Vikki Weldon was supposed to be climbing around Leavenworth, Washington, and in Skaha, British Columbia, for a month this past spring. Instead she was working in North Vancouver as an ER nurse, 12 hours at a time, to aid in the fight against the pandemic.
As of April, her hospital had five cases of coronavirus in the ICU and another half-dozen in a covid unit, with another unit for suspected cases. The facility was well-prepared, but it is front-line work.
“If someone super sick comes in, you’re part of the team,” she says. “I’ve come in contact with it and that’s stressful. I’m lucky I’m healthy.”
Weldon had canceled her vacation 10 days in.
“I felt [like], I need to be there, I need to know what’s happening. I have all these skills I’m not sharing with people who might need it. I decided, I’m just going back to work. And I felt so much better, even though I traded guilt for anxiety. I felt like I was doing my part.”
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Weldon, 31, grew up in Calgary in a family where all four children —two brothers, Chris and Mike, and a sister, Stacey—climbed. Their parents volunteered at events, helping with registration and belaying; the mother eventually became an IFSC judge and the father was heavily involved with Climbing Escalade Canada.
“My parents still climb in the gym quite regularly,” Vikki Weldon says. “We’re all still in it in some form.”
She lives in Squamish with her husband, Tom Wright, of the U.K.
Q&A with Vikki Weldon
Was a climb ever a turning point?
Blue Jeans. I had been on a climbing trip for six weeks, had just done a 5.14 [Eulogy, at Maple Canyon, Utah] and thought Blue Jeans [seven-pitches: 5.12b, 5.12d, 5.12d, 5.13a, 5.13b, 5.12a, 5.10d] would go down pretty quickly. Tom and I spent a month in the Rockies, and it took me that whole month.
It’s funny but when I finished that project I was super burned out, and I took a big chunk of time off. We moved to Squamish, I got a job at the Children’s Hospital in Vancouver. For a year I focused more on nursing and my job, and didn’t climb a whole lot but I always knew that I would still climb.
That [climb] was so monumental. It had only been done once before. It is classic Rockies choss. The line followed a pretty cool feature, but still it was exposed and for me felt super wild.
When you look at the grade it’s not as hard [as some other sends], but it’s stacked 5.13s, and it’s so challenging to link hard routes together.
What was another major event?
Spirit of the West [5.14a]. That’s another one where I thought, Well, I’ve done a lot of that grade … [but] that was next level. It took me so much longer than any other routes I’ve ever tried. It took me three years.
Every year I would just get my butt kicked because it was so hard for me. I tend to do really well with these three-D enduro fests. I can finagle in kneebars or be creative with rests. This one didn’t have that. It was full extension and a big hard deadpoint.
It was Tom’s route. He worked on it for a long time, too. It took him two years. It was his first 5.14. He wanted to grade it 5.13d, and I told him I’d kill him.
Any big epics?
Positive Affect in Cochamo with Jo Bulmer. It’s 19 pitches with mostly meat-and-potatoes 5.10 and 5.11 and one pretty stellar 5.12 pitch, which Jo onsighted, which was awesome.
We went down in a full-blown rainstorm. It ended up taking us the whole night to rappel the route. We got back to our tent at six in the morning.
At one point I was beyond exhausted, and confused in the darkness and the rain, and missed a rappel station. I had taken this rock course a few weeks before so I knew how to ascend. I wasn’t efficient at all, but if I hadn’t taken the course I wouldn’t have known what to do. Arc’teryx puts on these free rock-rescue courses.
Jo had no idea what was happening with me. We couldn’t hear each other. I was dangling in space. It made me realize that having that knowledge is so important.
Any further thoughts about being at work?
I can relate this back to climbing. Fear of the unknown can often be worse than the actual experience. Sure, there may be risk, but facing something head on and going for it will bring you so much more than avoiding it or letting fear take over. Take a deep breath, bring yourself to the present, and trust in yourself and your abilities.
— Spirit of the West (5.14a), Squamish, BC, October 2018.
—Second ascent, Blue Jeans (multipitch 5.13b), Yamnuska, AB, September 2013.
— First ascent, Le Zahir (multipitch 5.12b), Akchour Valley, Morocco, December 2014.
— Adder Crack (trad 5.13a), Squamish, July 2015.
— First ascent, Southwest Buttress of Hidden Tower (V 5.11), Mythics Cirque, Greenland, August 2016.
— Positive Affect (5.12b, 19 pitches), Cochamo, Chile, February 2017.
— Tom et Je Ris (5.14a), Gorge du Verdon, France, October 2016.
This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 264 (July 2020).