map marked with 15 problems, each with a value related to its difficulty, and two as-yet-unclimbed projects worth extra points. Problems included The Admin Dyno, Friedman White Pillar, and the Earth and Ocean Sciences Crack. No climbing shoes or chalk were permitted. The eager contestants split into two groups in an attempt to reduce the conspicuous nature of roving idiots clambering on private property. Like the odd beer, the drawing dark of evening lubricated the competitors' modesty and "problems" began being solved by ascents. Much laughter and good humor followed our surreptitious band. Meanwhile, the organiser, like a gazelle at a savannah watering hole, bade an eye scan for any confused uniformed personnel. One problem, The Wood Stem Project, which featured a door hinge as a foot-hold, was briefly interrupted by said door being opened from the inside as a perplexed, apologetic voice asked if we were trying to be let inside. "Uhhh, no we were just playing. Thank you though," explained a diplomatic, politely spoken climber from Quebec. The project was promptly sent with a powerful combination of a toe pressured into a quarter-sized circular divot in the concrete and a hand-foot match on a narrow door frame. It was certainly the most enigmatic and sought-after problem of the contest, in my opinion. Failing on this route, I felt the old classic excuse spray gagging in my throat. I had run a chainsaw for eight hours that day, after all. The final problem, as it turned out, for our group was the Life Sciences Lieback Crack, a thin fissure on concrete that replicated quite well a natural granite splitter. Many ascents were made of this classic in the discipline. Then we got busted. Three security vehicles, four reactionary security people, and a German Shepherd corralled our escape. Most of the other competitors had moved on to the next problems, and just six of us were left, caught by zealous uniformed men with jobs to do. I.D.'s? Six people shook their heads. No. Nope. No I.D. One of our group, documenting the evening with his camera, continued to shoot. A squat, beady security guy in a tight uniform marched purposefully over to the photographer. "Heh! Put that camera down. Erase those pictures right now." What the hell is this, Myanmar? The security got jumpy, didn't want to understand our gymnastic endeavour, weren't getting any I.D.'s, so they called the cops. In my head, I was building a brick wall and smashing my head into it. The RCMP arrived, relaxed and professional. They made jokes, received our I.D.'s, checked everyone out, and told us we had to have more respect for security people. "Sure, sure," everyone agreed. I nominated myself to show the security boss where we had been practising our rock climbing skills -- no damage done, no evidence of our passage. Then he was all buddy buddy, man-to-man, like -- used to do a bit of climbing himself, you know, before he had a family. "Got to think of the family these days." Sure, sure. Emancipated from The Filth, the event was prudently cut short. We found the main group, who were merrily continuing on the circuit, oblivious to our brush with the law. The Fourth Annual Buildering Competition was declared over, and the event moved to the student bar for a few beers and a prize ceremony. An exclusive trophy, featuring a plastic Spiderman climbing a piece of breeze block, mounted majestically on a plywood platform was awarded to the urban climber with the largest tally of points. Glasses clinked, cheers, and I looked forward to sore muscles in the morning and another day on the chainsaw.

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