It took 13 years of living in Penticton for Dave Mai to discover climbing at Skaha Bluffs, but when he did, he was hooked.
“I always saw the signs for Skaha Bluffs, and one day a friend took me out there and it was exhilarating. I’ve always been trying to chase that adrenaline high I got the first time,” Mai told the Western News.
Once he started climbing, he discovered the unique angles and perspective that simply couldn’t be matched by taking photos from the ground.
Skaha Bluffs is quickly growing in recognition, both with locals and in the wider climbing world. It’s also a highlight of his documentary film Higher Perspective.
Since he started climbing Skaha Bluffs, Mai has ranged even further afield with ice climbing, which he started on at Christie Falls near West Kelowna. That was where he had his ice climbing photography experience using ropes down the frozen waterfall.
“That kind of blew my mind, just hanging off the big icicle,” said Mai. “Just being to connected to something like that, with Mother Nature, it feels right to be there on it.”
Some of the other climbing spots that he highlighted in the documentary include Squamish and the Rockies, but he still keeps coming back to the familiar cliff-faces in Penticton.
“The Okanagan isn’t really conducive to ice climbing, so it’s a treat to climb real ice on a big mountain,” said Mai. “But when I’m looking to have a chill day, Skaha Bluffs is always my go-to.”
Even getting to some of those climbs, particularly the ice climbs, are a journey in and of themselves.
Not only does he have to carry a heavier load out than other climbers with all of his camera equipment, even though he’s become better at slimming down to just what he needs, he constantly has to be moving up ahead of the other climbers and then work to get into position. Having to be first up the mountain has its advantages, and a unique experience all its own.
“Everyone is below you and you’re waiting for them to come up, and there’s this moment of peace. It’s a very quiet time, where I can start to reflect on how the hell I ended up tied to the top of a cliff,” Mai said with a laugh. “Then you get some deep thoughts, and then you snap back. The climber comes up, and it’s just become natural for me to start shooting, to climb up and down the ropes trying out angles.”
It’s the challenge of the photography that is part of what has drawn Mai to climbing photography as a passion, beyond his usual work with more conventional photography and video work.
“Shooting a model, from up top while hanging from rope, it’s a little more exciting than just shooting a model in a studio,” said Mai.
Mai was one of 30 who received a grant from Telus as part of their 2019 STORYHIVE Documentary edition, which allowed him to take the time to put together the 22 minute documentary showcasing not only what he does as a climbing photographer, but also some of the other climbers and locations in Penticton and beyond.
Higher Perspective is available for viewing on the STORYHive Youtube channel.
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