It only took four years of living in Alberta to get Steven Song hooked on climbing mountains.
In the last decade, he has climbed almost 1,200 different mountains from Alaska to South America. The University of Alberta chemical engineering graduate started climbing peaks as a teenager, not long after immigrating to Canada from China.
“I like the views,” he said.
His first was Cirque Peak in Banff National Park as a teenager. He said the trip was exhausting and by the day’s end, he had large blisters on his feet.
Regardless, he was addicted.
“You look at the map and there are other peaks, so you do another, and another,” said Song on CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active.
Completing the peaks last year, Song is one of the youngest to have climbed all of the 11,000ers, which are a group of 58 mountains in the Canadian Rockies above 11,000 feet (3353 metres).
“I guess I like to collect peaks,” Song said.
Song now lives in the Vancouver area, working as a high school tutor.
Longtime trip partner and hiking guide Ben Nearingburg said there are very few — if any — people in North America that have accomplished what Song has at such a young age.
“It takes a great deal of determination and focus,” he said.
Song and Nearingburg learned mountain climbing together, such as how to plan a route, what to pack and eat.
“At first we would eat McDonald’s pies because they don’t freeze at minus 20. They are still gelatinous and gooey,” said Nearingburg.
Even learning to use maps took time.
“We’d go to a place that looked like gentle grass on the map, but was really overhead willows that needed machetes,” said Nearingburg with a laugh.
One trip that stands out was climbing The Helmet, said Song.
The route snakes up a broken glacier between tumbling icefalls to a knife edge ridge, perched below the icy face of Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.
“Usually you find the smaller peaks near the bigger peaks have a better view,” Song said.
While climbing mountains is exciting, it can be dangerous. Over the years, a couple of Song’s friends have died on other climbing trips.
“It warns you. Nothing is perfect. You are not invincible.” he said.
Song said he does not take the same risks as he did five years ago, when he wanted to keep pushing himself. Now he prefers to wait for safer and more stable conditions, going on roped climbs only a handful of times per year.
It’s also rare for Song to climb alone.
“I like to work with people.”
Song said he does not expect to stop climbing any time soon. When COVID-19 eases, he hopes to travel to Asia and try a 7,000-metre summit.
For people that have never climbed a mountain but want to try, Song said to start with a trip that has quick access to a good view point.
“Don’t go for too long. You might get blisters.”