Luke Buxton believes in magic. Or he at least looks for the enchanting in the everyday.
“I’m a bit of a romantic,” he says, describing the heart-twitch-awe which climbing evokes for him. “It’s the joy of intimacy you get to have with a beautiful natural element.”
Whether it’s the boulder strewn and timeworn coastline of Nova Scotia or the thundering Roc nest towers of Canmore, the natural world casts a spellbinding connection for Luke.
Perhaps it started in his childhood. He grew up in the Skeena Valley, surrounded by the coastal mountains of Terrace, British Columbia. Maybe it was learned; he was a deep observer who drew and created obsessively all throughout his childhood. For sure, the mythical aesthetic has been further cultivated through climbing.
“Yosemite feels like it could easily be the home of ancient Forest Giants and Squamish’s Grand Wall is so lush and beautiful you sense a Faerie Sprite under every fern patch and mushroom,” he encourages.
Luke eventually made his way to Halifax, Nova Scotia to pursue an education and career in animation. (He’s an accomplished art director, animator, and production designer, who has worked on short films for the likes of Willow and Jayden Smith, and nationally syndicated television shows). During his 12 years in the maritime province, he became involved in developing local crags, and eventually was put onto Gibralter, one of the many untapped expanses.
“It’s a pretty forested area with easy public access,” he shares. “My roommate [Mark Maas] and I were inspired to put in long days developing new climbs.”
They had fun, crafted worthy lines, and wanted a way to share their uncovered treasure with the climbing community. So Luke decided to make a guidebook, with his own mystical twist, of course.
I chatted with Luke to learn a bit more about the inspiration for the guide, and how he came to see the world through Tolkien-colored specs.
Aaron: What brought you to Nova Scotia?
Luke Buxton: I was raised in Terrace BC, and currently live in Vancouver, but Halifax formed a fairly large chunk of my life through my twenties. I was 22 at the time (I’m 37 now) and was living in a VW camper van with my cat traveling and climbing throughout Canada.
I worked odd jobs as I went and sold paintings. I had heard of the glacial erratic bouldering in the East Coast and Halifax seemed like a fun spot to stop for a while and find work as I knew there would be lots of people my age due to it having so many Colleges/Universities. I obviously had no clue it would suck me in for 12 years, or that I would find my career path and meet my wife there.
How did you get involved with the local climbing scene?
As I’m a bit older, I learned like most from my generation: outside and through a friend. I followed him up a multi-pitch trad climb on my first introduction and fell in love with the intricacy and challenge of bouldering a short time later.
I did a climbing trip in Europe with him which included helping a small crew develop some boulders in the Italian Alps, and then more climbing trips throughout the States cemented it as a personal passion I would keep for life.
By the time I reached Halifax I was hungry to meet local developers and experience the unique granite. Halifax had at the time a fairly small but strong and passionate community of climbers so it didn’t take long to make friends and be a part of the scene.
What does climbing mean to you?
Like many who are obsessed with climbing, it encompasses many things to me such as community, physical/mental fitness, and personal growth. If I was to narrow down one thing that makes climbing special to me it’s the joy of intimacy you get to have with a beautiful natural element. Taking a hike is one thing, but analyzing, scrubbing and being so aware of every crystal on a large stone in a forest is truly unique to climbing.
When my cheek is brushing up against a warm stone on a delicate slab climb I feel the happiest I can possibly feel.
What is the Gibralter guide?
Some of the local developers had directed me towards Gibralter as one of the better untapped areas with plenty of potential for new climbs if you were willing to put in some heavy lifting scrubbing the rocks. It’s a pretty forested area with easy public access and my roommate and I were inspired to put in long days developing new climbs and sharing them with our friends and the bouldering community.
Making a guide was the easiest way to share our year+ of development with everyone and I was excited to put something creative and fun together. My roommate and close friend Mark Maas put many hours excitedly scrubbing and exploring Gibralter with me and I even named the first boulder we scrubbed together after him (the Maasy boulder).
Years later (2 years ago now) he lost his life to depression and accumulating chronic injuries that were robbing him of his ability to do the things he loved. Gibralter holds an even more special place in my heart now as a sort of memorial place, a space he loved and cherished. He is dearly missed by many.
Why imbue the guide with magical storytelling?
Being in the animation industry (I design the worlds in cartoons) definitely had a big impact on how I approached the guide. I don’t think I ever really thought it through so much as it just naturally became whimsical and was influenced by my creative influences.
I wanted the map to feel like the map at the beginning of a Tolkien fantasy novel or something similar because when we explored those woods we felt that way; adventurers seeking out treasures buried under moss. Now looking at it I think it’s pretty amateur in delivery, but I’d like to think it has retained some charm.
Was there any overlap between magic and climbing for you, before the guidebook?
Sure, I think I interpret many aspects of my life with a rather fantastical or whimsical slant; I’m a bit of a romantic.
I guess I always approached climbing with some element of child-like wonder. It’s pretty easy to do when the places that climbing takes you are often so magical and surreal to begin with; Yosemite feels like it could easily be the home of ancient Forest Giants and Squamish grand wall is so lush and beautiful you sense a Faerie Sprite under every fern patch and mushroom.
How did the land itself play into the design of the guide?
The forest in Gibralter feels more like the BC rainforests I was used to climbing in at home, in contrast to the rugged Atlantic coast where most of the bouldering had already been covered. It felt natural to give it that whimsical forest-fantasy look.
Was there any outcome for the guidebook you were hoping for?
Not really, I knew it would just be something shared among locals and friends. It was a fun project on the side with no big expectations.
Anything else you’d like to add?
If anyone reading this can make an effort to visit Nova Scotia, they should!
Go sample the amazing granite and super friendly and perpetually psyched community there. It really is a little known gem in North America.
A year after Gibralter guide was released I wrote one for local developer Rich Lapaix’s “Jessie’s Diner” area (neighboring to Gibralter). Around that time the useful local digital guide, MoBeta, was in full swing and I felt it was less relevant to finish off my PDF guide and never got around to wrapping it up before we moved back out West.
I’ve been approached by enough people in the community who want to see it that I decided to retroactively finish/fix it and release it to the community. It was done in the same style as Gibralter and acts in a sense as a Part 2 of Musquodobit bouldering.
At the least, it can serve as an accurate historic documentation of the names and lines developed by Rich and a handful of others who paved the way for the growing climbing community of Nova Scotia.