Definitely dirtbag and sure-as-heck hair-raising, rock climbing is not a sport for the weak. What is it that moves these athletes of ascent to their happy places? Kootenay climber Jasmin Caton helps us understand their personal peace and joy. By Jayme Moye.

Jasmin Caton, 39, Nelson, British Columbia

Jasmin Caton surprised exactly no one when she grew up to become an outdoor athlete and guide. The daughter of Valhalla Mountain Touring founders Dale Caton and Lynda Morin, Jasmin was practically born in a backpack, and could hike, bike and ski the Selkirk Mountains from the time she could walk. But to those who know the family, her focus on rock climbing was unexpected—it wasn’t part of her upbringing. In fact, Caton didn’t touch her first piece of rock until she was in college. She remembers that first experience getting under her skin in a way that other outdoor sports hadn’t. “Maybe it was because it was something I discovered myself, outside of my family,” she recalls. “Or because I was using all these crazy muscles I’d never used before, doing all these new movements, and my mental focus was just really challenged.”

Top photo by Paul Bride

She delayed her third year of college to pursue climbing, moving into a house full of climbers in Squamish. Caton quickly realized she was well-suited to life as a climbing bum, where people work just enough to survive, and spend the rest of their time climbing. The simplicity and minimalism, coupled with all the time spent outdoors, lined up well with Caton’s personal values. And at a stage in her development where she “hadn’t yet found her people,” Caton appreciated what climbing taught her about the power of community. “You need a climbing partner to do most types of climbing,” she says, “so you are forced to build friendships and relationships with people. You learn how to rely on them.”

After two years, she returned to the University of British Colombia to finish her degree. Upon graduation, she got her rock climbing guide certification, and then struggled with the decision to accept a scholarship to get her master’s in hydrogeology or pursue a guiding career. Caton chose the education, mostly because she knew that as much as she loved the rock, she also loved academics. But the two extra years in school steered her in the opposite direction. “That’s when it became very clear that it was not my path,” she says.

Caton resumed guiding, both rock and ski, and eventually took over her parents’ business. She also works as an instructor and examiner for the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides, and is a sponsored rock climber with Patagonia. Now living back in the Kootenays, Caton finds her days are more dynamic than when she was in her twenties climbing in Squamish. She’s recently discovered that her greatest happiness comes not from rock, per se, but from spending long days in the mountains: like her recent three-day mission up the rarely climbed north face of Mount Dag, a 1,000-metre spire in the Valhalla Range. The outing required technical climbing ability, physical endurance and a strong sense of adventure. It left Caton physically and mentally exhausted—and deeply satisfied.

“It sounds a bit crazy to most people,” she says, “but that’s the environment where I feel the most calm, the most peace.”