Art of the climb

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Fine Arts student John Kaylyn stays rock-steady

Autumn McDowell
Sports Editor

For John Kalyn, a University of Regina third-year fine arts student, art has always been a passion in his life, but it is his other passion – rock climbing – that allows him to reach new heights.

After being invited to come climbing by his sister and brother-in-law at the age of 22, Kalyn took to the sport like a duck to water. Kalyn instantly loved the feeling he got from climbing, one that is almost indescribable. 

“There is an interesting thing that happens when you climb,” Kalyn said. “Lots of people go climbing and they think, ‘Man, that’s fun’, but after climbing for two to three hours straight for your first few times your arms are so burnt out. It gets to the point where you can hardly open doors; that feeling was awesome.”

According to Kalyn, it is not just the feeling that keeps him climbing year after year, but the relationships that he has built with other climbers is something special.

“The climbing community is awesome,” Kalyn said. “Almost everywhere that you go – for the most part – people are super positive, and supportive, and really encouraging. That really draws me in.”

Kalyn admitted that he was not the type of kid to be involved in highly competitive sports growing up, but with climbing it was different.

“I played sports as a kid, but I wasn’t very good because I am not super competitive,” Kalyn said. “I would rather have fun with it, whereas some people are just set on winning. With climbing and climbers, it’s different. I have climbed with guys that were top five in Canada, and I was climbing stuff that for them would be peanuts and maybe it’s challenging for me. They are still super encouraging saying, ‘Go for it, go for it.’ That really draws me in because it’s a super solid community.”

Climbing has also allowed Kalyn to experience things that he may have never had the chance to otherwise.

“I have climbed in Thailand, in California, and just outside of Vegas at a place called Red Rock,” Kalyn recalled. “Those are the main trips that I have taken, but I have also climbed a little bit in the Rockies outside of Banff. I am hoping to climb in Squamish, there are so many places that I would just love to go and climb.”

During his numerous climbing trips, Kalyn has managed to make incredible memories while achieving personal goals. However, when asked to pick just one favourite memory, the task was nearly impossible.

“There [have] been a few; probably one of the highlights was when I was in Bishop,” Kalyn said. “There is this boulder there that is one of the biggest in the world. It is actually cracked in half; there are two halves to it called the grandpa and grandma. I was doing a climb on the grandma, which has slightly easier climbs and I remember that I got up to one section where no one from our group had made it past; it was the crux of the climb.

“I was holding on to two [small grips] and I saw this pocket up above and I knew that was the next move. I remember holding on and prepping and I looked back and realized that I was about twenty feet off of the ground and it was slightly slopping. I thought to myself, ‘If you don’t make this, you are going to fall and it is probably going to hurt.’ When I went and hit it, it was full of water, but just holding onto it and scrambling up the top half of the boulder was a rush. Being on top of this huge boulder was awesome.”

As Kalyn reminisced about other climbs he had done, he mentioned getting to the actual climb is sometimes half the battle.

“There are so many memories to pick from; there are a couple of spots in Thailand that we climbed, but getting to the climbing areas is almost more fun than the climbing because you have to hike through crazy paths,” Kayln said. “In Thailand there is forests and jungles; there was one area where we had to hike up a super-narrow canyon that was about twenty-feet wide. At the top of the slope there was a drop and then a pit.

“You had to repel down and across this pit to get to the climbing area, which was maybe an eight or ten foot ledge that you stand on and then you climb up from there and below is a drop into the ocean. Those kinds of things are really cool.”

For Kalyn, it isn’t just the places he goes or the climbs he does but rather the people he meets.

“Just the people that you meet climbing are awesome,” he said. “When I was in Bishop, I met a couple that was living out of there van. I started climbing with them and it was like we had been friends forever; it’s just a really solid bond that exists between climbers.”

Since Kalyn has had the incredible opportunity to climb in various parts of the world, the new surroundings and experiences in other cultures have been very beneficial.

“Traveling is always inspirational – that, along with positivity and being a part of the climbing culture and experiencing other cultures and open mindedness and willingness to try other things,” Kalyn said. “I wouldn’t be who I was had I not had that perspective.”

While many people might stay in a luxurious five-star resort during their vacations, for Kalyn to truly experience another culture, he tries to live as the locals do.

“The biggest thing is that when you travel to an area, if you are staying in resorts you aren’t really experiencing that culture, but when we were climbing in Thailand we tried to really experience it,” Kalyn said. “We took a day to take a cooking class, we went to an authentic Thai market where no tourists go; no one spoke English, and we stuck out so much. You see wild and exciting stuff. When someone hands you a beetle or ant eggs as a snack you have the choice to think it’s disgusting or try anything twice. That has brought me perspective.”

Although Kalyn has not done any art pieces solely based on climbing, he has been able to take the focus that he has while climbing and translate it to his art.

“I don’t really do a lot of art about climbing. But [climbing] is just a good thing to get into, it’s a good headspace,” he said. “Especially when you are climbing outside and among nature it is a really good meditative feeling and an awesome place to be, it rejuvenates you.”

While many would say that Kalyn is an experienced climber, according to him, his art is far from experienced.

“It’s developing,” Kalyn said with a laugh. “I am trying to learn everything that I can. I am passionate about it and it is something that I love to do. I talk about it all the time; people are remarked by how much I talk about it, but it is a huge part of my life.”

The future seems bright for Kalyn. With so many passions it appears that he will be successful in whatever path he chooses to go down, but for him, he just hopes that both climbing and art remain big parts in his life.

“I would love to be climbing forever. When I was living in Saskatoon we had a couple of guys that were in their ’50s and ’60s climbing and they were still in super good shape,” Kalyn said. “I would love to stay a part of the climbing community, just finding a place to climb is a hard thing in Regina; there isn’t a whole lot of options, but I would like to continue to climb. As far as art goes, I will be making art my entire life. Guaranteed.”

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