Perfect Partners #12: Jacob Cook and Bronwyn Hodgins Interview

© Cook/Hodgins Collection

In this series of articles, Tom Ripley interviews some well-known - and lesser known - climbing partnerships to dig up their dirty secrets and find out what they really think of one another...

Based in Squamish, British Columbia, Jacob Cook (30) and Bronwyn Hodgins (25) are an Anglo-Canadian husband and wife team with a passion for adventurous rock climbing and a love of tie-dye clothing. Together they have climbed more than their fair share of big walls including ascents of: The Nose, Regular Northwest Face Route on Half Dome, the South Face of Mount Watkins (free for Jacob), Freerider (also free for Jacob), Moonlight Buttress (freed by both) and the Lotus Flower Tower. Away from the big walls, both are strong rock climbers. Bronwyn has climbed 5.13 trad and 8a+ sport and Jacob has climbed routes up to 8c and has made first ascents up to E9 on gritstone.

Read on to find about more about what this pair of newlywed wads think of each other.

Bivy on the Tom Egan, August 2018  © Cook/Hodgins Collection
Bivy on the Tom Egan, August 2018
© Cook/Hodgins Collection

Jacob on Bronwyn

How did you first meet?

At a Leeds university climbing club trip to Northumberland 6 years ago, there was a sock wrestling competition, pretty sure I beat her. Then there was the house party a week later where we piled bouldering mats up on the street and jumped out the window.

Did you know Bronwyn by reputation before meeting her?

Nope, she was just that new Canadian girl in the climbing club.

What was your first impression?

She looked pretty and seemed good at sock wrestling…

Hanging out on Moonlight Buttress.  © Cook/Hodgins Collection
Hanging out on Moonlight Buttress.
© Cook/Hodgins Collection

What was the first route you climbed together?

Well our first date was to the Leeds wall, I really wanted to show off but I'd injured my finger the week before so had to stick to the 6as. I think the first time we climbed outside together was at the next climbing club trip to Tremadog, we got there and the rest of the club was going to sleep and/or drinking in the hut, but Bron and I were too psyched so we went to climb One Step in the Clouds by headtorch. The next day we climbed Vector, pretty sure it took us like 6 hours as it was only Bronwyn's second time outdoor climbing…

Why do you enjoy climbing with Bronwyn?

She's always up for having adventures and is one of the only people I've found who likes climbing as much as I do. I think that's the thing, we really like going climbing. Lots of people think they like climbing, but when it comes down to it they enjoy doing a route or two then socialising then maybe going to pub. Bron and I are consistently the last ones at the crag, trying to get one last route in before dark. There's also a lot of trust between us as climbing partners now, we've done so many routes together. I think we tried to count it up once and we're well over 200 days multi-pitch climbing together, and that's not even counting all the single pitch trad and sport climbing! When it matters I really trust Bronwyn to make good decisions and do what needs to be done.

What's the most memorable route you've climbed together?

There's so many, the last 6 years have been wild! Things that stand out to me right now are:

- Freerider on El Capitan over 6 days as a three with Chris Bevins. We had such a good time, hauling an inflatable shark and reading the hitch-hikers guide to the galaxy aloud at bivvies. (Video here)

- Climbing the 3000 foot slab route "My Favourite Things" on Clouds Rest to the highest point in Yosemite Valley, then getting engaged at the top.

- Fiesta de los biceps in Riglos when Bron had only been climbing 6 months. Her arms completely gave out and she couldn't do a pull up by the top! She did a lot of swinging but kept smiling and laughing all the way.

Morning of day 2 on Mt Watkins in Yosemite Valley, October 2015  © Cook/Hodgins Collection
Morning of day 2 on Mt Watkins in Yosemite Valley, October 2015
© Cook/Hodgins Collection

- Mount Watkins in Yosemite, I was determined to free the route so we ended up waiting beneath the crux pitch for most of the day so I could climb it at dusk for the best conditions. Bron took over on the flared cracks above and we climbed through the night, we clawed our way over the top not long before dawn… Thanks Bron!

- But almost certainly the top spot for the most memorable climb of all was the Lotus Flower Tower with Bronwyn's dad Geoff and our friend Thor Stewart. We paddled in and out of the Cirque of the Unclimbables on a 30 day, 600km fully self-supported mission. Geoff had hardly done any climbing at all, we taught him how to jumar in his backyard in Ontario, so getting to the top with him was absolutely wild. Family adventure at its finest! (UKC article here)

Sum up your partnership in three words.

Driven enthusiastic adventure-buddies

What's the most scared you've been when climbing together?

I can't think of anything specific but I'd say I am consistently more scared than Bronwyn! On the Lotus Flower Tower it was pouring with rain, we were 16 pitches up and Bron was like "why would we go down?". It's funny because I think Bron is more scared than I am about actually taking lead falls, but over a long route I find all these doubts and worries creep in, which Bron just seems immune to.

Morning of day 5 on El Corazon, El Capitan October 2017  © Cook/Hodgins Collection
Morning of day 5 on El Corazon, El Capitan October 2017
© Cook/Hodgins Collection

If you could change one thing about Bronwyn what would it be?

This one's easy - she would drink coffee. It's actually really annoying, not only does she not need coffee (annoying by itself), she also claims she doesn't know how to make it... Cheek!

What are your plans for the future?

Well we just got married (last week!) I know we're both pretty keen to keep living the climbing life as much as we can for the next few years. Climb as many big walls as we can, travel to as many cool places as we can, have as many adventures as we can. We still have hopes and dreams in the mountains to go after, before we have kids and our lives are over that is…

Just married in northern Ontario, September 2018!
© Cook/Hodgins Collection

What's the least enjoyable route you've done with Bronwyn?

All of the big routes we've done have periods that aren't exactly "enjoyable", but the net experience is usually positive, which is why we keep doing them! One that comes close was the East Ridge of Serratus in the Tantalus range near where we live in Squamish. There's choss and there's choss and that ridge is really chossy! We also tried it in terrible conditions. We got more and more scared climbing around teetering blocks covered in powder snow until we both simultaneously decided that we'd had enough and bailed.

Has Bronwyn ever cheated on you and climbed a route you really wanted to do together with someone else?

She's about to abandon me and go to Yosemite for a month, whilst I work as a maths lecturer in Squamish, very annoying! She actually abandoned me in the spring too, to go to Indian Creek whilst I worked… Now I come to think about it this seems to be happening more and more regularly… Must do something about this.

What have you learned from climbing with Bronwyn?

Nothing, I taught her everything she knows!

Well, actually maybe there is a thing or two. I think the number one thing I've learned is to say yes to every opportunity. I don't think I would have had half the adventures I've had over the past six years had it not been for Bronwyn going "We probably should though…"

Tom Egan Memorial Route in the Bugaboos, August 2018
© Cook/Hodgins Collection

Bronwyn on Jacob

How did you first meet?

At a Leeds University Union Mountaineering Club (LUUMC) weekend trip to Northumberland. It was October, a few weeks into my student exchange to England for a year. The first night in the hut we all played a game of sock wrestling, where two opponents hang from ropes in the ceiling trusses and wrestle in mid air. The aim of the game is to get the other person's sock off before they get yours. Jacob swung me into a sock wrestle with Caroline (Caz) who I also later became friends with.

Did you know Jacob by reputation before meeting him?

I wasn't a climber before meeting Jacob. Didn't know climbing was a thing and definitely hadn't heard of any climbers.

What was your first impression?

We didn't hang out much that first weekend. I guess I was impressed by the climbing Jacob and his friends were doing, but I didn't really know. We met again soon after at a LUUMC social at Jacob's student house - instead of a living room there was a climbing wall and the main entertainment was jumping out of a first storey window onto bouldering matts on the street. I remember Jacob telling me he was actually a massive nerd and super into Maths. I guess he was worried I maybe thought he was really cool and didn't want me to be disappointed when I found out the truth haha! We were on a date to the Leeds Wall later that week.

Nevada Desert, September 2016  © Cook/Hodgins Collection
Nevada Desert, September 2016
© Cook/Hodgins Collection

What was the first route you climbed together?

This is kind of funny. The first climb we did together was a trad multipitch (my first multipitch) at midnight in Tremadog, Wales. Again on a LUUMC weekend trip, we arrived at the hut with everyone else late Friday night, but instead of going to bed we got out our head torches and climbed a 3-pitch route under the moon!

Why do you enjoy climbing with Jacob?

So many reasons! I'll name a few. (1.) It's really fun climbing with Jacob. Hauling an inflatable shark up El Cap or sport climbing in Santa hats on Christmas, there is always something fun and quirky (and usually spontaneous). (2.) I trust him a lot. He knows what he's doing and makes good decisions in stressful situations. (3.) He's very ambitious and it's contagious. Again and again he chooses seemingly outrageous goals and whether he succeeds or not (he usually does it seems) it's always a rewarding challenge and a memorable experience. He encourages me as well and has a lot of confidence in me.

What's the most memorable route you've climbed together?

Oh wow that's tough! Probably when we took my dad up the 19-pitch Lotus Flower Tower in the Cirque of the Unclimbables in northern Canada. We paddled the Nahanni River in and out over a 30-day expedition with my dad, brother, mom and a couple good family friends. On the tower itself the weather was awful and success seemed unlikely all the way up until the final few pitches when the sun finally came out and the view from the top was spectacular. The whole experience was just so amazing and memorable, especially sharing it with Jacob and my family!

On the summit of the Lotus Flower Tower  © Cook/Hodgins Collection
On the summit of the Lotus Flower Tower
© Cook/Hodgins Collection

Sum up your partnership in three words.

Trust. Perseverance. Spontaneity.

What's the most scared you've been when climbing together?

Odd that I don't have something immediately come to mind for this one. Many times I've been with Jacob in kinda scary situations. Like getting benighted on a big route or racing against an approaching thunderstorm or getting our rope stuck on abseil. I think we are both pretty good at looking at a scary/stressful situations rationally and figuring out what to do. I got scared soloing the Alpha-Serratus traverse near Squamish together last year, but Jacob lowered me a rope and we were able escape early and retreat back to camp before dark.

If you could change one thing about Jacob what would it be?

Maybe if he was Canadian it would make our lives a little less complicated with visas etc, but then again being forced to continuously travel isn't such a bad thing! Also, Jacob actually just got Canadian Permanent Residency this week, so we are working on fixing that problem! (sorry England… haha)

Bron on Freerider, El Capitan.  © Cook/Hodgins Collection
Bron on Freerider, El Capitan.
© Cook/Hodgins Collection

What are your plans for the future?

Keep travelling and climbing as much as possible! We also just got married! We both really want to have kids and build a family, but not yet!

What's the least enjoyable route you've done with Jacob?

I'm sad to say this, but I think it might have to be the Northwest Face of Half Dome in Yosemite (thank goodness the route has since fallen down! haha). The route is/was amazing, we just didn't have a great experience on it. To start we forgot a sleeping bag, and barely slept at the base the night before. Then we were moving a lot slower than expected; got lost a few times, got stuck behind aid climbers and generally just felt like the route was dragging on forever… also I hate stupid wide glassy chimneys (luckily it's those several pitches that fell down a month later!). Then we spent another night with neither sleeping bag nor food before heading down into the valley the following morning.

Summit of North Dome, Yosemite, October 2015  © Cook/Hodgins Collection
Summit of North Dome, Yosemite, October 2015
© Cook/Hodgins Collection

Has Jacob ever cheated on you and climbed a route you really wanted to do together with someone else?

Hmm can't think of anything major. We usually try to avoid that by rearranging plans so we can both do whatever it is we want to do. But then sometimes Jacob wants to climb things that are either ridiculously hard, ridiculously scary, or both and I don't mind missing out especially if another partner is keen and well suited. Like when Jacob and Tony McLane climbed a new 5.11+ R alpine chose-pile on the East face of Mt. Sleese last summer - not jealous (UKC news). Or when Jacob and Pete Whittaker freed Freerider in 16 hours the same season I was trying to free it over a week with Alex Morris - annoying. Not jealous.

What have you learned from climbing with Jacob?

At the start I really learned everything about climbing from Jacob - how to build anchors, how to place trad gear, how to redpoint, all that stuff. We spent that first year climbing all around the UK as well as a trip to each Spain and France. But when we came over to North America, it was different. By then I had learned a tonne about climbing in Europe, but neither Jacob nor I had ever crack climbed, aid climbed or big wall climbed… so much to learn! Our first trip to Yosemite it felt like we were both beginners. So it was pretty cool learning and progressing together to what we are doing now.


About the Interviewer:

Tom Ripley  © Charlie Low
Tom Ripley has been climbing for over fifteen years in both the UK and abroad: personal highlights include an ascent of Denali's Cassin Ridge and first ascents in Patagonia and Peru. Tom is dedicated to sharing his obsession for all types of climbing through his work as a climbing instructor and guide.

Currently, Tom is part way through the British Mountain Guides' rigorous training scheme. And, as a trainee guide, he is qualified to guide and instruct rock climbing and mountaineering throughout the UK.

Whether you are interested in making the transition from indoor climbing to real rock, working towards your first lead climbs, gaining self-rescue skills, or climbing a classic route that has so far eluded you, Tom can help you achieve your goal. Staying safe, patience and adventure are always a priority. He can be contacted through his UKC profile.

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